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TCM Birthday Tribute: Ralph Bellamy
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Ralph Bellamy

TCM Birthday Tribute: Ralph Bellamy - 6/17 (Daytime)


There was a time when Ralph Bellamy had cornered the market on a certain kind of role in screwball comedies - the likeable but not-terribly-exciting second lead who invariably lost the girl to a more dashing hero, such as Cary Grant in both The Awful Truth (1937) and His Girl Friday (1940). Bellamy was so accomplished in this kind of part that he received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for The Awful Truth.

In His Girl Friday, Grant had a line in which he says of his costar, "He looks like that fellow in the movies...you know, Ralph Bellamy!" Bellamy realized he had had enough of his superficial image when he read a script in which a character was described as "charming but dull - a typical Ralph Bellamy type." He later told an interviewer, "I promptly packed my bags and headed for New York to find a part with guts."

Bellamy succeeded in his goal, playing a number of dynamic Broadway roles including leads in Tomorrow the World (1943), State of the Union (1945) and Detective Story (1949). His biggest stage success came as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello (1958), for which he won a Tony, and to great acclaim in a film version released in 1960.

Ralph Rexford Bellamy was born June 17, 1904, in Chicago Illinois. When he was 15, he ran away from home and began touring with road shows, eventually arriving in New York City. By his early 20s he owned his own theater company. He made his Broadway bow in 1929 and his movie debut in 1931. He worked steadily in films and on television, with occasional stints on the New York stage, until the year before his death.

In movies and on television, Bellamy played almost 200 roles, including leads as well as supporting parts. He costarred with Fay Wray in five films. Prominent later films included Rosemary's Baby (1968), Trading Places (1983) and Pretty Woman (1990), in which he gave his final performance. In 1983, he reprised his role as Roosevelt in the TV miniseries The Winds of War, earning an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Bellamy was active in Hollywood politics, becoming a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild and serving as president of Actors' Equity for four terms. He was honored with a Life Achievement Award from SAG in 1984 and with an honorary Academy Award in 1987 for his "unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting." He published an autobiography, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, in 1979.

Bellamy was married four times. His third wife (1945-47) was organist Ethel Smith of "Tico Tico" fame. His fourth wife was Alice Murphy, to whom he was married from 1949 to his death in 1991 from a lung ailment. He was interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

TCM pays tribute to Ralph Bellamy on his birthday with the films highlighted below:

Bellamy got co-star billing in Headline Shooter (1933), a pre-Code look at the world of journalism in which he plays the "Ralph Bellamy role" as the other man in a romance involving tough-talking newsreel photographer William Gargan and ace reporter Frances Dee.

Again, with below-the-title billing, Bellamy plays the husband of star Irene Dunne in the romantic melodrama This Man is Mine (1934). Despite their seemingly happy marriage, Bellamy falls for the schemes of an old flame (Constance Cummings) who wants him back.

The crime comedy-drama Brother Orchid (1940) stars Edward G. Robinson as mobster kingpin who returns from an extended tour of Europe to find that his second-in-command (Humphrey Bogart, not yet a star) wants him out of the way. Ann Sothern plays Robinson's moll and Bellamy (of course) is the good-natured lug patiently waiting for her in the wings.

Another comedy-drama, Flight Angels (1940), offers a look at sassy commercial airline stewardesses during the propeller age, with Jane Wyman and Virginia Bruce prominent among them. The pilots in their lives are, respectively, Wayne Morris and Dennis Morgan. Bellamy, naturally, plays the stuffed-shirt boss who is odd-man-out in the Bruce-Morgan romance.

Footsteps in the Dark (1941) is a comic vehicle for Errol Flynn, who plays a well-to-do investment counselor leading a double life as a crime solver/mystery novelist with an assumed name. Brenda Marshall plays his suspicious wife, and Bellamy is a dentist involved in a murder investigation Flynn is secretly conducting.

In addition to Bellamy as FDR, Sunrise at Campobello (1960) stars Greer Garson as Eleanor Roosevelt, with a supporting cast headed by Hume Cronyn, Jean Hagen and Ann Shoemaker. The action begins at the Roosevelt summer home on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1921, as the formerly athletic Roosevelt is diagnosed with polio. The film details his struggles in recovering to re-enter public life. The script was adapted by Dore Schary from his play, and Vincent J. Donehue directed. The film earned four Oscar nominations including one for Garson. Surprisingly, Bellamy's eloquent performance was not nominated.

The epic Western The Professionals (1966), a hit both critically and commercially, casts Bellamy as an arrogant Texas millionaire who hires a band of mercenaries to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) from the clutches of a Mexican revolutionary (Jack Palance). Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode star as "the professionals." Director Richard Brooks earned Oscar nominations for both his writing and direction.

by Roger Fristoe
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