Ida Lupino isn’t one for bullshit. She shoots straight, looks you in the eye and lays it all on the line with every acting performance and picture she directs. She is a street smart gal, wise to so-called authority figures (like Warner Bros.) and boldly defiant in the face of adversity.
Oh, she can be sneaky (see Sherman’s The Hard Way to take her master class on manipulation), but each and every one her motives and underhanded deeds is in the name of ambition and personal success. Lupino knows what she wants when she wants it and will do anything to get it. There’s a reason she acted and directed so many terrific film noirs and dark dramas, like The Hitch-Hiker and On Dangerous Ground – she could emotionally cut through the shadows and fog without being a showoff and strike you dead in your tracks with a glare as easily as she could with a gun, piece of rope or garage door.
To put it mildly, she is one for the ages.
It’s hard to say what she’s known for more these days – her impressive acting resume or her downright miraculous directing credits. Shortly after Dorothy Arzner retired from filmmaking in 1944, Lupino showed up on the directing scene and became the only female filmmaker in the studio era. The only one. Like Don Siegel and Allan Dwan before her, Lupino’s films are aesthetically efficient, swift and often deal with controversial social issues in honest and meaningful ways.
But before we get into that, I’d like to tell you about a lovely woman named Mary Ann Anderson.
Between 1984 and 1995, Anderson was a conservator for Ida Lupino and became her lifelong friend. She is the daughter of soap opera star, Emily McLaughlin, and has spent the majority of her life working around some of Hollywood’s most prestigious and talented actors and actresses. Anderson saw Lupino through health problems, house problems, family problems and went to great lengths to cement her legacy in cinema history. This included supervising a restoration of The Hitch-Hiker, making sure Ida received her DGA pension and helping to write her memoir, Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera.
Anderson is also a terrific writer. The memoir details Lupino’s life, career and bravely captures her adventures as Hollywood’s sole female filmmaker. Some lady directors are blasé about their presence in the film industry, but Lupino was up front and personal about it and clearly recognized how meaningful her work would be for future generations. Her voice, professionalism and sassy personality shine through the pages and make me wish all the more that I could have met her in person. Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera is one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read and I highly recommend you pick-up a copy now.
I’ve been a fan of Lupino’s for a really long time and consider her to be one of my role models. I love the films she directed and love her presence on screen. I recently revisited a lot of her movies and felt compelled to track down a copy of her memoir, which led me to e-mail Mary Ann Anderson. She was kind enough to let me interview her about Lupino and the book.
Can you talk about your experience writing the book?
Writing the book was a lot of fun, especially working closely with Ida; her wit and charm along with her grand story telling made it all possible and very intriguing.
How much of it was completed when Ida passed away?
80% was completed before Ida left us… the book does not have as many details towards the end as in the beginning but recently additional notes of Ida’s have been discovered that will be in Beyond the Camera II, also you will note that there is a one page chapter: Life Begins at 8:30 – additional pages were left out by the publisher!
What’s your favorite memory of Ida?
Meeting Ida for the very first time! This changed my life!
Do you have a particular favorite film of hers?
Do you know much about her working relationship with Raoul Walsh? I know they were fond of each other, but what made them work together so well?
They had similar ideas about filmmaking and had the same favorite leading Actors and Actresses. Raoul had strong feelings for Ida – his wife in later years, Mary, told me this!
Did Ida want to begin the book talking about being a female filmmaker in Hollywood? I was practically cheering during the first chapter because of how self-aware she was as a director.
Yes, the entire book was designed by Ida; she wanted it to read like a shooting script.
What did Ida think of Dorothy Arzner? Did they ever get a chance to meet?
Ida respected Dorothy and they were friends but they had only met on a few occasions – industry parties. They were very complimentary to each other about their work.
Can you talk about Ida’s directing methods? The book talks about her feminine presence on set, but I’d like to know more about her artistic process. Did she storyboard? Rehearse a lot? That sort of thing.
Ida studied each script and would go onto the set alone and plan out her set-ups. So, on the first day of shooting Ida was totally prepared and knew what shots she wanted. This saved time in production costs and overtime hours for the actors.
How do you think Ida would feel about contemporary Hollywood’s view of women?
Wow, what a question! I can just hear her… Ida would like some of Hollywood’s view but loathe others. She did not consider herself a feminist – she felt “we are all filmmakers our sex should not make a difference!”
Did she ever talk about her hopes for future female filmmakers?
Ida wanted to see more women in filmmaking – she would be pleased that there are more woman directors today but would not like the subject matter of most films of today. If Ida was still here she would like Lifetime short films dealing with conflicts of women!
Do you happen to know if there are any plans to release or restore more of her work? I’d love to see a proper DVD of The Bigamist, for instance.
The Hitch-Hiker is due to be released in March 2013 for the 60th Anniversary of the release of the film. Several of Ida’s films have [also] been released by Warners. There are several DVD’s of Ida’s Filmakers features, too!
Are you still in contact with Bridget (Ida’s estranged daughter)? I know their relationship was strained, to say the least.
No, I am no longer in contact with Bridget.
What are you working on these days? Any new books or projects on the horizon?
Yes, Beyond the Camera II and The Hitch-Hiker Book.
Sarah Freeman writes the blog, The Celluloid Angel.