RALPH BELLAMY

U.S. Actor

Ralph Bellamy, the well-known stage and film "character" actor, began his career in 1922 when he joined a traveling troupe of Shakespearean players. Later that same year, Bellamy performed in stock and repertory theatres with the Chautauqua Road Company. In 1929, he made his broadway debut in Town Boy followed by a screen debut in 1931 in The Secret Six. In 1948 he made his a television debut in the Philco Television Playhouse. He then went on to star in one of the medium's first crime series, Man Against Crime, from 1949-55.

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 was seen in over 100 films. He starred in several "B" movies, notably four in which he portrayed the detective Ellery Queen. Bellamy often said he never regarded himself as a leading man, so no one else did either. He is best remembered on film and television as the "dull other man." It was on the stage that Bellamy made his mark as a strong actor in plays such as Tomorrow the World, State of the Union and, the most noteworthy, Sunrise at Campobello. It was in the latter play that 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. 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 Campobella and starred in the subsequent film version in 1960.

Bellamy appeared in several television series during the 1960s and 1970s such as 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. More recently he played a benevolent shipping magnate in the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, and a millionaire in Trading Places (1983). He recreated his performance as FDR in the 1988 television miniseries War and Remembrance.

Best remembered by his fellow actors as a champion of actors' rights, Bellamy founded the Screen Actors Guild and served four terms as president of the American Actors' Equity between 1952 and 1964. 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.

"B" movie actor, the Ellery Queen of the 1940s, champion of actors' rights, a well-known name in the film and television industries, the FDR of the 1950s and the 1980s, it is still the case that Ralph Bellamy is best remembered as the "nice but bland other man".

-Gayle Pohl

RALPH BELLAMY. Born in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., 17 June 1904. Attended New Trier High School, Wilmette, Illinois. Married 1) Alice Delbridge, 1922 (divorced, 1931); 2) Catherine Willard, 1931 (divorced, 1945), children: Lynn and Willard; 3) Ethel Smith, 1945 (divorced); 4) Alice Murphy, 1949. Formed acting troupe, The North Shore Players, 1922; stage manager, Madison Stock Company, 1922-24; formed Ralph Bellamy Players, stock company, Des Moines, Iowa (later moved to Nashville, Tennessee), 1927; appeared on broadway in Town Boy, 1929; starred in Sunrise at Campobello, 1958-59, film version, 1960; founding member and member first Board of Directors, Screen Actors Guild; president for twelve years of Actors' Equity; appeared in film, theater, and radio, 1940s; began television career in Man Against Crime, live production, 1949-54. Presidential appointee, National Board of the United Service Organization (U.S.O.), 1958-60; member, Presidential Commission on the 50th Anniversary of the Department of Labor, 1962; chair, New York Regional National Council of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Week, 1963; founding member, California Arts Commission; member, board of directors, People to People, Project Hope, Theatervision, 1972-73; Board of Governors, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1982. Awards: New York Drama Critics Award, 1958; Tony Award, 1959; Honorary Academy Award, 1986. Died, 29 November 1991.


Ralph Bellamy

TELEVISION SERIES

1949-54 Man Against Crime
1957-59 To Tell the Truth (quiz show panelist)
1961 Frontier Justice (host)
1963-64 The Eleventh Hour
1969-70 The Survivors
1970-71 The Most Deadly Game
1977 Hunter
1985-86 Hotel
1989 Christine Cromwell

TELEVISION MINISERIES

1976 Once an Eagle
1976 Arthur Hailey's the Moneychangers
1977 Testimony of Two Men
1978 Wheels
1985 Space
1989 War and Remembrance

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1967 Wings of Fire
1969 The Immortal
1970 The Most Deadly Game
1972 Something Evil
1974 The Missiles of October
1975 Search for the Gods
1975 Murder on Flight 502
1975 The Log of the Black Pearl
1975 Adventures of the Queen
1976 Return to Earth
1976 Nightmare in Badham County
1976 McNaughton's Daughter
1976 The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
1977 Charlie Cobb: Nice Night for a Hanging
1978 The Millionaire
1978 The Clone Master
1979 The Billion Dollar Threat
1980 Power
1980 The Memory of Eva Ryker
1980 Condominium
1984 Love Leads the Way
1985 The Fourth Wise Man
1989 Christine Cromwell: Things That Go Bump in the Night

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1961 Brief Encounter
1962 Saturday's Children
1975 The Devil's Web

FILMS

The Narrow Corner, 1933; Hands Across the Table, 1935; His Girl Friday, 1940; Dance Girl Dance, 1940; Sunrise at Campobello, 1960; Rosemary's Baby, 1968; Oh, God!, 1977; Trading Places, 1983; Coming to America, 1988; Pretty Woman, 1990.

STAGE (selection)

Town Boy, 1929; Tomorrow the World; State of the Union; Sunrise at Campobello, 1958-59

PUBLICATION

When the Smoke Hit the Fan. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1979.

FURTHER READING

Clarke, Gerald. "The $40 Million Gamble." Time (New York), 7 February 1983.

"The Talk of the Town." The New Yorker (New York), 9 April 1990.

 

See also Detective Programs