Lupino, Ida (1914–1995)
Lupino, Ida (1914–1995)
American film and television actress, writer, director, and producer, who was one of the few female directors in Hollywood during the 1950s and 1960s. Born on February 4, 1914, in London, England; died on August 3, 1995, in Burbank, California; daughter of Stanley Lupino (a British film comedian) and Constance O'Shay (a British actress); sister of Rita Lupino (an actress); educated at private schools and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts; married Louis Hayward (an actor), in 1938 (divorced 1945); married Collier Young, in 1948 (divorced 1950); marriedHoward Duff (an actor), in 1951 (divorced 1983); children: (third marriage) one daughter, Bridget Duff .
Made her film acting debut at 14 in England before emigrating to Hollywood (1933); appeared in more than 60 films (1933–1982); directed her first film (1949), becoming one of the few female directors in Hollywood (1950s–1960s); also wrote, directed and produced for television, as well as acting in several of her own productions.
Her First Affaire (UK, 1933); Money for Speed (UK, 1933); High Finance (UK, 1933); Prince of Arcadia (UK, 1933); The Ghost Camera (1933); I Lived With You (UK, 1933); Search for Beauty (1934); Come on Marines (1934); Ready for Love (1934); Paris in Spring (1935); Smart Girl (1935); Peter Ibbetson (1935); Anything Goes (1936); One Rainy Afternoon (1936); Yours for the Asking (1936); The Gay Desperado (1936); Sea Devils (1937); Let's Get Married (1937); Artists and Models (1937); Fight for Your Lady (1937); The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt (1939); The Lady and the Mob (1939); The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939); The Light That Failed (1940); They Drive By Night (1940); High Sierra (1941); The Sea Wolf (1941); Out of the Fog (1941); Ladies in Retirement (1941); Moontide (1942); Life Begins at Eight-Thirty (1942); The Hard Way (1943); Forever and a Day (1943); Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943); In Our Time (1944); Hollywood Canteen (1944); Pillow to Post (1945); Devotion (1946); The Man I Love (1947); Deep Valley (1947); Escape Me Never (1947); Road House (1948); Lust for Gold (1949); (also co-producer, co-director, coscreenwriter) Not Wanted (1949); Woman In Hiding (1950); (as director, co-producer, co-writer) Never Fear (The Young Lovers, 1950); (as director, cowriter) Outrage (1950); (director) Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1950); On Dangerous Ground (1952); Beware My Lovely (1952); Jennifer (1953); (director, cowriter) The Hitch-Hiker (1953); (as actress and director) The Bigamist (1953); (also co-writer) Private Hell 36 (1954); Women's Prison (1955); The Big Knife (1955); While the City Sleeps (1956); Strange Intruder (1956); (as director) The Trouble With Angels (1966); Backtrack (1969); Junior Bonner (1972); The Devil's Rain (1975); The Food of the Gods (1976); My Boys Are Good Boys (1978); Deadhead Miles (1982).
He had been shot in the stomach and lay on the ground, senseless. But it wasn't enough. The director stopped the scene, strolled over to the prone, handsome young actor and cooed, "Lovey bird, you've been shot in the belly. You must suffer, darling." The cameras rolled again on another episode of the television western "Have Gun, Will Travel," and soon Ida Lupino—the director everyone called "Mother"—had her scene.
The nickname was bestowed with great respect. Actors loved working with her, for she brought 30 years of her own acting experience to the job. "Ida stimulates me as an actor because she knows acting," Richard Boone, the weekly star of "Have Gun, Will Travel," once said. "In a weekly show you get into habit patterns. Ida gets you out of them." More important, Lupino was one of the pioneering women—like director Lois Weber in the early 1900s and writer Frances Marion in the 1920s—who staked out their own territory in a distinctly male world. Lupino was virtually the only female director working in Hollywood throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, and the first to work steadily at it since Dorothy Arzner in the 1940s. Her secret, she once confessed, was in deception. "Men hate bossy women," she said. "Sometimes I pretend to know less than I do."
Emerald, Connie (1891–1959)
English actress. Name variations: Constance Lupino. Born Constance O'Shay in 1891; died on December 26, 1959; married Stanley Lupino; children: Ida Lupino (1914–1995, an actress, director); Rita Lupino (an actress).
