Showing posts with label Ralph Bellamy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ralph Bellamy. Show all posts

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Vacation - Madison, Concerts, Ralph Bellamy and Badgers

Madison, Wisconsin 
(c) Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Most of our family trip was spent in the city of Madison. Golden era Hollywood and Broadway actor Ralph Bellamy once described the city of Madison, Wisconsin like this: "Madison is a beautiful city, between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. It's cold with lots of snow in the winter. Buddy and leafy and fresh in the spring. Green and lush and hot, with frequent lake breezes, in the summer. Blazing with color and sunsets in the fall. The university [of Wisconsin] inspired an intellectual excitement. Cop's Cafeteria on the Capitol Square was a gathering place for students at night, and they were friendly...Madison was a spirited, progressive city." Bellamy was describing the city as it was during his days living in the city performing in a stock company in the early 1920s, but his description is still a perfect way to describe the city as it is today.

Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas

Bellamy's friend and fellow actor, Melvyn Douglas, had landed the part of the leading man in a Madison stock company. Douglas was able to get Bellamy a job as a general businessman and stage manager, earning $40 a week. The stock company performed in a theatre just off the Capitol Square. Today there are still many theaters, nightclubs, and other entertainment around the Capitol Square and in the summer there are even outdoor concerts on the square. If Bellamy were still with us, I'm sure he would feel right at home in the present Madison.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in front of the capitol.

During our visit to Wisconsin, Zinnia, Hazel and I joined some relatives and friends for one night of Concerts on the Square next to the Capitol. On Wednesday nights during the summer, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs on the steps of the capitol. Attendees can bring their blankets and picnic baskets and find a spot on the capitol lawn. There are also food vendors around the square where you can purchase food.

People gather on the capital lawn for some outdoor music.

Every night of Concerts on the Square has a different theme. This year the themes ranged from "Star-Spangled Spectacular" for a Fourth of July show to "Sweeping Soundtracks" featuring music from films like Ben Hur and Harry Potter. The night we went the theme was "Across the Pond" featuring British music.

The family in front of the Capitol.

An alternative to picnicking on the lawn is to reserve a table near the orchestra on the sidewalk leading up to the capitol. Our family and friends had reserved a table for ten just to the side of the orchestra. Our view was fantastic and the sound was too! If you reserve a table you can still bring your own food and drinks or you can reserve a box supper, order from one of the vendors, or have a catered meal.

Diners who have reserved tables on the capitol sidewalk.

Hazel's first time inside the Wisconsin State Capitol.

One interesting film fact is that the Madison capitol is sometimes featured as a film location but not as the state capitol. Recently in the film Public Enemies (2009) with Johnny Depp, the Madison Capitol was used as the FBI Headquarters and in Chain Reaction (1996) with Morgan Freeman and Keanu Reeves, the interior of the Madison Capitol stands in for the D.C. Capitol.

When Bellamy was in Madison, according to his memoir, When the Smoke Hit the Fan, he "lived in a rooming house at 222 Monona Avenue." He doesn't mention if Douglas lived in the same house or not, but he does mention that they jointly owned a Model T Ford. Although Douglas had the role of the leading man in the stock company, during one Sunday matinee, Bellamy got his chance to play the lead when Douglas, while putting his makeup on suddenly fell off his chair with an attack of appendicitis. Douglas was taken to the hospital and Bellamy, being about the same size as Douglas, put on his costume and played the lead role in his place. At the end of his performance playing the lead part Bellamy recalled that,
"many students came to our Sunday matinees. When the curtain touched the floor, the company lined up for a curtain call. When it rose again, through the applause came a loud, prolonged 'Hiss-ss-ss,' and the curtain dropped. I was pretty upset because I took the hiss to be for me. The curtain rose again to continued applause, and through it cam 'Boom! Bah! Bellamy-Bellamy-Rah! Rah! Rah!' I felt pretty good."
Not far from the Capitol Square, a straight walk down the eclectic State Street, a street filled with cafes and bars, head shops, thrift stores, hip restaurants, street musicians, theaters, and many colorful characters, is the Memorial Union Terrace. The Terrace is a popular hangout for University of Wisconsin students and local Madisonians that faces the shore of Lake Mendota. During the summer there is live music five nights a week and on Mondays there are movies by the lake.

The Memorial Union Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin

Sailing and windsurfing on Lake Mendota

The Memorial Union Terrace

Hazel and Daddy relaxing by the lake.

On a hot summer day, the Memorial Union Terrace is the perfect place to grab a beer, a brat or a scoop of ice cream. There is the Brat Stand serving up brats and local beers on tap and the Daily Scoop which serves up Babcock Dairy Ice Cream (made fresh locally in the University of Wisconsin Dairy Plant), gourmet coffee drinks, sandwiches, wraps, salads and fresh bakery treats.

Hazel and Mommy sitting in front of The Memorial Union.

Sally Kellerman & Rodney Dangerfield by the Terrace

Another film to feature Madison is a personal favorite, the comedy Back to School (1986), starring Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Robert Downey Jr., Keith Gordon, and Ned Beatty with appearances by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Sam Kinison, and the band Oingo Boingo. This film features quite a few places on the University of Wisconsin campus, the home of the Badgers, but in the film, the school is the fictional "Grand Lakes University."  

Back to School (1986), Movie Trailer

To close on an old Hollywood note, the real University of Wisconsin has produced a long list of alumni that went on to make their way in Hollywood. Some famous University of Wisconsin students from the classic Hollywood era include Fredric March, Agnes Moorehead, Tom Ewell, Don Ameche, Macdonald Carey, and Walter Mirisch who was the producer of such films as West Side Story (1961), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ralph Bellamy Arrives in Hollywood, Has Dinner With Clark Gable

Ralph Bellamy

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.

Clark Gable

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.


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