Friday, June 17, 2011

Ralph Bellamy, Evalyn Knapp, Jeff Chandler

Who was born on this date:

Actor Ralph Bellamy was born on June 17, 1904 in Chicago, Illinois. He began acting on stage in the late 1920’s. In 1931, he made his film debut and worked constantly throughout the decade first as a lead then as a capable supporting actor. Bellamy was cast in the lead role in the 1936 film, Straight from the Shoulder and also in the 1937 film It Can't Last Forever. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne and Cary Grant, and played a similar part in His Girl Friday (1940). Highly regarded within the industry, he was a founder of the Screen Actors Guild and served as President of Actors' Equity from 1952-1964. Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, Bellamy was regularly seen socially with a select circle of friends known affectionately as the Irish Mafia. This group consisted of a group of Hollywood mover and shakers who were mainly of Irish descent (despite Bellamy having no Irish family connections himself). Others included James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Spencer Tracy, and Frank Morgan.

In 1949, Bellamy starred in the drama Man Against Crime on the DuMont Television Network; the program lasted until 1956, when the lead role was taken by Frank Lovejoy, who thereafter starred in NBC's Meet McGraw detective series. Bellamy was a regular panelist on the CBS television game show To Tell the Truth. In the summer of 1961, Bellamy hosted nine original episodes of a CBS Western anthology series called Frontier Justice. On film, he also starred in the Western The Professionals (1966) as an oil tycoon, and Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) as an evil physician, before turning to television during the 1970’s. He received an Emmy Award nomination for the mini-series, The Winds of War (1983), in which Bellamy reprised his Sunrise at Campobello role of Franklin Roosevelt. This was quickly followed by his role as Randolph Duke, a conniving billionaire commodities trader in Trading Places (1983), alongside Don Ameche and starring Eddie Murphy. In the 1988, Coming to America, Bellamy and co-star Don Ameche reprised a one-scene cameo of their roles as the Duke brothers.

In 1984, he was presented with a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild, and in 1987 received an Honorary Academy Award. Among his later roles was a memorable appearance as a once-brilliant but increasingly forgetful lawyer sadly skewered by the Jimmy Smits character on an episode of L.A. Law. He continued working regularly and gave his final performance in Pretty Woman (1990). Bellamy died on November 29, 1991, at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, from a lung ailment and is buried at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Actress Evalyn Knapp was born on June 17, 1906 in Kansas, Missouri. She was a leading B-movie serial actress in the 1930's. Knapp started acting in silent films, her first role being in the 1929 film At The Dentist's. In 1932, Knapp was one of fourteen girls, including Ginger Rogers and Gloria Stuart, selected as "WAMPAS Baby Stars.” Knapp achieved success in cliffhanger serials, which were popular at the time. She played the title character in the 1933 serial The Perils of Pauline. One of her better known film roles was opposite Ken Maynard in the 1934's, In Old Santa Fe. Her career flourished through 1941, but slowed afterward. She married a physician, Dr. George A. Snyder in 1934 and then retired from Hollywood. Knapp died from undisclosed causes on June 12, 1981 in Los Angeles, California.

Who died on this date:

On June 17, 1961, actor Jeff Chandler died. He was born Ira Grossel on December 15, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1950’s, Chandler became a star in western and action movies. His first important role was in Sword in the Desert (1948). He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), making the first of three screen appearances as the legendary Apache chief. He reprised the role in The Battle at Apache Pass (1952) and in a cameo in Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). He was the first actor nominated for an Academy Award for portraying an American Indian.

Chandler as Cochise in Broken Arrow

During the latter part of the decade and into the early 1960’s, Chandler became a top leading man. His sex appeal, prematurely gray hair, and ruggedly handsome tanned features put him into drama and costume movies. Among the movies of this period are Female on the Beach (1955), Foxfire (1955), Away All Boats (1956), Toy Tiger (1956), Drango (1957), The Tattered Dress (1957), Man in the Shadow (1957), A Stranger in My Arms (1959), The Jayhawkers! (1959), Thunder in the Sun (1959), and Return to Peyton Place (1961).

Shortly after completing his role in Merrill's Marauders in 1961, he injured his back while playing baseball with U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers who served as extras in the movie. Chandler entered a Culver City hospital and had surgery for the spinal disc injury on May 13, 1961. There were severe complications and numerous surgeries; ultimately an artery was damaged and Chandler hemorrhaged to death on June 17, 1961. His death was deemed malpractice and resulted in a large lawsuit and settlement. He is buried at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery, in Culver City, California., author of "Fade to Black: Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950"

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