Even though she joked that the public saw her as “a second rate Bette Davis,” there’s no doubt that Ida Lupino was one of the best screen actresses of the Forties and Fifties. But she was also one of the ground breaking women directors of the time, as well.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, celebrating today Lupino’s directoral legacy.
In addition to the more than 100 movie and tv titles she logged as an actress, Ida’s director credits include a half-dozen films from 1949 through 1953, and some 35 tv productions from 1956 through 1968.
Ida had come over from England (she was born in 1918 in London, the daughter of vaudeville comedian Stanley Lupino) where she’d started in films in the early Thirties. By the time she reached Hollywood, she was still only 15. Her subsequent acting career took her from studio to studio, Paramount, Warners, Columbia.
She’d scored in some top films, including director Charles Vidor’s Ladies in Retirement, a 1941 big screen adaptation of a play about the house companion (Lupino) of rich, retired actress who finds herself putting up with the former’s interloper sisters. The excellent cast includes Ida’s then husband of three years, Louis Hayward. (They divorced four years later.)
But in ensuing years, Ida was slapped with the reputation as a trouble maker, willing to go on studio suspension rather than work in a film she felt unworthy of her talents, and refusing to work with actors (including Humphrey Bogart, her costar in his breakthrough film, 1941’s High Sierra) whom she felt didn’t respect her.
It was no surprise that by the late Forties, Ida and her then second husband, Columbia executive Collier Young, formed their own company to make films the major studios wouldn’t touch. She proved herself to be a competent director of second features, and an early discoverer of feminist themes, observes British author-critic David Thomson.
Our favorite of the movies Ida directed is 1953’s The Bigamist, a melodrama starring Edmond O’Brien, who delivers one of the best performances of his career as a loving husband taken for granted by his driven, businesswoman wife portrayed by Joan Fontaine. (Jane Greer had agreed to take the lead in the picture but backed out at the last minute.)
The husband finds comfort in the arms of another woman. The role, unfortunately, was played by Lupino herself, who was too old for the part. (It was the only time Lupino directed herself.)
The movie may sound like soap opera but isn’t — at least in front of the camera. Shot on a shoestring, it was produced by Young, who by this time had divorced Lupino (in 1951) and was married to Fontaine (her third husband). For her part, Lupino had also moved on to her third (and final) husband, actor Howard Duff.
I felt it was my wifely duty to leap in and save the day (by taking the part Greer turned down), Fontaine later wrote in her autobiography.
She also took this catty poke at Lupino: After shooting all my scenes, director Ida saw the rushes, didn’t like the photography, and changed cameramen before actress Ida began her own scenes!
In any case, The Bigamist is an achievement although perhaps an unheralded one. The film is not just melodrama, but a critique of woman’s vulnerability, writes Thomson.
Lupino, who died 17 years ago in Los Angeles, is second woman to be admitted to the Directors Guild of America (the first was Dorothy Arzner, who began in silent movies, shifted to talkies and is credited with the development of the mobile boom mike).
Strong actress, formidable director. Ida Lupino was both.