Once sound made its way into films many silent film stars soon found themselves out of work. Some silent stars didn't have voices that fit their on-screen image. Others were foreign actors who suddenly needed to be able to speak English, which wasn't an issue for silent films. For many silent actors though, they just didn't possess the ability to memorize and speak lines. The Hollywood studios quickly turned to Broadway in order to find trained actors that could meet the needs of the new talking pictures. This is the era that actor Ralph Bellamy entered Hollywood.
Prior to films, Bellamy had been honing his acting skills on the stage, first in stock theatre and eventually Broadway. Just before Bellamy moved to Hollywood he was cast as the part of Texas in the play Roadside, which ran at the Longacre Theatre in New York. What Bellamy thought was going to be a big hit ended up closing after just eleven performances. Fortunately, for Bellamy, he was getting contract offers from a few major movie studios. Bellamy signed with United Artists, headed by Joseph Schenck, and like so many actors during this time, left the stage for the screen.
The Knickerbocker Hotel
Bellamy took a first class train from New York to Los Angeles. When he arrived in Los Angeles he moved into the Knickerbocker Hotel located at 1714 Ivar Avenue in Hollywood. The hotel, which is now senior apartments, used to be a choice hotel for many newly arrived actors.
It was November when Bellamy arrived in Hollywood and the city was dressed for Christmas. The city was having a Christmas parade. A truck pulling a large propeller rolled down Hollywood Boulevard in which a man threw confetti that then blew like snow over the spectators. This was followed by Santa Clause in his sleigh, musicians in folk costumes and various other parade vehicles. It was a hot November, especially for an actor who just came from New York.
Henry's Restaurant (Photo from Getty Images)
Former site of Henry's Restaurant
Rather than going to work right away for United Artists, Schenck loaned out his newly acquired star to Irving Thalberg over at M-G-M. Thalberg, in December 1930, put Bellamy to work in the film The Secret Six, which also starred Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, and Clark Gable. Bellamy played "Johnny Franks," a bootlegger/cafe owner.
One night during the filming of The Secret Six, Bellamy went and had dinner at Henry's Restaurant in Hollywood. Henry's was financed by Charlie Chaplin and operated by fellow silent film actor, Henry Bergman. According to the book, The Story of Hollywood, by Gregory Paul Williams, Henry's was the first restaurant in Hollywood to stay open after midnight. It was Al Jolson's favorite spot to eat after the fights at Legion Stadium and was a favorite spot of actress Myrna Loy, as well as many other Hollywood celebrities of the time.
While at Henry's, Bellamy's co-star Gable came into the restaurant and sat next to him. After Gable ordered his meal, Bellamy, in his autobiography, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, says their exchange went like this:
"What do you think of all this out here?" [asked Gable]
"I don't know yet," I answered. "I haven't been here long enough to form an opinion."
"I just got eleven thousand dollars for playing a heavy in a Bill Boyd Western," he exclaimed. "Eleven thousand dollars!" he went on, almost in disbelief. "No actor's worth that. This can't last. I've got myself a room at the Castle Argyle [an inexpensive hostelry at the top of Vine Street] and a secondhand Ford. I'm socking away everything I can and I'm not buying anything I can't put on The Chief. This just can't last."While Gable's thinking was wise, his fears never did come true. Both Bellamy and Gable went onto have successful careers until the end of their lives.
Wonderful story about Bellamy, an always-reliable actor whether in comic or dramatic roles. (And he may well have been the only person to work on screen with both Jean Harlow and Julia Roberts!) YouTube has a multi-part interview with him that's well worth checking out.
Oh, and I should also mention that Ralph Bellamy will be honored Aug. 7 as part of TCM's 2011 "Summer Under The Stars," the day after Lucille Ball gets a centenary tribute for her often-overlooked film career.
I know, how amazing that Bellamy had a career that spanned from Harlow to Roberts! And he was still good even until the end.
That's great to hear that Bellamy will be getting honored as part of TCM's "Summer Under The Stars." He definitely deserves it. Thanks for the tip about the Youtube interviews. I'll check it out.
This was so interesting! Thank you for posting.
I tried to leave you a comment yesterday but kept getting an error message! Just to say that I also found this really interesting - great picture of Ralph Bellamy, which reminds me of how he looks in the pre-Code Picture Snatcher with James Cagney. Judy
Thanks for the comment. You're right, Bellamy looks great in that photo and I really like his work during the pre-Code period. Picture Snatcher is a fave! I think that Cagney film really holds up pretty well.
Great post. One of my favorite lines in any film is Cary Grant's ad-lib in His Girl Friday, when he describes Bellamy with, "He looks like that fellow in pictures...you know...Ralph Bellamy."
That's a great film and an excellent ad-lib! From what I understand, the script was never really complete at the start of filming so much of the film was ad-libbed or written on the fly. The results, of course, are pretty hilarious - that line being one of the best.
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