Last week we discussed “other women,” those who lost the leading man to the leading actress of the moment. This week we feature some “other men.”
Ralph Bellamy amply qualifies for the title if only for his renown as the rich but dull character jilted by the leading lady in Leo McCarey’s inventive 1937 comedy, The Awful Truth. The lost leading lady in this case is Irene Dunne, while the victorious leading man was played by Cary Grant.
The story goes that director McCarey prompted Bellamy — who confessed he couldn’t sing a note — to belt out a version of “Home on the Range” with Dunne supporting on piano. McCarey enjoyed the awful result, and kept the bit in the picture.
The Bellamy-Grant combo pops up again in Howard Hawks’ 1940 reworking of the classic play, The Front Page, titled on the big screen His Girl Friday. This time the leading lady was Rosalind Russell, who in the movie contemplates marrying Bellamy’s colorless insurance man, and settling down to domestic bliss in Albany, New York. I think we know how this turns out.
Bellamy was much more, however, than a bereft “other man.” Born in 1904 in Chicago, he began his acting career relatively early (just 18) and kept at it for more than 60 years. He was adept at playing politicians and police officials; he starred as Ellery Queen in a series of four features).
He perhaps is best remembered for his strong portrayal of President Franklin Roosevelt both in the stage version and the 1960 big screen edition of Sunrise At Campobello. This time he was the leading man, firmly wed to wife, Eleanor (played by Greer Garson in the screen version).
Bellamy was a highly respected figure offscreen, who was regarded as one wise cookie. He was president of the Actors Equity union from 1952 to 1964, part of his long term effort to improve the lives of working actors. For this effort he was awarded an honorary Academy Award in 1987.
His personal life was tangled. A New York Times 1945 news clipping tells us that Bellamy’s second wife of 14 years (Catherine Willard) had just divorced him. Two weeks later the actor married his third spouse, actress-songstress Ethel Smith. The union lasted little more than two years. (Smith’s contribution to Western musicology was “Tico Tico,” a popular ditty inspired by her years as an organist in Rio de Janeiro.) In all, Bellamy went through four marriages.
Bellamy also displayed a keen eye for business. In the 1930s, Palm Springs, California became a playground for Hollywood celebrities. There were several resort hotels catering to the stars. One was the El Mirador Hotel. There were a few tennis courts and actors and pals Bellamy and Charlie Farrell often found they couldn’t get a court.
Land was cheap in the depression and for $30 an acre the boys bought some — about 200 acres — and built their own courts. And in December of 1934 opened the Racquet Club. Soon they built a pool, a bar, some bungalows, and made it an exclusive, membership only retreat.
About three years later Farrell (pictured right flanking Rudy Vallee) bought out Bellamy (above left). And throughout the next three decades the stars flocked to Palm Springs.
One of our regular correspondents, Mike Sheridan, had this to say about Bellamy
I remember Bellamy saying that in the beginning they couldn’t get anyone to buy memberships for very much $, so they came up with the idea of charging an exorbitant amount. The exclusivity along with showing off of one’s ability to pay made the club a smash hit.
Bellamy was a class act.