25 February 2008
The girl from Dulwich will be remembered for many things - her on screen roles as the shimmering blondes in her early career to the femme fatale brunettes she specialised in later on.
But her lasting legacy will one of the woman who broke the glass ceiling behind the camera. At a time where women were eye candy and little more in the film industry, she directed and produced reel upon reel of film to show the fairer sex had plenty more to offer than being on screen scenery.
Ida Lupino was born in Ardberg Road, Dulwich, in 1918, (although one of her biographies stated incorrectly it was 1914), and she seemed destined for the show business from day one. With her parents both being actors who made regular appearances in the West End, her childhood inevitably revolved around this scene.
In her early teens she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and began to pick up roles in films. When only thirteen she snared her first film role in The Love Race (1931), but gained her first notable part in Her First Affair (1932).
Movie legend retells that she had not intended to go for a role, but merely accompanied her mother to the audition. However, the director opted to give the role of a young girl who seduces an older man, for which her mother auditioned, to the fifteen year old Lupino.
She proceeded to pick up small roles, before upping sticks for Hollywood a year after appearing in Her First Affair. She was still a blonde at this stage and again played a number of small roles in a few production, but at the age of eighteen she made the bold move of not renewing her Paramount contract and going it alone. Also to go was the blonde hair as she returned to her natural brunette colour.
Although she struggled for parts at first they eventually came and their nature was different too. She is said to have commented that her agent was going to make her the English Janet Gaynor, playing sweet roles, but instead ended up playing nothing but hookers.
Her new niche was more of hard done women from the wrong side of the tracks than prostitutes, and she began to appear alongside some big hitters such as Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby and Edward G Robinson. By the 1940s she had carved a respectable career without hitting the real heights, and once again found roles hard to come by, mainly as competition with younger women and established stars edged her out of the scene. So for the second time she turned her back on a contract with a major studio, this time Warner Brothers, and branched out alone.
Although she continued to pick up roles as an actress, when times were quiet she stepped behind the camera as writer, director or producer.
By 1948 she had formed a production company with the second of her three husbands, Collier Young, and when the director of one of their films, Not Wanted, (1949), fell ill, she stepped into his shoes to take up the directing role. She was uncredited in that film but at a time when it was unheard of, she continued to direct a number of films.
She directed five more films for her own company and was known as the actors’ director, tackling areas that others mainline studios wouldn't touch, including bigamy and psychotic killers.
As TVs began to appear in households across the states and gain in popularity, Lupino successfully made the switch, again utilising her acting and directing skills.
She directed episodes of some of the most popular programmes of the ‘60s and ‘70s, including The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, The Untouchables and The Fugitive. Her acting roles were also in highly successful productions such as Batman, Colombo and Charlie's Angels.
In 1978 she appeared in her final film role, Her Boys are Good Boys, where she played a mother who orchestrates an armoured car heist performed by her three delinquent sons. She disappeared from the scene after that and died in 1995, after suffering a stroke.
But her legacy is huge. Although Female directors are not as numerous as they might be, Lupino trail blazed so they could succeed at all. In a physical sense her legacy is more apparent, being the second women to be inducted into the Directors’ Guild of America and one of the few people to have two stars along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for her contributions to film and one for TV.
If you would like to vote for any of the nominees for the blue plaque e-mail email@example.com or call 020 7525 2000.
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