LUPINO, IDA (1918–1995) Actress, Director
A leading actress in American film noir, Ida Lupino today is best remembered as one of the few female movie directors of the 1940s and 1950s. She was born on February 4, 1918, in London, England, into a family whose show-business roots could be traced to the Renaissance. According to Hollywood legend, Lupino secured her first film role when she accompanied her mother, musical comedy actress Connie Emerald, to an audition. Ida was cast in the movie, while her mother walked away empty-handed. While still in her teens, Lupino signed a contract with Paramount. Following a string of ingenue roles, she found her greatest screen roles in the early 1940s, playing determined, often desperate women in popular melodramas, most notably They Drive By Night (1940) and High Sierra (1941). As her star was rising, she married actor Louis Hayward in 1938. The couple divorced seven years later.
Though Lupino was enjoying a successful acting career, by the mid-1940s she was looking to work behind the camera. In a 1945 interview, she stated, “I see myself developing new talent. . .. I am genuinely more interested in the talent of others than I am in my own.” With this in mind, she founded Emerald Productions (later named Filmmakers) with her second husband, Collier Young, whom she married in 1948. On the production company’s first effort, Not Wanted (1949), Lupino was credited as producer and coscreenwriter. She had also, however, taken over the director’s chair, after the credited director, Elmer Clifton, had a heart attack.
Filmmakers Productions made seven more features, which Lupino and Young cowrote and coproduced. Six were also directed by Lupino. Lupino’s films, made on tight budgets with no stars, were distinguished by the tough social issues they addressed, including single motherhood, female sexuality, and bigamy. Unlike most Hollywood fare, they not only presented modern problems but also offered no easy answers to how they might be solved. Although none of Lupino’s features were highly profitable, she did produce two films now considered classics of film noirThe Bigamist (1953) and The Hitch-Hiker (1953).
After a misguided attempt to become a film distribution company, Filmmakers was dissolved in 1954. Lupino subsequently directed only one other film, The Trouble with Angels (1966). During the 1960s, however, she found a new career in directing episodes of television series. With a reputation for working quickly, Lupino directed more than 100 programs, including episodes of The Donna Reed Show, Gilligan’s Island, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Somewhat to her dismay, Lupino was eventually typed as an action director and was most often sought after to work on westerns, such as Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke.
Lupino also appeared on television as an actress. Her most notable role was as the costar of the short-lived series Mr. Adams and Eve (1957–58), which was also starred Howard Duff, whom she married after divorcing Young in 1950. (Lupino and Duff had one daughter but were also divorced in 1984.) From time to time, Lupino guest-starred on series as well, including her final acting performance on an episode of Charlie’s Angels in the mid-1970s.
In her final years, she lived to see her directorial career reexamined by film scholars in the 1970s and 1980s. Although she resisted being seen as a feminist director, she enjoyed that, fitting with her own preferences, her directing came to overshadow her more publicized success as an actress. Lupino died on August 3, 1995, in Burbank, California.
Donati, William. Ida Lupino: A Biography. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
Kuhn, Annette, ed. Queen of the ‘B’s: Ida Lupino: Behind the Camera.Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
They Drive by Night (1940). Warner Home Video, VHS, 2000. (V).
The Hitch-hiker (1952). Kino Video, DVD/VHS, 2000/1997.
Biography: Ida Lupino. A&E Entertainment, VHS, 1998.