THE SEARCH FOR RALF BELMONT
© Peter J. Palmer, Member #358
The following three paragraphs provide all the information that was available to me before I began my search for the brother of my paternal grandmother.
As a child, I was aware that my grandmother, Concetta (Romeo) Palmer, had a brother named Anthony, who left home to become an actor. I recall being told by my father that that his stage name was ‘Ralph Belmont’; that he was an actor in Hollywood; that he was the best friend of the actor who played the part of “Pa” in the “Ma and Pa Kettle” movie series; that he was a friend of the movie comic “Fatty” Arbuckle and that his wife had red hair;
My father invited his mother, Concetta, and his uncle, Anthony, to dinner at our home when I was about eleven years old (1933) “during one of my uncle’s trips East”, my father said. I had heard that he was a Christian Scientist and I wanted to ask him whether he would call a doctor if he fell off our second-story porch and broke a leg or two when he landed. I was very disappointed when my parents told me that it was not an appropriate question for me to ask a guest. My sister, who was about five years old at the time, recalls that “Ralph” was “slim and somewhat short”.
Before beginning my search for Anthony Romeo, or “Ralph Belmont”, I knew that my grandmother, Concetta, had been born on April 4, 1872 in the town of Lauropoli, in the province of Cosenza, located in the region of Calabria, Italy. She emigrated to the United States in 1891. Her parents were Nicholas Romeo, born in 1840, and Filomena Troccoli, born in 1846, who were married in Italy and died in Italy. I did not know whether or not my grandmother had any other siblings.
THE SEARCH BEGINS
The search for my father’s uncle started almost as an after thought during a visit to the local library where I was researching for background material for a report to a consulting client. When I was about to leave the library I decided to check for “Ralph Belmont” in “Who Was Who On The Screen” by E. Truitt (1977). I found the following citation; “Ralf Belmont. Born 1892. Died Sept. 21, 1964, Hollywood, Calif. (struck by car). Screen actor.” I had only heard about “Ralph Belmont’’ in verbal conversations, but here was the possibility that he spelled his first name as ‘Ralf’. Was this person my grandmother’s brother?
The current listing of my grandmother’s siblings (updated for me by Jane Papa, IGSA Member) provides the following information, Anna Marie b. 1864, Antonio, b. 1866, Rosa b. 1867, Giovambattista b. 1870, Concetta, b. 1872, and Caterina b, 1874. At the first, the second child, named Antonio, was thought to be Ralf, but he was born too early to be the person described in “Who Was Who on the Screen” mentioned above. Did the Antonio born in 1866 die as a child (his death date is not presently available) and a male child born later was named after his dead brother? Or, after the death of the “first Antonio” did his parents adopt and raise a male child born of other parents?
A search of the Volume 8 of the series “Italians To America – Lists of Passengers Arriving at US Ports 1880-1899” at NEHGS* located, on page 182, an Antonio Romeo, 11 years old, who traveled from Naples to New York aboard the ship “Veser”, arriving at the port of New York on June 11, 1894. He accompanied Battista Romeo (taken to be Giovambattista Romeo, his brother), age 24, a laborer, and Rosina, age 16, Battista’s wife. The passenger list for this voyage, obtained later from Ancestry.com provided no new information except to state that they arrived with two pieces of luggage! Who was waiting for them upon arrival? Descriptive information about the “Veser” was found on Ancestry.com at NEHGS: the ship was in service from 1867 to 1896, had iron hull with one funnel and two masts, was 351 feet long and attained a sped of 11.5 knots (13.2 miles per hour).
(* NEHGS is the acronym for the New England Historic Genealogical Society)
DISCOVERY OF KEY DOCUMENTS
The following information is found on the Declaration of Intention (copy obtained with the help of Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk, President of IGSA) of Ralf Belmont dated April 20, 1917: “He landed as Antonio Belmonti Romeo, 35 years old, actor by occupation, of white color, with brown hair, brown eyes, 120 pounds in weight and five feet eight inches tall. He was born in Cosenza, Italy on April 8, 1882. He immigrated to the United States from Naples, Italy on the vessel “Veser”, arriving at the Port of New York in 1894 (day and month unknown). His wife’s name was Lulu and she was born in the Unites States and therefore was a US citizen by birth. Both Ralf and Lulu were then residing at 740 8th Avenue, New York City. Here Antonio is using the middle name of “Belmomti”. Does this indicate that Antonio was adopted from the Romeo clan in the town of Belmonte, Calabria (proposed by Jane Papa, IGSA Member) and Antonio wanted to maintain this identification? Where and when were Lulu and Ralf married?
