A pioneering director and producer—the only woman working within the 1950s Hollywood studio system to do so. With her independent production company, she co-wrote and co-produced several of her own social-message films, and was the first woman to direct a film noir, The Hitch-Hiker, in 1953.
The Love Race
Her First Affaire
The Ghost Camera
Money for Speed
I Lived with You
Prince of Arcadia
Search for Beauty
Come On, Marines!
Ready for Love
Paris in Spring
La Fiesta de Santa Barbara
One Rainy Afternoon
Yours for the Asking
The Gay Desperado
Let’s Get Married
Fight for Your Lady
The Lone Wolf Spy Hunt
The Lady and the Mob
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Light That Failed
The Sea Wolf
Out of the Fog
Ladies in Retirement
Life Begins at Eight-Thirty
Forever and a Day
The Hard Way
Thank Your Lucky Stars
In Our Time
Pillow to Post
The Man I Love
Lust for Gold
Not Wanted – director
Never Fear – director
Woman in Hiding
Hard, Fast and Beautiful
On the Loose
Beware, My Lovely
The Hitch-Hiker – director
The Bigamist -also director
Private Hell 36
The Big Knife
While the City Sleeps
The Trouble with Angels – director
The Strangers in 7A
The Devil’s Rain
The Food of the Gods
My Boys Are Good Boys
Ida Lupino was never nominated for an Academy Award.
I’d love to see more women working as directors and producers. Today, it’s almost impossible to do it unless you are an actress or writer with power… I wouldn’t hesitate right this minute to hire a talented woman if the subject matter were right. ~ Ida Lupino
Ida Lupino was born February 4, 1918 in Herne Hill, London, to actress Connie O’Shea (also known as Connie Emerald) and music hall entertainer Stanley Lupino, a member of the theatrical Lupino family, which included her uncle Lupino Lane, a popular song-and-dance man. Her father, a top name in musical comedy in the UK and a member of a centuries-old theatrical dynasty dating back to Renaissance Italy, encouraged her to perform at an early age. He built a backyard theater for Lupino and her sister Rita (born 1920), who also became an actress and dancer. Lupino wrote her first play at age seven and toured with a traveling theater company as a child.
She wanted to be a writer, except to please her father Lupino enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Lupino made her first film appearance in The Love Race (1931) and the following year, aged 14, she worked under director Allan Dwan in Her First Affaire, in a role for which her mother had previously tested. She played leading roles in five British films in 1933 at Warner Bros.’ Teddington studios and for Julius Hagen at Twickenham, including in The Ghost Camera with John Mills and I Lived with You with Ivor Novello.
Dubbed “the English Jean Harlow“, she was discovered by Paramount in the 1933 film Money for Speed, playing a good girl/bad girl dual role. Lupino claimed the talent scouts only saw her play the sweet girl in the film and not the part of the prostitute, so she was asked to try out for the lead role in Alice in Wonderland (1933). When she arrived in Hollywood, the Paramount producers did not know what to make of their sultry potential leading lady, but she did get a five-year contract.
Lupino starred in over a dozen films in the mid-1930s, working with Columbia in a two-film deal, one of which, The Light That Failed (1939), was a role she acquired after running into the director’s office unannounced, demanding an audition. After this performance, she began to be taken seriously as a dramatic actress. As a result, her parts improved during the 1940s, and she jokingly referred to herself as “the poor man’s Bette Davis“, taking the roles, that Davis refused.
Mark Hellinger, associate producer at Warner Bros., was impressed by Lupino’s performance in The Light That Failed and hired her for the femme fatale role in the Raoul Walsh-directed They Drive by Night (1940), opposite stars George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart. The film did well and the critical consensus was that Lupino stole the movie, particularly in her unhinged courtroom scene. Warner Bros. offered her a contract which she negotiated to include some freelance rights. She worked with Walsh and Bogart again in High Sierra (1941).
Her performance in The Hard Way (1943) won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. She starred in Pillow to Post (1945), which was her only comedic leading role. After the drama Deep Valley (1947) finished shooting, neither Warner Bros. nor Lupino moved to renew her contract and she left the studio in 1947. Although in demand throughout the 1940s, she never became a major star, but was critically lauded for her tough, direct acting style.
She often incurred the ire of studio boss Jack Warner by objecting to her casting, refusing roles that she felt were “beneath her dignity as an actress,” and making script revisions deemed unacceptable. As a result, she spent a great deal of her time at Warner Bros. suspended. In 1942 she rejected an offer to star opposite Ronald Reagan in Kings Row, and was immediately put on suspension at the studio. Eventually, a tentative rapprochement was brokered, but her relationship with her studio remained strained. In 1947 Lupino left Warner Brothers and appeared for 20th Century Fox as a nightclub singer in the film noir Road House, performing her musical numbers in the film. She starred in On Dangerous Ground in 1951 and may have taken on some of the directing tasks of the film while director Nicholas Ray was ill.
While on suspension, Lupino had ample time to observe filming and editing processes, and she became interested in directing.
She and her husband Collier Young formed an independent company, The Filmakers [sic], to produce, direct, and write low-budget, issue-oriented films. Her first directing job came unexpectedly in 1949 when director Elmer Clifton suffered a mild heart attack and could not finish Not Wanted, a film Lupino co-produced and co-wrote. Lupino stepped in to finish the film but did not take directorial credit out of respect for Clifton. Although the film’s subject of out-of-wedlock pregnancy was controversial, it received a vast amount of publicity, and she was invited to discuss the film with Eleanor Roosevelt on a national radio program.
Never Fear (1949) was her first director’s credit. After producing four more films about social issues, including Outrage (1950), a film about rape, Lupino directed her first hard-paced, all-male-cast film, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), making her the first woman to direct a film noir. The Filmakers went on to produce 12 feature films, six of which Lupino directed or co-directed, five of which she wrote or co-wrote, three of which she acted in, and one of which she co-produced.
Lupino once called herself a “bulldozer” to secure financing for her production company, but she referred to herself as “mother” while on set. On set, the back of her director’s chair was labeled “Mother of Us All…”. Her studio emphasized her femininity, often at the urging of Lupino herself. She credited her refusal to renew her contract with Warner Bros. under the pretenses of domesticity, claiming “I had decided that nothing lay ahead of me but the life of the neurotic star with no family and no home.” She made a point to seem nonthreatening in a male-dominated environment, stating, “That’s where being a man makes a great deal of difference. I don’t suppose the men particularly care about leaving their wives and children. During the vacation period, the wife can always fly over and be with him. It’s difficult for a wife to say to her husband, come sit on the set and watch.”
Although directing became Lupino’s passion, the drive for money kept her on camera, so she could acquire the funds to make her own productions. She became a wily low-budget filmmaker, reusing sets from other studio productions and talking her physician into appearing as a doctor in the delivery scene of Not Wanted. She used what is now called product placement, placing Coke, Cadillac, and other brands in her films. She shot in public places to avoid set-rental costs and planned scenes in preproduction to avoid technical mistakes and retakes. She joked that if she had been the “poor man’s Bette Davis” as an actress, she had now become the “poor man’s Don Siegel” as a director.
The Filmakers production company closed shop in 1955 and Lupino’s last director’s credit on a feature film was in 1965 for the Catholic schoolgirl comedy The Trouble With Angels, starring Hayley Mills. She did not stop acting and directing, however, going on to a successful television career throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
Lupino continued acting until the 1970s. Her directing efforts during these years were almost exclusively for television productions such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, The Twilight Zone, Have Gun – Will Travel, Honey West, The Donna Reed Show, Gilligan’s Island, 77 Sunset Strip, The Rifleman, The Virginian, Sam Benedict, The Untouchables, Hong Kong, The Fugitive, and Bewitched.
She has two distinctions with The Twilight Zone series, as the only woman to have directed an episode (“The Masks”) and the only person to have worked as both actress and (uncredited) as a director in an episode (“The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”).
Lupino made her final film appearance in 1978 and retired from the entertainment business at the age of 60.
Lupino was married and divorced three times. She married actor Louis Hayward in November 1938. They separated in May 1944 and divorced in May 1945.
Her second marriage was to producer Collier Young on 5 August 1948. They divorced in 1951. When Lupino filed for divorce in September that year, she was already pregnant from an affair with future husband Howard Duff. The child was born seven months after she filed for divorce from Young.
Lupino’s third and final marriage was to actor Howard Duff, whom she married on 21 October 1951. The couple had a daughter, Bridget, on April 23, 1952. Lupino and Duff divorced in 1983.
She petitioned a California court in 1984 to appoint her business manager, Mary Ann Anderson, as her conservator due to poor business dealings from her prior business management company and her long separation from Howard Duff.
Lupino died from a stroke while undergoing treatment for colon cancer in Los Angeles on 3 August 1995, at the age of 77. Her memoirs, Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera, were edited after her death and published by Mary Ann Anderson.