Today, we look at the time in His Girl Friday that Cary Grant poked fun at how his co-star, Ralph Bellamy, was often typecast in certain sorts of film roles.
In Meta-Messages, I explore the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a creator comments on/references the work of another creator (or sometimes even themselves) in their work. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.”
One of the most unusual things as an actor is to be typecast. On the one hand, it means that you’re stuck playing only a certain type of role, but on the other hand, it means you’re BEING cast. It’s hard to get notable roles in films, ya know? So that was the problem with Ralph Bellamy, a talented actor who became typecast as the nice, but dull third side of a love triangle in a film who will invariably lose the girl to the more charming lead actor.
This was precisely the situation in 1937’s The Awful Truth, where he loses Irene Dunne to Cary Grant…
He was so good playing the straight man in the film that he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Eventually, Bellamy grew tired of being typecast in films and moved back to New York to do plays during the 1950s. He later recalled the inciting reason he left Hollywood, “One day in Hollywood, I read a script in which the character was described as ‘charming but dull–a typical Ralph Bellamy type.’ I promptly headed for New York to find a part with guts.”
Well, before that point, he kept doing those Bellamy-type parts, including the brilliant 1940 film, His Girl Friday, where he loses Rosalind Russell to Cary Grant (again!).
There’s an excellent sequence where Grant’s Walter Burns is trying to keep Russell’s Hildy Johnson from leaving town, so he conspires to frame Bruce (Bellamy) for a crime. The associate he uses to do so asks how she will tell who Bruce is, and Burns explains
“He looks like that fellow in the movies, you know … Ralph Bellamy!”
It was an ad-libbed line by Grant, and when the studio saw the film, they asked director Howard Hawks to remove it, but he insisted it be kept in. It’s so clever because Grant is not just joking about how Bellamy’s character looks like Bellamy, but it’s obviously also a reference to how Bruce is very much a Ralph Bellamy character. So good, and as an ad-lib! Wow!
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