Callahan played the leads in dramatic and musical productions while a student at the University of Chattanooga. He organized a glee club there and appeared on the radio in musical programs, later joining a New York stock company touring the South.
Later in little theaters in Tennessee and Texas, he had the leading male roles in the plays, "The Valiant," "First Lady," and the part of Hildy Johnson, the reporter in "The Front Page." But after working for a time as a press representative for the Playwright Company in New York City, he left the theater and pursued his academic and writing career. He had written and directed three plays.
Callahan worked as a writer for newspapers in Tennessee and Texas and as New York correspondent of the Dallas Morning News, eventually writing a syndicated column.
During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army. In the Army he was assigned to directing recruitment publicity. He achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel before returning to civilian life.
In the post-war years, Callahan returned to academic life, earning a master's degree from Columbia University in 1950 and a a Ph.D. from New York University in 1955. He served on the faculty of Finch College as a professor of history before joining the New York University faculty in 1956. He taught at New York University until 1973.
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