|alph Bellamy (Jun 17.1904 - Nov 29.1991)|
Height: 6' 1½" (1.87 m)
Sister: Carolyn B. Walbridge
(1) Alice Mary Delbridge, actress
(Dec 28, 1927 - Feb 4, 1931, divorced)
(2) Catherine Livingston Willard, actress
(Jul 6, 1931 - Aug 6, 1945, divorced),
two adopted children
son: Willard Bellamy,
daughter: Lynn 'McCrudden' Bellamy
(3) Ethel Smith , organist
(Aug 21, 1945 - Nov 25, 1947, divorced)
(4) Alice Murphy, talent agent
(Nov 27, 1949 - Nov 29, 1991, his death)
Above left: Ralph at age three.
Above right: Graduating from Wilmette Grammar School.
Rexford Bellamy was born in Chicago to Charles Rexford Bellamy and Lilla
Louise Smith as the eldest of three children. His father worked at the Barnes Crosby advertising agency. When he was
young, he lived with his widowed maternal grandmother, father, mother,
brother and sister. He lived in an apartment at 5709 Kimberk Avenue on
Chicago's South side. He moved from Chicago at the age of 5. He was raised
Baptist and was extremely close with his red-haired grandmother; and his
first experience with death was the death of his 24 day old brother and then
his grandmother. He received his first semi-acting class (which
he would later term 'ham acting') from his Great Aunt Ella.
He attended New Trier High School in Winnetka (Wilmette), Illinois. He was president of the Drama Club there. Soon after, he would leave, being expelled for smoking on high school grounds. So in 1922 he joined a traveling troupe of Shakespearean players. Later that same year, Bellamy performed in stock and repertory theatres with the Chautauqua Road Company.
His very first major role
touring in The
Shepherd of the Hills, an Ozark melodrama, had him playing two roles: the
father of the lead (who was almost ten years Ralph's senior) and the villain.
Overall, he spent nine years in repertory and
touring companies, playing over 400 roles, including an average of two or three
in each play. Returning to New York, he spent some time with a stock
company on Long Island at $50 a week while he and Melvyn Douglas haunted the
offices of Broadway agents. Finally, Bellamy won a part in Town Boy
(1929) on Broadway. It closed after two performances, but
it led to a good job as leading man with a stock company in Rochester, where he
played opposite Helen Hayes.(5)
Forbidden, (1932) with Barbara Stanwyck and
Adolph Menjou was regarded by Bellamy as his first really good movie part. "One
of my biggest professional mistakes was not being more selective after that."(5)
He earned an Oscar nomination as Cary Grant's
rival for Irene Dunne
in The Awful Truth
with the film shot in six weeks with a minor script (above
right). The film itself was
Ralph parodied himself in the brilliant comedy
In 1942, he spotted a script on a producer's desk which had scribbled the description of the casting for a particular part, "Wealthy oilman from Southwest - able, but simple and naive. Typical Ralph Bellamy part." He immediately took his leave of Hollywood and its typecasting of him, knowing it was no more than a job. He took his risks, however, being at the height of a lucrative career for Broadway. As luck would have it, he had a string of stage and television successes that he would value more than any of his early films, along with the occasional film.
In 1943, he played an antifascist professor in a Broadway melodrama written by James Gow and Arnaud d'Usseau, Tomorrow the World or Tomorrow's World. In 1945, he played a lionized Presidential aspirant in Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's Pulitzer Prize winning comedy State of the Union, (incidentally, Spence would reprise the role in a film of the same name).
