On this Day in Movie History, June 17, 1904: Ralph Bellamy Was Born

So well-liked and respected by his peers that he was the recipient of an honorary Oscar in 1987 for his contributions to the acting profession, Ralph Bellamy was born on June 17, 1904, in Chicago, Illinois.

Bellamy began his career as a player right out of high school in 1922, joining a Shakespearean traveling company. Two years later he made his Broadway theatrical debut in “Town Boy”.

Bellamy’s greatest role was as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Dore Schary’s play “Sunrise at Campobello,” This was a role for which he won a 1958 Best Actor-Dramatic Tony Award. He reprised his portrayal of Roosevelt in Schary’s 1960 movie adaptation of his play Sunrise at Campobello (1960), which brought his co-star Greer Garson a Golden Globe award and a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for playing Eleanor Roosevelt.

To play F.D.R. and show his struggle with the onset of polio, Bellamy studied Roosevelt as both man and politician, gaining insight into the future president’s psyche. Like Method actors Marlon Brando and Jon Voight, who prepared for their portrayals of paraplegic war veterans in the movies The Men (1950) and Coming Home (1978) by living in veterans hospitals with paraplegics, Bellamy tried to understand the trauma that F.D.R. underwent and the challenges he faced. Bellamy spent a considerable amount of time at a rehabilitation center learning how to master leg braces, crutches and a wheelchair to increase the realistic depiction of his portrayal of Roosevelt. So successful was his portrait of Roosevelt that he was called upon a generation later to recreate F.D.R. for the blockbuster TV miniseries “War and Remembrance” (1988).

Bellamy began a prolific career on television with his 1948 debut in “The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse” (1948).

Known as a champion of actors’ rights, Bellamy was one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild. He also served four terms as President of Actors’ Equity from 1952 to 1964. Many of those blacklisted in Hollywood found homes in the theater. Under Bellamy, Actors Equity established standards to protect members against charges of Communist Party membership or “exhibiting left-wing sympathies”. (One of the charges levied against legendary stage and film director Elia Kazan, including Rod Steiger at the time Kazan received an honorary Oscar, was that he should have defied the House Un-American Activities Committee and not have named names because he could have remained employed in the theater even if he had been blacklisted in Hollywood.)

Under Bellamy’s leadership, Actor’s Equity managed to double its assets within the first six years of his presidency and was successful in establishing the first pension fund for actors.

Ralph Bellamy died on November 29, 1991 in Santa Monica, California.

1902 – Sammy Fain (Samuel Feinberg) (Oscar-winning musician, composer: Secret Love [1953], Love is a Many-Splendored Thing [1955]; April Love, A Certain Smile, A Very Precious Love, Tender is the Night, I’ll Be Seeing You, I Can Dream Can’t I, Let a Smile be Your Umbrella [most w/Irving Kahal]; died Dec 6, 1989)

1910 – Red (Clyde Julian) Foley (songwriter, singer: Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy, Birmingham Bounce, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Blues in My Heart, Tennessee Saturday Night, Tennessee Polka, Peace in the Valley, Mississippi, Tennessee Border, Goodnight Irene; TV host: Ozark Jubilee; elected to Country Music Hall of Fame [1967]; actor: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; died Sep 19, 1968)

1932 – Peter Lupus (actor: Mission: Impossible [TV], Think Big, Pulsebeat, Escapist, More! Police Squad, Muscle Beach Party)

1954 – Mark Linn-Baker (actor: Noises Off, Bare Essentials, Ghostwriter, My Favorite Year, Manhattan, Comedy Zone, Perfect Strangers)

1957 – Stephen Shellen (actor: Casual Sex?, Murder One, Counterstrike, A River Runs Through It, The Bodyguard, Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, Gone in Sixty Seconds, La Femme Nikita)

1960 – Thomas Haden Church (actor: Wings, Tombstone, George of the Jungle, One Night Stand, Goosed, Sideways)

1963 – Greg Kinnear (actor: What Planet Are You From?, Talk Soup, Blankman, Sabrina, As Good As It Gets, You’ve Got Mail, Mystery Men, Nurse Betty)

1966 – Jason Patric (Miller) (actor: The Journey of August King, Geronimo: An American Legend, Rush, Frankenstein Unbound, The Beast, The Lost Boys, Solarbabies, Toughlove, Speed 2: Cruise Control)

1975 – Joshua Leonard (actor: The Blair Witch Project, Men of Honor, Deuces Wild)


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