Mary Ann Anderson was a friend and business manager to the actress and film director, Ida Lupino, for over a decade. She has also contributed to two books on the star, and has now written a biography, Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera, featuring rare photos, press clippings, and transcribed interviews.
Born in London in 1918, Ida was the daughter of the writer and music hall star, Stanley Lupino. She made her screen début aged 13, and flew to Hollywood soon after, stealing the show in Rouben Mamoulian’s The Gay Desperado (1936) and The Light That Failed (1939).
Early in her career, columnist Hedda Hopper advised her: ‘If you want to become a real actress, the first thing is to let your eyebrows grow, get your hair back to its natural shade, and scrub all that goo off your face. Otherwise, you’ll be just another starlet who fell by the wayside.’
Lupino’s first marriage, to actor Louis Hayward, collapsed amid the trauma he suffered while serving in the air force during World War II.
Her acting career was at its peak when she starred with Humphrey Bogart in They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941). She also won the New York Critics Circle award for Best Actress in The Hard Way (1941); starred with John Garfield in Out of the Fog, Edward G. Robinson in The Sea Wolf (both 1941); with Jean Gabin in Moontide (1942); and as the novelist Emily Brontё in Devotion (1946).
She excelled at playing ‘hard-boiled’ characters. Of her role in High Sierra, one critic wrote, ‘Ida Lupino gives us the best moll I have ever seen’. In the preface to this book, Ida admitted, ‘I loved playing, sexy warm dames who are tough in life, who do not let life affect them, very much myself!’
Ida became an ambulance driver during World War II, and her efforts were showcased alongside other stars in Hollywood Canteen (1944). She went on to further success in Roadhouse (1948).
But her story doesn’t end there. While suspended from her studio contract after turning down a role, Ida became interested in directing. She and her second husband, Collier Young, formed an independent production company, Filmakers.
After the director of their first project, Not Wanted (1949), fell ill, Ida replaced him and went on to become Hollywood’s only female film director at the time. Not Wanted, the tale of an unwed mother’s plight, was followed by three more highly realistic films focussing on ‘women’s issues’: Never Fear (1949), which she directed from a wheelchair after an accident on the set; Outrage (1950), with Mala Powers as a rape victim; and Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951.)
She directed and also starred in On Dangerous Ground (1952), followed by The Bigamist and The Hitch Hiker (both 1953), which the critic John Krewson described as ‘Lupino’s best film and the only true Noir directed by a woman.’ She co-wrote, and acted in Beware My Lovely (1952) and Private Hell 36 (1954.) The writer Richard Koszarski commented, ‘Her films display the obsessions and consistencies of a true Auteur.’
After Filmakers folded, Ida appeared in Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife (1955), and directed episodes of some of the most popular television shows of the time, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. In 1966, Columbia hired her to direct The Trouble With Angels, starring Rosalind Russell as the Mother Superior of a girls’ boarding school.
Ida’s last major acting roles were as Steve McQueen’s mother in Junior Bonner (1972) and in an episode of the cult TV series, Charlie’s Angels. After her third marriage, to actor Howard Duff, ended acrimoniously, Ida faced financial problems before enjoying a revival when, in 1992, Louis Antonelli of The Director’s Guild restored her masterpiece, The Hitch Hiker.
Though she has been hailed as a feminist icon, Ida lived and worked in a more conservative era. ‘Any woman who wishes to smash into the world of men isn’t very feminine,’ she said, wryly. ‘I retained every feminine trait while directing. Men prefer it that way.’ (Her film crews nicknamed her ‘Mother’.)
‘I have a very bad temper,’ she told Mary Ann Anderson. ‘I try to control it but there’s a little devil that comes out in me sometimes.’ Nonetheless, Anderson was able to gain her trust. Since Ida’s death in 1995, she has been celebrated in a TV documentary, an (unauthorised) biography, and numerous academic studies of the films she directed and starred in.
To capture Ida Lupino’s long and varied career in one short volume is not an easy task. Some topics are covered in more detail than others, and the structure is a little untidy. Nonetheless, Anderson’s personal insights are a valuable addition to the body of information available on one of the finest actresses of wartime Hollywood, and a pioneer in female-led, realist film-making.
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