Connie Emerald began her acting career as a child, appearing at the Shaftesbury Theater in 1904 in The Prince of Pilsen. A few years later, still in her teens, she toured the United States for 18 months, followed with a tour of Australia. Her last appearance was as Jane Howard in Hold My Hand in London in 1931.
Few of her male contemporaries would argue with Ida Lupino's credentials. She had been born in London into a venerable English acting family on February 4, 1914. Her father Stanley Lupino was a popular music-hall and silent-film comedian; her mother Constance O'Shay enjoyed an equally successful career under the stage name Connie Emerald . Two of Ida's uncles managed the Drury Lane Theater, while another was a dramatic actor of some note. Two of her cousins acted in films (one of them, Lupino Lane, enjoyed early success in America in silent two-reelers), and her younger sister, Rita Lupino , would also become an actress. The Lupinos, in fact, could proudly trace their heritage back to Renaissance Italy, where their ancestors strolled the Neapolitan streets as musicians, acrobats, and players before being banished to England in the 17th century for political reasons. Although Ida would one day claim that she had never wanted to be an actress, any other career in the Lupino family was hardly imaginable.
Nonetheless, her parents were determined that Ida would have a conventional public-school education, although they were hardly surprised when Ida wrote and produced a play for her classmates when she was only seven years old. Three years later, Stanley even built Ida her own child-sized theater, complete with an orchestra pit and electrical fixtures, where his daughter presented scenes from Shakespeare. At 12, Lupino was appearing at London's Tom Thumb Theater, which specialized in children's programs; at 13, she had enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts; and at 14, she was touring the countryside with RADA's repertory company, although she modestly insisted on using the name "Ida Ray" to avoid trading on her family's fame.
It seemed inevitable that Lupino would be offered a film role sooner or later, although it turned out to be one for which her mother had auditioned. Prolific Hollywood director Allen Dwan came to London in 1932 to cast his first British film, Her First Affaire, a melodrama about a budding young girl who falls in love with an older man. Connie, 41 at the time, read for the part. It was painfully obvious to Dwan and everyone else (except, perhaps, Emerald herself) that she was much too old to play an ingenue; equally obvious to Dwan was that Connie's daughter was perfect for the part. It was Dwan who gave Ida the look for which she would be known in her first six pictures, as "the English Jean Harlow ." He insisted she bob her long, dark brown hair and dye it platinum blonde, as well as pluck and shape her eyebrows into more fetching arches. Although the film fared poorly with critics, Lupino's performance was more kindly reviewed. In her next film—Money for Speed, a lurid tale of motorcycle racing and mobsters—Lupino first created the "tough broad" character she would portray so often in her career. Her first dramatically challenging role was in the Ivor Novello melodrama I Lived With You, about an innocent career girl who falls under the sway of a worldly emigré Russian prince. "It was generally believed that the parts she secured in the past were because of her looks," noted Variety, "but in this she shows herself to be an emotional actress of no mean quality."
While Lupino was busy building her British film career, Paramount in Hollywood was looking for an ingenue to play the lead in its upcoming, lavish production of Alice In Wonderland. On the strength of one scene studio executives screened from Money for Speed, the part was offered to Ida Lupino. So it was that on August 19, 1933, Ida and her mother left for California. Paramount executives were surprised to welcome, not a shy, innocent young girl, but an experienced, intelligent, and ambitious 19-year-old actress. Although Lupino dutifully screen-tested for Alice, she suggested Paramount look at the rest of Money for Speed, especially the later reels when her character has been corrupted and turned into a gun-toting mob moll. "I could never, no matter how hard I tried, feel Alice," she said, "because I have never really been Alice's age." Paramount decided that she was, after all, not their Alice, but agreed to put her on salary at $600 a week while they looked for a part for her. It took six months, but Lupino eventually appeared in her first American picture, 1934's Search for Beauty, an unsuccessful spoof of the health and exercise industry, along with two more features that went mercifully unnoticed. She spent the rest of that year on the sidelines, felled by a polio epidemic that swept Los Angeles—although hers was a mild case, and she recovered fully.
