12/16/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
NO ONE PLAYED LOVES LOSER BETTER than Ralph Bellamy. "I never got the girl," he once recalled. And indeed, in such screwball comedy classics as The Awful Truth
(1937) and His Girl Friday
(1940), he was the humbler who lost first Irene Dunne, then Rosalind Russell, to the nimble Cary Grant.
Yet Bellamy, who died of a lung ailment in Santa Monica on Nov. 29 at age 87, had spent too many years in repertory and touring companies to let himself be permanently typed as an unripe second banana. So this son of a Chicago advertising executive reversed tradition by abandoning Hollywood for Broadway. Chosen to play Franklin D. Roosevelt in Dore Schary's 1958 play, Sunrise at Campobello
, Bellamy learned to walk with leg braces the way FDR, a victim of polio, had done, and mastered the delicate stage art of talking through teeth clamped on Roosevelt's signature cigarette holder. After Bellamy's acclaimed performance, no other actor wanted to touch the role, and Bellamy played FDR again in the 1960 film version and yet again in the 1983 television miniseries The Winds of War
Says his friend of 50 years, Paramount producer A.C. Lyles: "Ralph was always that sweet, affable person, from the first time I met him to the last time I saw him a week ago."
In his personal life he had better—and worse—luck than the losers he once portrayed. Three marriages (to Alice Delbridge, Catherine Willard and Ethel Smith) ended in divorce. But his fourth, to Alice Murphy in 1949, lasted until his death. He had a son, Willard, and a daughter, Lynn McCrudden.
Bellamy continued to work into his 80s, appearing in Trading Places
with Eddie Murphy and Pretty Woman
with Julia Roberts
and Richard Gere. In all, his career spanned eight decades and hundreds of film, stage and television roles. "Everything he did, he made it look easy," says Lyles. "You could never catch him acting."