On the Petition For Naturalization (copy also obtained with Marcia’s help), dated November 18, 1919, Ralf Belmont and his wife, Lulu, were residing at 148 West 45th Street in New York City. Ralf was born on April 8, 1882 in Cosenza, Italy. He left Naples, Italy aboard the vessel “Veser” on or about May 15, 1894 and arrived in New York City on or about June 9, 1894. Note: the trip lasted about 25 days; Lulu was born on December 13, 1885 in the United States. Ralf took the Oath of Allegiance on February 20, 1920. But, is the person identified in these documents as Ralf Belmont actually my grandmother’s brother?
Per the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), Ralf appeared in two, short, black and white, silent movies as Ralph Belmont; “Li’l Nor’wester” in 1915 and “A Sea Mystery” in 1916.
The 1920 US Census reveals that Ralph and Lulu S. Belmont resided at 146 West 49th Street in New York City in an apartment. Ralf was born in Italy in 1894. His father and mother were both born in Italy, and his profession was “actor.” Lulu S. Belmont was born in Virginia, her father was born in Kentucky, her mother was born in the US, and her occupation was “actress.” Other information is consistent with that previously known. Note that the Census is using the customary spelling of his first name, Ralph, rather than the chosen spelling, Ralf.
Per the Internet Broadway data Base (IDBD), he appeared on Broadway in three plays as Ralf Belmont and in three plays as Ralph Belmont.
Ralph appeared in “Why Worry,” a play with music, which ran from
August 23, 1918 to September 14, 1918 for a total of 27 performances.
Ralf appeared in “Declassee,” a drama, with Ethel Barrymore also in the
cast, which ran from October 6, 1919 to May, 1920 for a total of 257
Ralph appeared in “Casanova,” a drama, which ran from September 26,
1923 to December, 1923 for a total of 77 performances.
Ralf appeared in “Rust,” a drama, which ran from January 31, 1924 to
April, 1924 for a total of 82 performances.
Ralph appeared in “Izzy,” a comedy, which ran from September 16, 1924 to
November, 1924 for a total of 71 performances.
Ralf appeared in “A Divine Drudge,” which ran from October 26 1933 to
November, 1933 for a total of 12 performances..
The1930 US Census reveals that Ralf and Lulie Belmont were living in Santa Monica, Calif. Several inconsistencies appear in this record, such as ages at the time of the Census, Ralf’s birthplace is given as New York and that his mother and father were born in the United States, that Lulie’s birthplace is given as Illinois, etc. The information in this Census appears to have been provided by a friend or neighbor who was not very close to the Belmonts since it does not match other information believed to be more accurate.
On July 11, 1955 Ralf Belmont first applied for a Social Security Account Number. The information on that application is: white male, born on April 9, 1892 in Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, 63 years old on last birthday, currently residing at apartment 52536 28th (Street), Santa Monica, Calif., father Nicholas Belmont, mother Fannie Troccoli, employer 28th Church of Christ Scientist, 1018 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles. This information finally indicates that Ralf Belmont is the brother of my grandmother, Concetta. They have the same mother, Fannie Troccoli (Fannie is often used as the English version of Filomena) and the same first name of heir father, but Belmont is substituted for his father’s last name of Romeo. Did he substitute Belmont for his father’s real name of Romeo to simplify his application? Note that he reduced his age by ten years (he claimed to have been born on April 9, 1892 instead of his previously claimed birth date of April 9, 1882). What position did he apply for at the Church? It is noted that the signature, Ralf Belmont, seems to be consistent with that on his Naturalization Documents
DEATH AND BURIAL OF RALF BELMONT
The Social Security Death Index from NEHGS website) provides the following information: Ralf Belmont, SSN 569-50-6872, born 6 April, 1882, died September 1964.in Los Angeles. The California Death Records (via the Internet) provides the following information: Belmont, Ralf, birth date 04/09/1882, sex male, death place Los Angeles, death date 09/21/1964, age 82 yrs. Note the different birth day of the month in theses two records.
