Ralph Rexford Bellamy (June 17, 1904 – November 29, 1991) was an American actor whose career spanned 62 years on stage, film, and television. During his career, he played leading roles as well as supporting roles, garnering acclaim and awards, including a Tony Award for Best Dramatic Actor in Sunrise at Campobello and Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Awful Truth (1937).
Bellamy was born in Chicago. He was the son of Lilla Louise (née Smith), a native of Canada, and Charles Rexford Bellamy. He ran away from home when he was 15 and managed to gain employment in a road show. He toured with road shows before finally landing in New York City. He began acting on stage there and by 1927 owned his own theater company. In 1931, he made his film debut and worked constantly throughout the decade both as a lead and as a capable supporting actor. He co-starred in five films with Fay Wray.
Film and television career
His film career began with The Secret Six (1931) starring Wallace Beery and featuring Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. By the end of 1933, he had already appeared in 22 movies, including Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1932) and the second lead in the action film Picture Snatcher with James Cagney (1933). He played in seven more films in 1934 alone, including Woman in the Dark, based on a Dashiell Hammett story, in which Bellamy played the lead, second-billed under Fay Wray. Bellamy kept up the pace through the decade, receiving a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, and played a similar part, that of a naive boyfriend competing with Grant’s sophisticated character, in His Girl Friday (1940). He portrayed detective Ellery Queen in a few films during the 1940s, but as his film career did not progress, he returned to the stage, where he continued to perform throughout the 1950s. Bellamy appeared in other movies during this time, including Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) with Maureen O’Hara and Lucille Ball, and the horror classic The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr. and Evelyn Ankers. He also appeared in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) with Chaney and Bela Lugosi.
In 1949, Bellamy starred in the television noir private eye series Man Against Crime (also known as Follow That Man) on the DuMont Television Network; initially telecast live in its earliest seasons, the program lasted until 1956 and was simulcast for a season on Dumont and NBC, and ran on CBS during a different year. The lead role was taken by Frank Lovejoy in 1956, who subsequently starred in NBC’s Meet McGraw detective series.
Bellamy appeared on television in numerous roles over the following years. He was a regular panelist on the CBS television game show To Tell the Truth during its initial run. Bellamy starred as Willard Mitchell, along with Patricia Breslin and Paul Fix, in the 1961 episode “The Haven” of CBS’s anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. About this same time, he also appeared on the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. In December 1961, he portrayed the part of Judge Quince in the episode “Judgement at Hondo Seco” on CBS’s Rawhide.
During the 1963–1964 television season, Bellamy co-starred with Jack Ging in the NBC medical drama The Eleventh Hour, in the role of a psychiatrist in private practice. Wendell Corey had appeared in the first season of the series.
Bellamy appeared on Broadway as Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello, winning a Tony Award for the role in 1957. He reprised the role in the 1960 film version.
In the summer of 1961, Bellamy hosted nine original episodes of a CBS Western anthology series called Frontier Justice, a Dick Powell Four Star Television production. In 1950, Bellamy became a member of The Lambs, an actors club located in New York.
Bellamy appeared in the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days (“The Vintage Years”, 1962) as Daniel Quint, a minister. In the story line, a young woman whom Quint befriends on a stagecoach ride, Lorna Erickson (Merry Anders), sets him up to be robbed by her paramour, Johnny Meadows (William Bryant).
Highly regarded within the industry, Bellamy served as a four-term President of Actors’ Equity from 1952 to 1964. On film, Bellamy also starred in the Western The Professionals (1966) as an oil tycoon married to Claudia Cardinale opposite adventurers Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin, and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) as an evil physician, before turning to television during the 1970s. Among many roles in numerous shows, sometimes as a series regular, Bellamy portrayed Adlai Stevenson in the TV-movie The Missiles of October (1974), a treatment of the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was a member of the cast of the short-lived CBS espionage drama Hunter in 1977.
