One of Hollywood’s most reliable journeymen, Earl Bellamy died last November at the age of 86. A graduate of the Hollywood School of Hard Knocks, Bellamy worked his way up from the Columbia Pictures mail room to become one of that studios’ most reliable assistant directors (Return of the Vampire, From Here to Eternity). Yet it wasn’t Columbia, but indie producer Jack Wrather who gave Bellamy his first chance in the director’s chair, with an episode of The Lone Ranger. Earl followed it with 26 more masked man adventures, neatly paving the way to a career in movies and television that would span more than 30 years and over 1600 directing credits.
After his stint with The Ranger, Bellamy’s old boss Sam Katzman brought Earl to Columbia to helm the George Montgomery Western, Seminole Uprising in 1955. The B-schedule proved that Earl Bellamy could deliver well-staged action scenes on a short schedule, which made him perfect for filmed television. Bellamy soon found himself in demand for practically every show on the air including Jungle Jim, M Squad, Perry Mason, The Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch and dozens of others. On the western backlots, Bellamy took on episodes of The Iron Horse, Tales of Wells Fargo, Wagon Train and became the primary director for Laredo.
During a break from TV in 1962, Bellamy directed the effective Stagecoach to Dancer’s Rock starring Warren Stevens and a young Martin Landau as the heavy. A four-year flood of shows followed until Bellamy directed two Westerns back-to-back at Universal, Incident at Phantom Hill and Gunpoint. Incident featured a good script by John Ford collaborator Frank Nugent while Gunpoint was one of Audie Murphy’s most effective later films.
Laredo became Bellamy’s home for the next several years. As the series’ primary director, Bellamy guided William Smith, Peter Brown and Neville Brown with a sure hand culminating in the Laredo/Virginian combo Backtrack in 1969. Earl’s next Westerns were the TV movies Desperate Mission in 1969 and the pilot, The Trackers in 1971. Mission is a high adventure story about bandit Joaquin Murrieta starring Ricardo Montalban. Though a solid film, it pales next to The Trackers. Sporting outstanding work from both Ernest Borgnine and Sammy Davis, Jr., this serious (and at times wildly violent) revenge tale is the director’s best Western. Despite excellent reviews, a series was not forthcoming and Earl Bellamy soldiered on. He began long associations with moguls Aaron Spelling and Irwin Allen and even directed the Comedy-Western Dusty’s Trail, starring Bob Denver and Forrest Tucker. Several of his shows were pieced together for 1976’s The Wackiest Wagon Train in the West. It was his final Western.
In the 1980s, Bellamy shifted focus from directing (Trapper John, M.D. and V) to administrative work when he became head of production for Universal Television and stayed until his retirement. And what is his most remembered film? Not a Western, it’s Munster, Go Home!. Two generations of film fans have delighted in this color comedy. The pro, Earl Bellamy, left his mark.