Ralf Belmont’s Certificate of Death (obtained from the County Clerk, County of Los Angeles) reports the following information: born on April 9, 1882, died September 21, 1964, father Nicholas Romeo, mother unknown, self-employed actor and writer, widowed, residing at 1830 North Cherokee Avenue, Los Angeles, autopsy was performed, entombment in a Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, died as a result of an “Accident – Pedestrian Struck by Auto.”
Would a copy of Ralf’s obituary provide useful additional information? Were there any children? Any mention of other members of his or Lulu’s family? What about a copy of his autopsy report? The California Death Records (via the Internet) indicate that Lulu Sutton Belmont was born on Dec. 13, 1883, her mother’s maiden name was Keeler & her father’s name was Sutton. She was born in Virginia and died in Los Angeles on Jan. 21, 1947. She did not have a Social Security Number. The California Death Records provides no new information on Ralf Belmont. A search for Ralf’s obituary in the Loa Angeles Times newspaper, (requested by the Wellesley Free Library), yielded the following; “September 23, 1964. Vital Records – Deaths. Belmont, Ralf, Forest Lawn – Glendale.”
In response to a letter request, the Forest Lawn Memorial Park – Glendale provided the following information: Ralf Belmont was interred in Mausoleum Crypt 10779, Sanctuary of the Sacrament, in Glendale on September 29, 1964. He was 82 years old at the time of his death on September 21, 1964. Lulu Sutton Belmont was interred in Mausoleum Crypt 10772, Sanctuary of the Sacrament, in Glendale on January 25, 1947. She was 63 years old at the time of her death, on January 27, 1947. Ralf Belmont himself purchased both Mausoleum Crypts 10772 and 10779 on January 22, 1947.
From the Internet address findagrave.com I learned that “Ralf Belmont, born 1882, died Dec. 11, 1964 [the date of death is that of Percy Kilbride, not Ralf Belmont], Actor. American Stage figure of the 1920s through the 1960s. Died instantly when he and friend/actor Percy Kilbride were struck by a car while out walking. Cause of Death: struck by a car. Burial: Forest lawn Memorial Park Glendale, Los Angeles County, CA, Plot: Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of the Sacrament, C-10779.”
Recalling that my father mentioned that Ralf was the best friend of the actor who played “Pa” in the “Ma and Pa Kettle” movies, I found (in “Hallowell’s Film Guide," Harper Collins, 1964) that the role was played by Percy Kilbride. The details of Ralf’s death in the entry for “Percy Kilbride” in findagrave.com reads as follows: “Percy Kilbride, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and actor friend Ralf Belmont, were crossing the intersection at Yucca and Cherokee in Hollywood near his home, when both were struck by a speeding car. Belmont was killed instantly, but Percy survived” until Dec 11, 1964.
I did confirm some of the information provided by my father about his uncle. Ralf did become an actor, not only in Hollywood, but also on Broadway. He was a friend of Percy Kilbride – they were out walking together when they were struck by a car. It seems that Ralf was a Christian Scientist. However, I could not confirm that Ralf and Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle were friends. I have not been able to locate any professional connection between Ralf and Percy or between Ralf and Fatty. A copy of Ralf’s will is needed to confirm that there were no children. But, at no time during this “Search for Ralf Belmont” did I expect to confirm that Lulu Belmont had red hair!
This is an interim report on the “Search for Ralf Belmont”. Answers to the questions raised throughout the text will help to “flesh out” Ralf’s life.
I wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Members of the Italian Genealogical Society of America (IGSA) and Staff of the New England Historic and Genealogical Society (NEHGS).
After reading a draft copy of “The Search for Ralf Belmont,” Jim Forti, Treasurer of IGSA, sent me the following e-mail: message “I think your story would make a good article for our members. It shows all the different steps that a thorough researcher would take when trying to track down a wayward ancestor. It is an interesting read and all the different searches you made could provide our members with additional ideas if they have hit a brick wall with their ancestor.”