An Emmy Award nomination for the mini-series The Winds of War (1983) – in which Bellamy reprised his Sunrise at Campobello role of Franklin D. Roosevelt – brought him back into the spotlight. This was quickly followed by his role as Randolph Duke, a conniving millionaire commodities trader in Trading Places (1983) alongside Don Ameche. The Eddie Murphy film, Coming to America (1988), included a brief cameo by Bellamy and Don Ameche, reprising their roles as the Duke brothers. Around this time, he again portrayed Franklin Roosevelt in the sequel to The Winds of War, War and Remembrance (also 1988).
Among his later roles was an appearance as a once-brilliant but increasingly senile lawyer sadly skewered by Jimmy Smits’ character on an episode of L.A. Law. Bellamy continued working regularly and gave his final performance in Pretty Woman (1990).
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. Bellamy opened the Palm Springs Racquet Club in Palm Springs, California, with fellow actor Charles Farrell in 1934.
Bellamy was married four times: first to Alice Delbridge (1927–1930), then to Catherine Willard (1931–1945). On the occasion of his marriage to organist Ethel Smith (1945–1947), Time magazine reported, “”Ralph Bellamy, 41, veteran stage (Tomorrow the World) and screen (Guest in the House) actor; and Ethel Smith, 32, thin, Tico-Tico-famed cinema electric organist (Bathing Beauty); he for the third time, she for the second; in Harrison, N.Y.” She was in fact 42 years old at the time. Bellamy’s fourth wife was Alice Murphy (1949–1991; his death).
A Democrat, Bellamy was in attendance at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
On November 29, 1991, Bellamy died from a lung ailment at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. He was 87 years old. Bellamy was buried in Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Awards and honors
In 1984, Bellamy was presented with a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and in 1987, he received an Honorary Academy Award “for his unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting”. Bellamy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6542 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1992, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
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-and-son lawyer duo. This was used in the present day to explain the relationship between Shatner’s Denny Crane character and his father in the show.
|1931||The Secret Six||Johnny Franks|
|1931||The Magnificent Lie||Bill Childers|
|1931||West of Broadway||Mac – The Ranch Foreman|
|1932||Disorderly Conduct||Captain Tom Manning|
|1932||Young America||Judge Blake|
|1932||The Woman in Room 13||John Bruce|
|1932||Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm||Dr. Ladd|
|1932||Almost Married||Deene Maxwell|
|1932||Wild Girl||Jack Marbury|
|1932||Air Mail||Mike Miller|
|1933||Second Hand Wife||Carter Cavendish|
|1933||Parole Girl||Joseph B. ‘Joe’ Smith|
|1933||Below the Sea||McCreary|
|1933||The Narrow Corner||Eric Whittenson|
|1933||Flying Devils||‘Speed’ Hardy|
|1933||Headline Shooter||Hal Caldwell|
|1933||Blind Adventure||Jim Steele|
|1933||Ace of Aces||Captain / Major Blake|
|1933||Ever in My Heart||Jeff|
|1933||Before Midnight||Inspector Steve Trent|
|1934||Once to Every Woman||Dr. Barclay|
|1934||This Man Is Mine||Jim Dunlap|
|1934||The Crime of Helen Stanley||Inspector Steve Trent|
|1934||One Is Guilty||Inspector Steve Trent|
|1934||Girl in Danger||Inspector Steve Trent|
|1934||Woman in the Dark||John Bradley|
|1935||Helldorado||J.F. Van Avery|
|1935||Rendezvous at Midnight||Commissioner Robert Edmonds|