By now, Lupino was restless and let Paramount know it. The studio's response was to cast her in a small role in its big-budget film version of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, in which she was sung to by Bing Crosby, and to lend her out to Mary Pickford 's United Artists to play another sweet young thing who becomes an older man's mistress. Once again, the critics spared her from their otherwise scathing reviews of One Rainy Afternoon. The New York Times told its readers that Ida Lupino "impressed us as having her tongue in her cheek, even while registering love's sweet surrender." Paramount began to realize they might have a legitimate leading lady on their hands, and agreed to Lupino's demands that she lose the blonde hair and stop being a sex kitten. "I don't care a fig about looking pretty-pretty on screen," she firmly told them. Her determination to be taken as a serious actress led her to leave Paramount when her contract expired in 1937, embarking on a series of forgettable melodramas for RKO, Columbia, and United Artists and, along the way, marrying actor Louis Hayward in 1938. But it was back at Paramount that she landed the role of the Cockney street girl Bessie Broke in 1939's The Light That Failed, based on the Rudyard Kipling novel. Sensing it could be her breakthrough part, Lupino assailed the film's director, William Wellman, until he agreed to give her an audition and, eventually, the job. Although she was billed fourth, behind Ronald Colman, Walter Huston, and a now-forgotten actress named Muriel Angelus , critics and the public generally agreed that Lupino stole the picture from them all. Graham Greene thought that Ronald Colman was "acted right off the set" by Ida Lupino, and adjectives such as "splendid" and "superb" were not uncommon in describing her performance. An Oscar nomination seemed possible, but the competition that year was stiff, with pictures like Gone With the Wind and Dark Victory getting most of the Academy's attention and nominations. (GWTW and its starring actress, Vivien Leigh , won Best Picture and Best Actress that year.)
But The Light That Failed did manage to accomplish what Lupino had set out to do. Hollywood now regarded her as a serious and, even better, money-making actress. In 1940, she signed with Warner Bros., where she would spend the next seven years and appear in what she considered to be some of her best films, even though she was well aware that Warner's had hired her as a foil to Bette Davis . Davis, the "queen of Warner's," was becoming notoriously difficult to please, and it was the studio's hope that an eager young actress waiting in the wings would make Davis more flexible. After Lupino's first picture for Warner's—1940's They Drive By Night—it seemed the strategy might be working. Ida's portrayal of Lana Carson, a bored wife who falls for a boozy truck driver but is driven insane by his infidelities, prompted Newsweek to point out to its readers: "Every so often, Hollywood discovers Ida Lupino. This time, she will undoubtedly stay discovered. [Warner Bros.] is convinced they have another Bette Davis and are hurriedly searching for screen stories to prove it." There followed in rapid succession over the next seven years many of Lupino's best-known roles in such films as High Sierra, The Sea Wolf, Ladies in Retirement (her favorite role), and The Hard Way, which won her a Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics. She played hard women, sympathetic women, scatterbrained women, and murderous women for Warner's, but all along she knew she was, as she described herself, "a poor man's Bette Davis." In between pictures, she decided to do something about it. "I used to go and sit on the set when I was on suspension," she once recalled, "which was a great deal of the time. I used to ask if I could sit in the cutting room, and I'd see how a film was put together. And … you learn why a director asked you to do such and such." By 1945, she was telling a fan magazine that she saw her future in "directing or producing, or both"; and when her Warner's contract came up for renewal in 1948, she decided to put her education to the test and declined the studio's offer, telling Jack Warner, "I don't want to be told someday that I'll be replaced by some starlet, as I was told I would replace Bette Davis."
Lupino made her decision to explore other areas of the business at a fortuitous time. Hollywood was just then entering a period of nervous conservatism, partly due to impending government anti-trust investigations and partly due to Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, which would produce the infamous "black list" of writers, directors, and actors suspected of Communist sympathies. Many of them would be forced to either retire from the business or seek work overseas. As a result of all the scrutiny, the major Hollywood studios were wary of anything that might appear to be outside what a later age would term "American family values," and it would be up to a growing number of independent filmmakers to handle serious social issues on the screen.
Angelus, Muriel (b. 1909)
British actress-singer. Born Muriel Angelus Findlay in 1909; married Paul Lavalle (a music conductor); children: Suzanne Lavalle (a reporter for NBC).
