Today’s mugshot will feature one of my favorite film performers, a unique and very talented woman. Ida Lupino was not just a great dramatic actress, she was also a director and producer in an era when that side of Hollywood was off limits to women.
Despite her exotic sounding name, Ida Lupino is actually from London, England. The Lupino family name comes from an Italian ancestor. Her family was already well established in the entertainment industry and she appeared in her first film at age 14.
Discovered by Paramount when she appeared in the 1933 racing film Money For Speed. She played a dual role villain/hero part, but the Paramount execs had only seen the good girl part of the performance. Producers at Paramount brought her to Hollywood expecting a sweet girl next door type and got a Bette Davis caliber dramatic actress with a love of playing villain roles.
Little did they know that Ida Lupina had always wanted to do things differently. Earlier in her career, when a meddling manager tried to make her into an ingénue performer, she went out of her way to play villain roles. Not sure of what to make of their new actress, they still offered her a 5 year contract.
Her first few years were fairly uneventful, mostly bit parts. Her first major role was in the Light That Failed. A role she got by storming into the director’s office unannounced and demanding an audition. Bold stuff in 1930s Hollywood.
This boldness paid off and she started to appear in superior productions from that point on.
One of the most interesting aspects of her performances is how her powerful personality and screen presence belie her delicate appearance. Films like High Sierra show her powerful acting range, going from wounded vulnerability to a raging fury that completely dominates many of her scenes or her chilling mental breakdown scene in They Drive By Night.
The breakdown scene
Working steadily through the 1940s, Ida never quite became a break out star, but was admired critically for her acting ability. Ever the rebel, she clashed frequently with studio executives, especially when they tried to cast her in parts she felt didn’t suit her. Suspended by Warner several times through the 1940s, she used the time to learn more about her other passion, directing.
Director and Producer
Her first directing credit came in 1949 when director Elmer Clifton fell ill on the set of Not Wanted. She stepped in to finish the film but declined credit out of respect for him. Her first official credit was the film Never Fear, about a woman’s struggle with polio.
Known as Mother to her crew, The Bulldozer to studio executives, she was a formidable personality. Her production company made a series of low budget, daring films that dealt with issues such as bigamy, violence against women and out of wedlock pregnancy from a woman’s perspective, a unique thing in the 1950s when those subjects were barely mentioned at all.
Since she was on limited budgets and frequently self funded Ida adapted to shooting on a shoe string budget. Ida quickly learned to reuse sets from other productions. She also shot on site whenever possible and used an early form of product placement to defray costs. She also tended to be very sparing with her takes, getting the best performances out of her actors as quickly as possible to save time and expensive stock.A far cry from future directors such as Coppola who are famous for shooting hundreds of thousands of feet of film to get just the right shot. This speed and frugality endeared her to the tighter budgeted TV studios and ensured her steady work there.
Her final feature film directing credit was in 1965, the Hayley Mills film, The Trouble With Angels. She kept busy through the 60s and 70s with many film and television credits both as an actress and director. Her credits include appearances in Bonanza, The Fugitive and The Twilight Zone. She is the only woman to direct and star in a Twilight Zone Episode. One of her final credits was a Charlie’s Angel’s episode in 1978.
Retired by the 1980s, Ida Lupino passed away from a stroke in 1995 at the age of 77. She has 105 professional credits as an actress and an additional 41 as director and 8 as screenwriter.