★ Anglo-American actress and director, Ida Lupino, was a true Hollywood pioneer. Born in 1918 in Herne Hill, London, to a theatrical dynasty dating back to Renaissance Italy, Lupino was encouraged to perform from an early age. In a backyard theatre built by her father, she began acting, singing and dancing, before writing her first play aged only 7. Touring with a travelling theatre company, she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in 1931 aged just 13, before making her first film appearance later that year in The Love Race (1931). Dubbed ‘the English Jean Harlow’ due to her sultry persona, she was discovered by a Paramount talent scout in 1933 and given a 5-year contract with the studio.
Starring in over a dozen films throughout the 1930s, Lupino’s talent as a dramatic actress saw her cast in increasingly gritty and more serious roles, with the actress jokingly calling herself “the poor man’s Bette Davis”. Alongside her blossoming acting career, 1937 also brought success in a different arena, with the 19-year-old branching out into music composition with a piece entitled ‘Aladdin Suite’ which was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. After having married actor Louis Hayward in 1938, Lupino was cast as the femme fatale in They Drive By Night (1940), in which she starred alongside acting-heavyweights George Raft and Humphrey Bogart. Widely acclaimed for having ‘stolen the show’ despite the calibre of her co-stars, she was offered a contract at Warner Bros. Further critically acclaimed performances followed, first in High Sierra (1941) again alongside Humphrey Bogart, and then in The Hard Way (1943) which saw her win the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. Although Lupino’s career was prospering, her personal life took a downward turn with her separation and subsequent divorce from Hayward in May 1945. Despite being in steady demand throughout the 1940s, Lupino’s choosiness over her roles had gained her something of a difficult reputation while at Warner Bros. and neither she nor the studio opted to renew her contract.
After leaving Warner Bros. in 1947, Lupino and her second husband, Collier Young (whom she had married in 1948), formed a production company called The Filmakers to write, produce and direct issue-oriented films. It was not until 1949’s Not Wanted (about out-of-wedlock pregnancy) that she got a chance to direct, with the actress stepping in to finish the film after director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack. One of the first female directors working within the studio system, she went on to co-write and direct several more hard-hitting films, including Never Fear (1949) about polio – a disease which Lupino herself had contracted in 1934 – and Outrage (1950) about rape. 1951 proved to be an eventful year for her, with a divorce from husband Collier Young in September, promptly followed by pregnancy and marriage to actor Howard Duff in October. Despite that year’s personal ructions with newly ex-husband and co-owner Young, Lupino continued to work under the Filmakers Inc. production banner, directing Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951) about the tribulations of a female tennis player. Also for Filmakers Inc. was the fast-paced all-male film The Hitch-Hiker (1953) which saw her become the first woman to ever direct a film-noir.
Although Filmakers Inc. went on to close down in 1955, Lupino continued to both act and direct throughout the late-1950s, 60s and 70s, with her career switching largely to television. She appeared in and directed numerous episodes of such noted television series as The Twilight Zone (she is the only woman to have directed an episode), The Fugitive, Dr. Kildare, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Columbo, Batman, and The Virginian. Making her final film appearance in 1978’s My Boys are Good Boys, she retired from the world of entertainment aged 60. While undergoing treatment for colon cancer, Ida Lupino died from a stroke in Los Angeles on 3rd August 1995, aged 77.
Pictured here in a portrait by Everett from the mid-1940s, the late, great Ida Lupino accomplished much in an era dominated by men. An acclaimed actress; pioneering director and producer; script, short-story and children’s book writer; music composer and singer, she helped to pave the way for women in Hollywood and beyond. A true star.