Childhood & Early Life
Bellamy was born on June 17, 1904, in Chicago, Illinois, to Lila Louise (née Smith) and Charles Rexford Bellamy, an advertising company employee. His mother was from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, while father was from New England. He was the eldest of the three children.
Bellamy studied at the ‘New Trier High School,’ in Winnetka, Illinois, and was president of his school drama club. He was expelled for smoking in the school. During his boyhood he delivered newspapers and groceries, and worked as a soda-jerk at a drugstore.
At 15, he left home and joined a travelling troupe of Shakespearean actors. For 5 years he performed with stock companies and repertory theaters related to ‘Chautauqua Road Co.’ and toured with the road shows. He joined theater in New York City, and later, formed his own stock company, ‘The Ralph Bellamy Players,’ in Iowa. From 1927-1930, he toured with his company around Nashville, Evanston, Iowa-Des Moines and other places. For around 9 years, he performed in repertory and touring companies, enacting over 400 roles. He made his ‘Broadway’ debut with a play ‘Town Boy.’
Continue Reading Below
Bellamy made his film debut in 1931, when he portrayed a gangster in ‘The Secret 6.’ In the next two years he worked in nearly 22 films, including ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ (1932), and ‘Picture Snatcher’ (1933), in which he played the second lead.
In 1934, he worked in seven films, including ‘The Woman in the Dark,’ in which he played the lead. During the 1930s, he worked in several movies and was nominated for the ‘Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor’ for his performance in ‘The Awful Truth’ (1937). His other noteworthy film of this period was ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940), which also had Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
Along with playing the ‘blundering second lead,’ he appeared as a detective in several films; he was the first one to play a detective on TV. During the 1940s, he played ‘Detective Ellery Queen’ in four films and later, essayed the character of a stylish villain in films such as the classic horror ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968). His other films from the 1940s are ‘Dance, Girl Dance’ (1940) ‘The Wolf Man,’ and ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942).
As his film career didn’t evolve much, Bellamy returned to theater and through the 1950s, he worked in several stage productions. The most important role of his stage career was that of ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt,’ in 1958’s ‘Sunrise at Campobello’ by Dore Schary. Bellamy earned the ‘1958 Tony Award for Best Actor – Dramatic,’ for his performance in this play that depicts Roosevelt’s struggles with onset of polio. For this role, Bellamy studied various aspects at the rehabilitation center, such as how to use crutches, leg braces and wheelchair etc. He reprised the role in the 1960 film version of the play, and again, in the TV miniseries.
In 1948, Bellamy began working in TV shows and made his debut with ‘Repertory Theater’ (1948). In 1949, he starred in television’s long-running private eye series, ‘Man against Crime.’ This was followed by several roles on television. He often appeared as a panelist on the ‘CBS’ game show, ‘To Tell the Truth.’ In 1961, he worked in ‘NBC’ anthology series ‘The Barbara Stanwyck Show,’ ‘The Dupont Show with June Allyson,’ and ‘CBC’s’ ‘Rawhide.’
Bellamy was the host for 9 episodes (during 1961) of ‘CBS’ Western anthology, ‘Frontier Justice.’ He appeared as a minister, ‘Daniel Quint,’ in several episodes (in 1962) of the syndicated anthology series, ‘Death Valley Days.’ Later, he worked in such television series as ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (1962), ‘The Survivors’ (1969), and ‘The Most Deadly Game’ (1970).
In 1966, Bellamy starred in the Western movie, ‘The Professionals,’ then he portrayed a wicked physician in Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968). During the 1970s, he featured in a number of television series and movies, including the television film ‘The Missiles of October’ (1974), and espionage drama ‘Hunter’ (1977).
Bellamy re-enacted the role of ‘Franklin Roosevelt’ in the 1983 miniseries, ‘The Winds of War,’ which fetched him an ‘Emmy’ nomination. After this, he worked in ‘Trading Places’ (1983), and ‘Coming to America,’ in 1988. The miniseries, ‘War and Remembrance,’ (a sequel of ‘The Winds of War’), was telecast in 1988, wherein he again essayed the role of ‘Franklin D. Roosevelt.’ His last notable performance was in the 1990 movie ‘Pretty Woman.’
From 1952 to 1964, Bellamy served as President of ‘Actors’ Equity’ for 4 terms. Under his presidency, ‘Actors’ Equity’ successfully established first pension fund for actors. He worked for the cause of blacklisted actors. In 1933, he was one of the founder members of the ‘Screen Actors Guild.’
Continue Reading Below
Bellamy was honored with a ‘Life Achievement Award’ from ‘Screen Actors Guild’ in 1981. An ‘Honorary Academy Award’ was bestowed upon him in 1987, ‘for his unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting.’
He was honored with a star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ at 6542 Hollywood Boulevard. A ‘Golden Palm Star’ on the Palm Springs, California, ‘Walk of Stars,’ was dedicated to him in 1992.
Family & Personal Life
Bellamy married Alice Delbridge in 1927, but the couple separated in 1930.
In 1931, he married Catherine Willard. They were married for 15 years before their divorce in 1945.
Bellamy and organist Ethel Smith got married in 1945, but this marriage, too, did not work and they divorced in 1947.
In 1949, he got married for a fourth time. He married Alice Murphy and they remained married till his death, in 1991.
He had two children, Lynn Bellamy and Willard Bellamy.
Bellamy was part of a friends-circle of fellow actors, nicknamed as ‘Irish Mafia.’ With fellow actor Charles Farrell, he founded ‘Palm Spring Racquet Club’ in Palm Spring, California.
His autobiography, ‘When the Smoke Hit the Fan,’ was published in 1979.
Bellamy died of a lung ailment on November 29, 1991, in Santa Monica, California. He was buried in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Cemetery in Los Angeles.