Bellamy, Madge (1899–1990)
Bellamy, Madge (1899–1990)
American film actress of the 1920s. Born Margaret Philpott in 1899 (some sources cite 1902) in Hillsboro, Texas; died on January 24, 1990, in Upland, California; daughter of William Bledsoe (an English professor and football coach at Texas A&M) and Anne "Annie" Margaret (Derden) Philpott; attended St. Mary's Hall, a junior college affiliated with Vassar; married Logan Metcalf, in 1928 (divorced).
The Riddle: Woman (1920); The Cup of Life (1921); Passing Thru (1921); Blind Hearts (1921); Love Never Dies (1921); The Call of the North (1921); Hail the Woman (1921); Lorna Doone (1922); The Hottentot (1922); Garrison's Finish (1923); Are You a Failure? (1923); Soul of the Beast (1923); Do It Now (1924); No More Women (1924);
The White Sin (1924); Love's Whirlpool (1924); His Forgotten Wife (1924); The Fire Patrol (1924); The Iron Horse (1924); On the Stroke of Three (1924); Love and Glory (1924); A Fool and His Money (1925); The Dancer (1925); The Parasite (1925); The Reckless Sex (1925); Secrets of the Night (1925); Wings of Youth (1925); The Man in Blue (1925); Lightnin' (1925); Havoc (1925); Thunder Mountain (1925); Lazybones (1925); The Golden Strain (1925); The Dixie Merchant (1926); Sandy (1926); Black Paradise (1926); Summer Bachelors (1926); Bertha, The Sewing Machine Girl (1926); Ankles Preferred (1927); The Telephone Girl (1927); Colleen (1927); Very Confidential (1927); Silk Legs (1927); Soft Living (1928); The Play Girl (1928); Mother Knows Best (1928); Fugitives (1929); Tonight at Twelve (1929); White Zombie (1932); Gigolettes of Paris (1933); Riot Squad (1933); Gordon of Ghost City (a serial in 12 chapters, 1933); Charlie Chan in London (1934); The Great Hotel Murder (1935); The Daring Young Man (1935); Under Your Spell (1936); Northwest Trail (1945).
One of the few silent stars who arrived in Hollywood by way of Broadway, Madge Bellamy was among the most highly regarded and highest paid actresses of that era. Hailed by Motion Picture Classic in 1921 as "the most sensitive face on the screen," this leading comedic talent of the '20s was also known for her disputes with studio bosses. In 1928, Bellamy walked out of her Fox contract, virtually ending her career. On the publication of her 1989 autobiography A Darling of the Twenties, Kevin Brownlow noted that it was Bellamy's attempt to "confront the strange and willful personality that was hers … sixty years ago."
Madge Bellamy was born Margaret Philpott in Texas in 1899. Her father was an English professor at Texas A&M, before he embarked on a series of business ventures; her mother was a talented pianist, who guided her daughter's career from her earliest performance at age nine in a touring company of Aida. Although Bellamy's first appearance on Broadway was as a chorus girl in The Love Mill, she was singled out with a nod from one critic: "Good dancing by Margaret Philpott." She also caught the attention of theatre owner Daniel Frohman, who suggested a name change to the more melodious Bellamy, and recommended her for the touring company of Pollyanna. Bellamy had stage roles in Dear Brutus and Peg O' My Heart, and played Geraldine Farrar 's daughter in the movie The Riddle: Woman, before winning a screen test for the Thomas Ince Studio and moving to Hollywood with her mother.
For her first movie under contract, Bellamy did her own hair and makeup and supplied her own costumes, which were sewn by her mother. From the start, she would write in her autobiography, she was disturbed by the way she was treated. "It is very hard for a girl brought up in the South, as I had been, … to be told to stand up while they looked her over like a horse."
In 1922, Bellamy won the prize part in Lorna Doone, directed by France's Maurice Tourneur. Publicity for the movie included a U.S. tour which began in the Harding White House, where Bellamy gave make-up tips to first lady Florence Harding and posed with General John J. Pershing. Upon her return to Hollywood, she was passed over for the role in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, the first of many serious dramatic roles she would lose. Although she was publicized as a serious actress, Bellamy bemoaned the fact that she did comedies for most of her career. "Tragediennes are supposed to suffer," she once said, "and so I suffer—in comedies."
Bellamy was lent out to other studios on many occasions, once to MGM, where Irving Thalberg had chosen her to star in Ben Hur. She thanked him but turned it down, saying, "It will just be a lot of horses." By her own admission, she was full of herself in those days, arguing with most of her directors, employing one as a target for her shoe. Once when Louis B. Mayer offered her a film, she turned him down, because Mayer did not stand when she walked into the room.
Bellamy had no problem finding suitors, even with her mother in tow. She mingled with celebrities, such as Paul Whiteman, Howard Hughes, Jack Dempsey, and Bennett Cerf, and received numerous marriage proposals from tycoons, directors, and leading men. Although there were always men in her life, Bellamy had difficulty establishing an enduring relationship. Her one marriage, to stockbroker Logan Metcalf, lasted only six days.
In 1928, Bellamy signed a four-year contract with Fox and made her first talkie, Mother Knows Best by Edna Ferber , based on the life of the vaudevillian Elsie Janis . This was her finest role, allowing Bellamy to demonstrate her versatility with impressions of Harry Lauder, Anna Held , and Al Jolson. She received raves from the critics, who were at the same time enthusiastic about her future in sound.
Soon after her triumph, however, Bellamy quit Fox over a dispute. Instead, she made a film for Universal for half her salary. With the stock market crash of 1929, work dried up, and, due to her mother's less than savvy business sense, Bellamy soon faced financial ruin. Her last notable film was the horror classic White Zombie, in which she played a young bride who falls under the spell of a mad plantation owner portrayed by Bela Lugosi. During the 1930s, she concentrated more on stage roles, playing a number of parts in new plays, including Intermission and Holiday Lady. She also made live appearances on a tour of the great motion-picture theaters in the East, doing impersonations for which she wrote her own scripts. It was a grueling schedule, with six shows a day.
Bellamy's four-year off-and-on affair with lumber tycoon Stan Murphy, which began in 1937, ended with Murphy marrying another woman. Feeling betrayed and distraught, Bellamy fired three shots at him as he was leaving the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Although the assault charge brought against her was eventually dismissed, the negative publicity surrounding the incident negated any chance for a comeback. Her final movie, the forgettable Northwest Trails, was made in 1945, when she was just past 40.
Following her retirement, Bellamy lived briefly in New Mexico, then moved to Ontario, California, where she cared for her mother during a final illness. The real-estate boom of the 1980s brought her much needed money from a property holding, ending what she referred to as her abject poverty. In her final years, she devoted time to political activism, including the causes of civil rights and feminism. In addition to her autobiography, she wrote two novels, a play, and a number of short stories, none of which were published. Madge Bellamy lived past her 90th birthday and died on January 24, 1990.
Bellamy, Madge. A Darling of the Twenties. NY: Vestal Press, 1989.
Drew, William M. Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press, 1989.
Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts