He was a name-above-the-title star in his own right. And he dated a lot of women. He had great taste.
Howard Duff, born in the state of Washington in 1913, was a handsome actor endowed with an authoritative speaking voice memorable, among other ventures, for his role on radio as private eye Sam Spade in The Adventures of Sam Spade, which ran from 1946 to 1950.
His big screen career largely playing tough guys includes Universal’s Naked City, a 1948 crime drama produced by Mark Hellinger, directed by Jules Dassin and costarring Barry Fitzgerald. Set in New York, of course, the film is a realistic look at a laborious police trackdown of a twisted criminal who murders a blond model in her apartment.
Duff made his movie debut the year before alongside Burt Lancaster in the prison breakout mini-classic, Brute Force, and went on to make a raft of interesting roles in film noir titles and westerns. He was at around this time 29, and widely considered a promising star when he came across the woman pictured below — Ava Gardner.
Duff was having an affair with Universal’s resident sexpot at the time, Yvonne DeCarlo, when he encountered Gardner, who was visiting the set of Brute Force. One look told Duff that I have to have her if it kills me. Thus began a two-year affair.
In many ways it was the first serious relationship (Ava) had ever had in which she could call herself a full and equal partner, writes Gardner biographer Lee Server. Neither the naive teenager who married Mickey (Rooney) nor the walking inferiority complex of her years with (bandleader) Artie Shaw, with Howard Duff she felt evenly matched.
Duff and Gardner became done of Hollywood’s beautiful young couples, perfectly in sync: physically, sexually, emotionally , alcoholically. But Duff would more than occasionally claim Gardner treated him like a dog. It all ended with the arrival of one Frank Sinatra.
Enter perhaps the most influential woman in Duff’s life.
Actress/Director, supernumerary of her generation. And, yet, a lot of contemporary movie fans aren’t even aware of Ida Lupino, born in London in 1918 to a theatrical family.
It’s a sad comment on our amnesiac era that one of the most distinctive stars of the 1940s and 50s is virtually forgotten today, writes critic David Mermelstein in The Wall Street Journal. (Few) people realize that Lupino, alone among actresses of her time, forged a secondary career as a Hollywood director and screenwriter.
She was, in short, a genuine, working feminist pioneer in Hollywood.
No question that Lupino was a sexy, tough babe on the screen who could confound audiences with her subtlety and surprising singing abilities.
You hear a lot about folks being one-of-a-kind. In Ida Lupino’s case, it wasn’t just blowing smoke. Unless you didn’t take her seriously — then she’d blow it right in your face, writes film noir savant Eddie Muller.
Lupino was even billed above Humphrey Bogart in 1940’s High Sierra because back then she was better known and more popular. She was all of 22 at the time.
She appeared opposite some of the most notable leading men of the Thirties and Forties (see photo above), and even charmed the universally disdained Columbia Pictures’ Harry Cohn. Her career was a lengthy one. When movie acting ran dry, she turned with gusto to television, winning at least three prime time Emmy nominations.
She worked for nearly a half century, and knocked off some 100 pictures and tv shows either as actress or director/writer before she died at age 77 in 1995. Lupino’s stellar contribution as a director to the film noir genre was RKO’s tense 1953 thriller The Hitch-Hiker, costarring Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy, and highlighted by a truly creep performance from William Talman.
Duff was Lupino’s third husband, and the couple costarred in 1950’s Woman in Hiding.
Four further films in the Fifties, plus other projects, followed. Lupino and Duff remained married for 33 years, a lengthy and productive union.