Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera

Article excerpt

Having curated a retrospective of her work in 2010, I was particularly excited by the prospect of Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera, the much-anticipated publication featuring autobiographical text by actress/director/producer Ida Lupino with assistance from Mary Ann Anderson. Halfway through the book, I felt the need to reacquaint myself with the standard definitions of autobiography (a history of a person's life either written or told by that person) and memoir (biography or historical account, especially one based on personal knowledge) as the shifting writing styles began to perplex me. These definitions did little to shed light on the category of book I was reading. Distracted from the primary text, I began to search further and came across Gore Vidal's definition of memoir, in his own, Palimpsest: "a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked."1 Yes! That's it. Ida Lupino: Beyond the Camera is certainly more memoir than autobiography, prompted not only by its informal and sociable tone, but the impression that the information and research is more anecdotal and reliant upon misty memory than exhaustive digging.

The foreword, written by Lupino, is an introspective, informative, and all-too-brief chapter about a most talented woman whose range of history in the film industry is partially lost, due to a business that was not ready to include women in the upper strata of its caste system at mid-20th century, a public that wanted her to remain an actress, and a symbiotic relationship between film archives and film studios that had yet to be formed in the cause of keeping track of film elements.

Lupino retells the story of her father, the British musical comedy star Stanley Lupino, taking her for a tour of the Elstree studios near London. Crossing an editing room, Ida recalled the bits and pieces of film strewn across the floor. Her father counseled that the faces on those pieces of celluloid are important, but "the man who determines what pieces [remain] is the most important of all. He is the director. Just remember that!"2 Lupino did remember, and when she had permission from Warner Bros. - where she was a prized contract actress - to spend time in the editing suites as an observer, she was a keen student. These moments behind the scenes whetted her appetite to move to a more creative role, and in 1949 she produced Not Wanted with thenhusband Collier Young. As fate would have it, director Elmer Clifton suffered a heart attack just days before shooting began. Quietly, efficiently, and expertly, Ida Lupino manned the director's chair with a still-weak Clifton sitting behind her. While Ida's genuine role on the set of Not Wanted was kept quiet - as evidenced by the on-screen director's credit going to Clifton - according to William Donati's 1996 biography Lupino invited her idol Dorothy Arzner to see a rough cut: "We're running the first cut of the first one I've directed."3

Chapter 1 begins in 1983, with Mary Ann Anderson, the daughter of longtime General Hospital television soap opera actress Emily McLaughlin Hunter, bringing Lupino flowers on the occasion of her 65th birthday. Ida had effectively ceased her television and film acting career by 1978 with an episode of Charlie's Angels and the feature film My Boys Are Good Boys. By the early 1980s Ida remained in Brentwood Heights behind the heavy gates of her once well-maintained home. When Anderson, who later became her court-appointed conservator in 1984, tried to deliver the flowers, Lupino threatened to hose her down as she was being interrupted while watering the lawn! This unexpected meeting precipitated a deep and mutual friendship that lasted until Lupino's death in 1995.

Abundantly illustrated with on-location stills, personal photos, and posters, the book is divided into 21 brief chapters, with headings such as "The Duchess of Dirt vs. The Queen of the Phones", "The Conservatorship of Ida Lupino", and "Enter Howard Duff". …

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