Tony Award-winning actor Ralph Bellamy was born in Chicago on June 17, 1904. He was the oldest of three children of Charles Rexford Bellamy and Lilla Louise Smith. Ralph's father worked for the Barnes Crosby Advertising Agency. Ralph lived with his father, mother, a brother, a sister, and his maternal grandmother in an apartment at 5709 South Kimbark Avenue just east of the campus of the University of Chicago. At age 5 in 1909, Ralph's family moved to Wilmette where he grew up attending public school and working at odd jobs such as a newspaper delivery boy and a grocery delivery boy for Brinkman's Grocery. He also beat rugs, raked and burned leaves, and worked as an usher at a local movie theater and as a soda jerk.
Ralph was president of the Drama Club at New Trier High School but he unfortunately was expelled for smoking on school property before graduation. He developed his acting craft in the late 1920s by going on tour. He was only 22 when he formed his own stock company called "The Ralph Bellamy Players" based in Evanston and which existed from 1926 to 1930.
Ralph Bellamy played a wide variety of leading man and character roles in many films, on TV, and on the stage. In several films he lost the leading lady to Cary Grant. Many of his projects had themes from Illinois history. He played a gangster in his first film called The Secret Six in 1931. The film, starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, was very loosely inspired by the activities of the real Secret Six, a group of Chicago business leaders who were members of The Chicago Crime Commission.
After the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, The Secret Six asked former Vice President Charles Dawes of Evanston to use his influence with President Herbert Hoover to send federal crime-fighters to Chicago who would be independent of the Chicago Police Department. The Secret Six got help from federal agents such as Alexander Jamie of the Chicago Prohibition Bureau (later part of the FBI after 1935) and Jamie's brother-in-law Eliot Ness of the Treasury Dept. The Six and the federal agents set out to eliminate the Al Capone gang from the life of Chicago because the business leaders in particular were afraid Chicago's reputation as a city of gangsters would scare away families who might otherwise plan to attend the Century of Progress World's Fair scheduled for 1933.
Illinois themes returned to Bellamy's work several times. In 1940 he played the tentative fiance of Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday--one of the remakes of The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur about the Cook County Court House. Once again, he lost the leading lady to Cary Grant. In 1955 he played the role of Congressman Frank Reid of Aurora, Illinois in the film The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell with Gary Cooper. Reid was the civilian defense counsel for Gen. Mitchell in 1925. Reid was also the father-in-law of Congresswoman Charlotte T. Reid and who sang under the professional name of Annette King on The Breakfast Club with Don McNeill, a Chicago based network radio show. Ralph Bellamy also played the role of UN Ambassador and former Illinois Governor Aldai E. Stevenson in The Missiles of October, a TV miniseries about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
In a very long career of more than 60 years from 1930 to 1990 that included more than 180 movies, TV shows, and stage plays, Ralph Bellamy always kept working. He often said he was most proud of his role as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Dore Shary's play Sunrise at Campobello that won him the Tony Award for Best Actor on Broadway in 1958. He also played the same role opposite Greer Garson as Eleanor Roosevelt in the film version of the play. Even late in his film career, Bellamy was gaining a new younger audience for his performances with Don Ameche and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places (1983) and with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman in 1990. The latter was his last film.
Ralph Bellamy served successfully for 12 years as President of the Actors Equity Association from 1952 to 1964. He was also a founder of the Screen Actor's Guild. Ralph Bellamy died in Santa Monica, California on Nov. 29, 1991 at the age of 86.