August 1945 Ralph married Ethel Smith and the couple lived in Ethel's Park Vendome apartment. In 1947 Bellamy walked out, stating that he had no intention of paying his wife alimony. Ethel charged abandonment and claimed that he drank heavily, that he was moody, and would lock himself in his room. The organist said her husband became jealous when at their parties she received most of the attention. Bellamy contended that she had advised him to be home fifteen minutes after his final curtain or he would find the door locked. (3)
Throughout the 1930s and '40s, Bellamy was regularly seen socially with a select circle of friends known affectionately as the "Irish Mafia," although they preferred the less sensational "Boy's Club." This group consisted of a group of Hollywood A-listers who were mainly of Irish descent (despite Bellamy having no Irish family connections himself). Others included James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Spencer Tracy, Lynne Overman, Frank Morgan and Frank McHugh. (2)
In 1948 he made his a television debut in
the Philco Television Playhouse. After divorcing his third wife and
paying for continuing medical bills for his daughter, Bellamy had little
finances when he was offered the part of Detective McLeod,
an overzealous police officer, in
Sidney Kingsley's drama Detective Story
(1949). The play was a hit and
lead to a part in the 1949 - 1954 television series Man
Against Crime (aka Follow
that Man). He played as a quick-fisted but otherwise well-liked
detective Mike Barnett. The show was the first live weekly half-hour dramatic show on
network television, and he won an Academy of Radio and Television Arts and
Sciences Award for his performance on it. Now married to Alice Murphy
(1949), his agent's assistant the Bellamys were now
living in New York, which was an ideal spot for Ralph's two hobbies. A cook
of distinction, he was given free run of the kitchen at Henri's Fifty-Second
Street restaurant. He also painted New York scenes and sold his first water
color at an Urban League competition.
In 1958, he would play FDR in Dore Schary's
Broadway play Sunrise at Campobello -- here Bellamy built his
reputation as an actor by portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By delving
into the history of FDR the man and the politician, he came to an
understanding of the personality and psyche of the character. He then spent
weeks at a rehabilitation center learning how to manage braces, crutches,
and a wheelchair, so that his portrayal of FDR, after he was stricken with
polio, would be realistic and accurate. In preparing for the original part,
he would consult at length with Eleanor Roosevelt and her children. He
called Sunrise at Campobello
the "highlight of my professional career."
It can be said that character acting was defined and perfected by Ralph
Bellamy. He won the Tony and New York's Critics Circle Award as best actor
in Sunrise at Campobello and starred in the subsequent film version
in 1960. He would play FDR once again in the miniseries The Winds of War
and War and Remembrance (1988-89).
He played as a regular in many major television series including The Eleventh Hour (1963-1964), The Survivors (1969), The Mostly Deadly Game (1970), and Hunter (1976). He returned true to his roles as detective, villain, and other man in each of these series. It was in 1969 that Bellamy made a radical character shift by playing a diabolist in Rosemary's Baby (below left). His autobiography, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, was published in 1979. Director John Landis gave Bellamy's film career a big boost by casting him in Trading Places (1983), as a ruthless Wall Street manipulator and brother to Don Ameche. He received an honorary Oscar in 1986. We come to see him in several movies e.g. Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), and Coming to America (1988, a cameo) and of course a benevolent shipping magnate in the 1990 movie Pretty Woman
Bellamy was also one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild and a four-term president of Actors' Equity (between 1952 and 1964). Best remembered by his fellow actors as a champion of actors' rights. He doubled the equity's assets within six years and established the first actors' pension fund. Bellamy guided the Actors' Equity through the political blacklisting of the McCarthy era by forming a panel that established ground rules to protect members against unproved charges of Communist Party membership or sympathy. He also actively lobbied for the repeal of theatre admission taxes and for income averaging in computing taxes for performers.
Above: Ralph Bellamy with Mike Conners and Robert Mitchum!
Bellamy died at St. John's Hospital and
Health Center in Los Angeles of a lung ailment at the age of 87 at 2:18 a.m.
He had been hospitalized earlier in the month for his long-standing lung
In a 2007 episode of Boston Legal, footage of a 1957 episode of Studio One was used. The episode featured Bellamy and William Shatner as a father-son duo of lawyers. This was used in the present-day to explain the relationship between Shatner's Denny Crane character and his father in the show.
Additional video & audio sources
This actor profile is a part of
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Ellery Queen in
an Ellery Queen film series.
Click Uncle Sam if you think you can help
Many of the profiles on this site have been compiled after very careful research of various sources. Please quote and cite ethically!
Page first published before May 24. 2016
Last updated March 31. 2022
b a c k t o L i s t o f S u s p e c t s