|1935||The Wedding Night||Fredrik Sobieski|
|1935||Eight Bells||Steve Andrews|
|1935||Air Hawks||Barry Eldon|
|1935||The Healer||Dr. Holden|
|1935||Navy Wife||Dr. Quentin Harden|
|1935||Hands Across the Table||Allen Macklyn|
|1936||Dangerous Intrigue||Tony Halliday|
|1936||Roaming Lady||Daniel S. ‘Dan’ Bailey|
|1936||The Final Hour||John Vickery|
|1936||Straight from the Shoulder||Curt Hayden|
|1936||The Man Who Lived Twice||Dr. James Blake / ‘Slick’ Rawley|
|1936||Wild Brian Kent||Brian Kent|
|1936||Counterfeit Lady||Johnny Pierce|
|1937||Let’s Get Married||Kirk Duncan|
|1937||It Can’t Last Forever||Russ Matthews|
|1937||The Awful Truth||Daniel Leeson|
|1938||The Crime of Dr. Hallet||Dr. Paul Hallet|
|1938||Fools for Scandal||Phillip Chester|
|1938||Boy Meets Girl||C. Elliott Friday|
|1938||Girls’ School||Michael Hendragin|
|1938||Trade Winds||Ben Blodgett|
|1939||Smashing the Spy Ring||John Baxter|
|1939||Let Us Live||Lieutenant Everett|
|1939||Blind Alley||Dr. Shelby|
|1939||Coast Guard||Lt. Raymond ‘Ray’ Dower|
|1940||His Girl Friday||Bruce Baldwin|
|1940||Flight Angels||Bill Graves|
|1940||Brother Orchid||Clarence P. Fletcher|
|1940||Queen of the Mob||FBI Agent Scott Langham|
|1940||Dance, Girl, Dance||Steve Adams|
|1940||Public Deb No. 1||Bruce Fairchild|
|1940||Meet the Wildcat||Lt. Brad Williams|
|1940||Ellery Queen, Master Detective||Ellery Queen|
|1941||Footsteps in the Dark||Dr. Davis|
|1941||Ellery Queen’s Penthouse Mystery||Ellery Queen|
|1941||Affectionately Yours||Owen Wright|
|1941||Dive Bomber||Lance Rogers|
|1941||Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime||Ellery Queen|
|1941||Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring||Ellery Queen|
|1941||The Wolf Man||Colonel Montford|
|1942||The Ghost of Frankenstein||Erik Ernst|
|1942||Lady in a Jam||Stanley Gardner|
|1942||Men of Texas||Major Lamphere|
|1942||The Great Impersonation||Sir Edward Dominey / Baron Leopold von Ragenstein|
|1943||Stage Door Canteen||Ralph Bellamy|
|1944||Guest in the House||Douglas Proctor|
|1945||Delightfully Dangerous||Arthur Hale|
|1945||Lady on a Train||Jonathan Waring|
|1955||The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell||Congressman Frank R. Reid|
|1960||Sunrise at Campobello||Franklin Delano Roosevelt|
|1961||Rawhide||Judge Quince||Episode “Judgment at Hondo Seco”|
|1961||Checkmate||Governor Tom Barker||Episode “Portrait of a Running Man”|
|1966||The F.B.I.||Captain Jennerson||Episode “The Death Wind”|
|1968||The F.B.I.||Dryden||Episode “The Butcher”|
|1968||Rosemary’s Baby||Dr. Abraham Sapirstein|
|1971||Doctors’ Wives||Jake Porter|
|1972||Cancel My Reservation||John Ed|
|1974||The Missiles of October||U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson||television film|
|1975||The Log of the Black Pearl|
|1976||Once an Eagle||Ed Caldwell||TV miniseries|
|1977||Testimony of Two Men||Dr. Jim Spaulding||TV miniseries|
|1977||Oh, God!||Sam Raven|
|1978||Wheels||Lowell Baxter||TV miniseries|
|1980||The Memory of Eva Ryker||William E. Ryker|
|1980||Condominium||Lee Messenger||Television film|
|1983||Trading Places||Randolph Duke|
|1983||Little House on the Prairie||Dr. Marvin Haynes|
|1984||Terror in the Aisles||Archival footage)|
|1984||The Winds of War||Franklin D. Roosevelt||TV miniseries|
|1987||Amazon Women on the Moon||Mr. Gower (segment “Titan Man”)|
|1988||War and Remembrance||Franklin D. Roosevelt||TV miniseries|
|1988||Coming to America||Randolph Duke (cameo)|
|1988||The Good Mother||Frank – Grandfather|
|1990||Pretty Woman||James Morse (final film role)|
|1944||Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre||Phantom Lady|