From his late teens to his late 20s, Ralph Bellamy worked with 15 different traveling stock companies, not just as an actor but also as a director, producer, set designer, and prop handler. In 1927 he started his own company, the Ralph Bellamy Players. He debuted on Broadway in 1929, then broke into films in 1931. He went on to play leads in dozens of B-movies; he also played the title role in the "Ellery Queen" series. For his work in The Awful Truth (1937) he received an Oscar nomination, playing the "other man" who loses the girl to the hero; he was soon typecast in this sort of role in sophisticated comedies. After 1945 his film work was highly sporadic as he changed his focus to the stage, going on to play leads in many Broadway productions; for his portrayal of FDR in Sunrise at Campobello (1958) he won a Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Award. From 1940-60 he served on the State of California Arts Commission. From 1952-64 he was the president of Actors' Equity. In 1986 he was awarded an honorary Oscar "for his unique artistry and his distinguished service to the profession of acting." He authored an autobiography, When the Smoke Hits the Fan (1979).
- At 16 years old, ran away from home to join an acting troupe performing Shakespeare's plays.
- Founded a repertory troupe called the Ralph Bellamy Players in 1927.
- Made his Broadway debut in Town Boy in 1929.
- Was a founder and board member of the Screen Actors Guild, as well as the president of the Actors' Equity for 12 years.
- Wrote an autobiography called When the Smoke Hits the Fan (1979).
- After reading a film script in which a character was described as "charming but dull—a typical Ralph Bellamy type," Bellamy said, "I promptly packed my bags and headed for New York to find a part with guts."