Following a long stage career in England, Muriel Angelus was discovered by Hollywood when she starred on Broadway in The Boys from Syracuse, introducing the song "Falling in Love with Love." Her U.S. career included only four movies—The Light That Failed (1939), The Way of All Flesh (1940), Safari (1940), and The Great McGinty (1940)—"but few who ever saw her," wrote David Ragan, "and heard her melodious speaking voice—ever forgot this classic-featured blonde." Her British films include The Ringer (1930) and Hindle Wakes (1931).
Ragan, David. Who's Who in Hollywood: 1900–1976. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1976.
The decision to leave Warner's was just the first of several major events in Lupino's personal and professional life. She became a naturalized American citizen in June 1948, and later that year married Collier Young, an executive at Columbia Pictures (her earlier marriage to Louis Hayward had ended in divorce in 1945). Like Lupino, Young wanted to expand his professional horizons and thought he had the script with which to do it—a gritty social melodrama written by Marvin Wald (The Naked City) called Not Wanted, the story of a young woman who has a child out of wedlock, gives it up for adoption, then tries to regain her baby through a kidnap plot. Young tried to interest Columbia in the script, but given the controversial subject matter, the studio refused. Almost at the same time, Lupino met Anson Bond, the wealthy heir to a chain of men's clothing stores, who agreed to finance the picture. The four partners—Lupino, Young, writer Wald, and Bond—formed Emerald Productions and hired Elmer Clifton, a seasoned "B-film" director, to helm it for them. Only days into the shoot, however, Clifton suffered a heart attack, and, because there was no money to hire a new director, Lupino stepped in and put her Warner Bros. education to work—although she refused to take official credit for the job and insisted that the release prints carry Clifton's name.
Any ladies who want to take over men's jobs … had better have strong stomachs.
Not Wanted was shot in black-and-white, almost entirely on location, for under $100,000. The film featured two unknown actors, Sally Forrest and Keefe Brasselle, and, because Emerald Productions lacked a distribution deal with a large studio, played in a limited number of theaters. Nonetheless, it was noticed. "Much of the picture's force," said The New York Times, "comes from its flat insistence on telling the story straight. Its dirty children, dilapidated porches, and stuffy hall bedrooms are authentically grimy; its dialogue often catches the nagging overtones of everyday frustration and defeat." It was, in short, an example of the American cinema's social realism of the 1950s, a counterpoint to the big-budget melodramas and musicals churned out by an otherwise cautious Hollywood. On the strength of Not Wanted, RKO's Howard Hughes offered Lupino and her partners a three-picture distribution deal, each of the three films to be budgeted at $250,000. Emerald Productions was renamed The Filmakers, with Young as president, Lupino as vice-president, and Wald as treasurer (Bond had dropped out of the partnership after its first film).
Never Fear was the company's next production, and the first picture to bear Lupino's name as director. She and Young wrote the script, about a nightclub performer who is stricken with polio, and Ida once again cast Forrest and Brasselle as her two leads. The new arrangement with RKO wasn't yet in effect, however, and the film suffered from an erratic release pattern, even after it was more sympathetically renamed The Young Lovers and re-released. It went virtually unnoticed. Next came The Filmakers' most controversial picture, 1950's Outrage, which tackled the taboo subject of rape. This time, Lupino made sure she was working with a bigger budget, and hired Mala Powers —who was just making a name for herself—as her heroine. Lupino would later identify Outrage as the film in which she matured as a director, both technically and stylistically. "I just felt it was a good thing to do at that time, without being too preachy," she once said. "I just thought that so many times, the effect rape can have on a girl isn't easily brought out." She took great pains to handle her topic responsibly (the word "rape," in fact, is used only once in the picture—and is not spoken, but seen in a newspaper article) and spent several days screening the film for the Motion Picture Production Code office, incorporating all their suggestions, before the film was released. The critics were respectful, if not enthusiastic. "Miss Lupino and company," said one of them, "are pointing, in good taste, to a social blight. But," he added, "they are merely doing just that, and nothing more." Lupino's next film, Hard, Fast and Beautiful, fared no better.
