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Ralph Bellamy (Jun 17,1904  -  Nov 29,1991)

Early Postcard photo of Ralph Bellamy

6' 1½" (1.87 m)

Alice Delbridge, actress (Dec 28, 1927 - Feb 4, 1931,
(2) Catherine Willard, actress (Jul 6, 1931 - Aug 6, 1945,
, son: Willard Bellamy,
     adopted: Lynn McCrudden
(3) Ethel Smith , organist (Aug 21, 1945 - Nov 25, 1947,
(4) Alice Murphy, talent agent (Nov 27, 1949 - Nov 29, 1991,
      his death)

Sister: Carolyn Walbridge

Mid-1904 Ralph Rexford Bellamy was born in Chicago to Charles Rexford Bellamy and Lilla Louise Smith. He would be 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.
The acting urge it may have taken hold at age 15 when, while working as a bellboy at Balboa Bay during a summer trip to Southern California with his mother, he met silent screen actress Louise Lovely and told her he wanted to be an actor. She got him a job as an extra in "Wings of Morning,"(1919)  which was being shot there. He was paid $5 for being drenched with a fire hose in a shipwreck scene...(5)

He attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. He was president of the Drama Club there. Soon after, he would leave, being expelled for smoking on 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.
His friend Melvyn Douglas, also a struggling young actor, had gotten a job as the leading man in a Madison, Wis., stock company and managed to get Bellamy on as business and stage manager at $40 a week.
In 1924, Bellamy left Terre Haute, Ind., where he was leading man in a stock company, and went to New York. He thought he was ready for Broadway. Apparently he wasn't. Things got so bad he was down to living on peanuts and water. He recalled in his book that a policeman once saw him stealing a bottle of milk from a doorstep, but turned away out of apparent pity.

Bellamy went back to Des Moines in 1926 as a 22-year-old leading man in the Morgan-Wallace stock company at the old Princess Theater. During Bellamy's second season, he organized his own company and called it "The Ralph Bellamy Players". "We played 10 shows a week at the Princess," Bellamy was a star at the theater for three years which also toured Nashville, Evanston, and Iowa. Bellamy failed to appear for one 1927 performance and sent the audience into an uproar. Bellamy and Alice Delbridge, one of his actresses, had driven to Winterset and then Knoxville to try to get a marriage license. They thought they would return in time for the show, but their luck ran out somewhere. They arrived, too late to obtain a license and lost their way somewhere on the road between Indianola and Winterset. As a result, 300 ticket holders received refunds for the evening show. They were married several months later, but the curtain fell on the marriage in 1931. In her divorce petition, Delbridge charged cruelty and non-support. She said she and Bellamy had been separated since 1930. (4)

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)

In "Surrender" (1931) we see Ralph as Capt. Ebbing opposite Warner Baxter& Leila Hyams In Forbidden (Columbia Pictures, 1932) Ralph Bellamy plays Daily Record city editor Al Holland opposite Barbara Stanwyck

Often a leading man, Bellamy achieved greater success in supporting roles as "the other man". In a career that spanned six decades on stage and screen, Bellamy played roles that fell into three broad categories: 1) the rich, reliable, but dull figure who is jilted by the leading lady, 2) the detective who always finds his prey, and 3) the slightly sinister but stylish villain. Usually appearing in supporting roles, Bellamy often said he never regarded himself as a leading man, so no one else did either.
Making his film debut in the gangster film The Secret Six (1931).
"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)
In 1933, he became a founding director of the Screen Actors Guild and throughout his career was active in organizations designed to help actors.(5)

He starred in numerous whodunits, first as Inspector Trent (in four 1933-34 programmers) beginning with Before Midnight and then as super-sleuth Ellery Queen (in four terrible 1940-41 B's beginning with Ellery Queen, Master Detective).

In "Let's get Married" (1937) Ralph Bellamy plays the diligent chief weatherman who falls in love with the daughter (Ida Lupino) of a wealthy politician (Walter Connolly). Ralph with Ginger Rogers on the set of "Carefree" (1938)

He earned an Oscar nomination as Cary Grant's rival for Irene Dunne in "The Awful Truth" (1937), with the film shot in six weeks with a minor script. The film itself was most improvisations. Ralph parodied himself in the brilliant comedy "His Girl Friday" (1940).

He earned an Oscar nomination as Cary Grant's rival for Irene Dunne in "The Awful Truth" (1937) Ralph Bellamy drinking Mint Juleps with his wife Catherine Willard (1939)
Ralph  parodied himself in the brilliant comedy "His Girl Friday" (1940) - Click on the Poster for a soundbit ...
"Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime"(1941). This is probably the best of the Columbia Queens

But 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) 

In "Delightfully Dangerous" (1944) Cheryl Williams, a 15-year-old (Jane Powell) is led to believe that her sister Josephine (Constance Moore) is a big Broadway star. In truth, Josephine is a stripper. Cheryl arrives in New York, figures out the truth, and tries to marry Josephine off to big-time Broadway producer Arthur Hale (Ralph Bellamy). Ralph Bellamy with his third wife Ethel Smith in New York (1946)

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.  In 1956 (28.Dec) he had a role in the TV-series Dick Powell's "Zane Grey Theatre" episode "Stars over Texas".

 Ralph Bellamy with his (4th) wife Alice Murphy (1952) Ralph Bellamy, Rita Gam & Basil Rathbone 'Affair In Sumatra' from the series Screen Directors Playhouse (22 Feb. 1956, ABC-TV)

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).

Ralph Bellamy as FDR in "Sunrise At Campobello" (1960) Ralph Bellamy, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Greer Garson (filming "Sunrise at Campobello"), Hyde Park, 1960Ralph just sneaks in with President Kennedy & Dorothy Provine at W.H. Correspondents Dinner Sheraton Park Hotel, Washington, D.C. on February 25, 1961 Ralph Bellamy starring as Dr. L. Richard Starke in the 1963-64 NBC series "The Eleventh Hour"

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. 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 made a radical character shift by playing a diabolist in "Rosemary's Baby" (1969). Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) and  Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy) in John Landis' " Trading Places" (1983)
Ralph Bellamy as FDR  in the TV  miniseries 'War and Remembrance' (1988-89)
Ralph Bellamy opposite Richard Gere in 'Pretty Woman' (1990)

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.  

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 disease.

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.

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(1)  IMDb
(2)  Wikipedia

(3) Whatever Became Of....? , Third Series by Richard Lamparski, 1970
(4) To Bellamy, a leading man in Des Moines, Eva Ryker, November 30, 1991
(5) Ralph Bellamy Dies; Veteran Actor Won Fame for F.D.R. Role,
Los Angeles Times, November 30, 1991

Additional video & audio sources
(1)The Awful Truth (Movie Clip, 1937)
(2) What's My Line? (Tv program, Jan 19,1958)
(3) Sunrise at Campobello (Movie Trailer, 1960)
(4) Ralph Bellamy receives The Governers Award (Oscars, 1987)

Last updated May 24, 2016

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