Malta may be enamoured with the global superstar Joseph Calleja (whose soaring voice has securely placed Malta on the map for many) but before the Joseph we know and love could even cry his first note, let alone sing it, another Joseph Calleja was reppin’ Malta in overseas.
Meet Joseph Calleja, or rather Calleia (we’re guessing at some point he got sick of people mispronouncing his surname and just went full phonetic).
Born in Rabat, Calleia started his musical career aged 12, when he bought some harmonicas and formed a band that was soon earning £100 a week. After years of trying, and a close call in World War I, Calleia travelled to New York City for his big break.
And after working a series of in-between jobs, he finally got a speaking role in the Broadway comedy The Broken Wing in 1920.
“[Calleia’s portrayal] provided one of the finest of all performances on Broadway.”
Paul Harrison, 1934
After years on the broadway scene, Calleia got his big Hollywood break in the 1935 crime film Public Hero number 1. The rest, is history. Throughout his career Calleia had amassed over 60 film and television credits, his most notable being Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil in 1958.
In 1963 Calleia retired, and returned to Malta with his wife, Eleanor Vassallo Calleia. The pair, who had been married since 1929, moved into a house in Sliema.