Late in 1950, Lupino and Collier Young were divorced, although they would maintain a close professional relationship for many years to come, with Collier remaining as producer on her pictures. The next year, she married actor Howard Duff, with whom she had worked as an actress during her Warner years. The couple had a daughter, Bridget, in 1952.
Throughout these upheavals in her personal life, however, Lupino kept working. Early in her pregnancy, she acted for the first time in one of her own films—released in 1952 as Beware, My Lovely, a two-character thriller in which she is terrorized by a psychopathic handyman, played by Robert Ryan. The picture was conveniently shot in Lupino's home. The next year brought The Filmakers' most successful film, The Hitch-Hiker, a taut little drama about two men on a fishing vacation who are kidnapped by an escaped convict. Lupino would consider it her best directing effort; audiences and critics agreed. The Hitch-Hiker is still considered a classic of 1950's Hollywood film noir. Almost as successful was The Bigamist, in which Lupino again doubled as director and actress, playing opposite Joan Fontaine (who had become the second Mrs. Collier Young). By now, however, The Filmakers' distribution deal with RKO had expired, and the box office was sparse at the few theaters in which The Bigamist played. The same was true of what would be The Filmakers' last production, Private Hell 36.
But the company's demise didn't stop Lupino from working, and it was television that provided the opportunities. In 1953, she began appearing in the CBS series "Four Star Playhouse," which rotated through a quartet of actors and actresses with each week's episode. Over several years, Lupino played everything from wronged wives to vicious movie queens to femmes fatales, in an echo of her years under contract at Warner's. (She was nominated for an Emmy award for her work, but lost to Loretta Young , who had her own weekly series.) In 1956, Lupino and Howard Duff starred in the sitcom "Mr. Adams and Eve" in which they played, not surprisingly, a Hollywood husband-and-wife acting team, the characters having been created by none other than Collier Young. The series ran for two seasons, went into a profitable syndication run, and earned both actors Emmy nominations.
Starting in 1958, Lupino took up directing for television, working on episodes of such well-known series as "The Twilight Zone," "Bewitched," "The Untouchables," and "Gilligan's Island." She was the only female director then working in TV, and she was admired as much for always bringing in a show on time and on budget as for her demonstrative directing style. "There are two kinds [of directors]," she said, "standers and sitters. The sitters are calm and can take anything. I'm a stander myself. I tried sitting once, and my mind went completely blank." Not always content behind the camera, Lupino also acted in several series and sitcoms—among them, "Mod Squad," "Family Affair," and "Batman"—and took small parts in feature films, being particularly praised for her performance as Steve McQueen's mother in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner. In 1965, she directed Walt Disney's The Trouble With Angels, whose star, Rosalind Russell , noted that Lupino came "to the job each morning thoroughly prepared. She knows what she wants and she knows how to do it."
Lupino's last film appearance was in 1982, when she was 64. The next year, she divorced Howard Duff, although the two had been separated for the past 11 years. (Asked what took her so long, Ida quipped, "I finally got off my duff, darling.") She continued to direct for television until being diagnosed with colon cancer in the early 1990s. The disease claimed her life on August 3, 1995, at the age of 77.
Sadly, the importance of Ida Lupino's work is often overlooked. Not only did she control her own career with a firm hand in an industry not known for its liberality toward women, but she managed to lay the groundwork for a growing number of contemporary women who have pursued independent film careers, from directors like
Martha Coolidge and Penny Marshall to producers such as Dawn Steel and Kathleen Kennedy . Her films reflect a pragmatic, unsentimental approach to life's challenges rather than the escapist fantasies with which Hollywood is often associated, capturing, in the words of one commentator, "a realistic portrait of ordinary people confronting life. It is the everyday world we all share."
Locayo, Richard. "Women in Hollywood: Talk about Dances with Wolves!" in People Weekly. Vol. 35. Spring 1991.
Stewart, Lucy Ann Liggett. Ida Lupino as Film Director, 1949–1953: An Auteur Approach. NY: Arno Press, 1980 (originally presented as the author's thesis, University of Michigan, 1979).
Vermilye, Jerry. Ida Lupino. NY: Pyramid Publications, 1977.
Donati, William. Ida Lupino: A Biography. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1996.
Norman Powers , writer-producer, Chelsea Lane Productions, New York, New York