Ida Lupino — Debunking the Lupino Legend (1943) 🇺🇸

Ida Lupino |

December 02, 2021

by Joseph Wechsberg

At one time or another Ida Lupino has been described:

  1. as a dizzy blonde with an English accent who was brought over all the way from London to play “Alice in Wonderland,” until Hollywood found out that she radiated as much sweetness and light as Scarlett O’Hara or the late Ivan the Terrible;
  2. a more than slightly mad dame with a neurotic passion for murder, blood, ghosts;
  3. a girl who likes to tell fortunes by tea leaves, walks in her sleep, adores playing frustrated women, drinks her tea lying flat on her back, preferably on the floor, and is as easy to handle as a pint of molten steel.

All three versions warn you to keep a step or two away from Lupino, because whatever you do and say will make her mad, and when Lupino gets mad... brother, you better be gone.

Actually, Ida Lupino is one-hundred per cent emotional but otherwise a quite nice and normal girl with a passion for rebelling against the dull pattern of life. She pretends to hate the Lupino Legend which gives you the details of her alleged madness; but somehow we can’t help feeling that Ida is very well pleased about her semi-lunatic reputation.

She figures she’d rather be lunatic than dull, and who wouldn’t? So she carefully feeds you inconspicuous little items referring to her “madness” and works hard to destroy any ideas you might have of her being a demure, sane, and normal person.

When we told her that we were going to debunk the Lupino Legend, she didn’t seem very happy.

“Oh, I’m a little mad,” she said. “I do the most unexpected things. Once I went to have dinner with my husband, and on the way we saw the most beautiful house for sale. We didn’t have dinner that night, but we did buy the house.”

We said we thought most artists were a little on the impulsive side. Ida stared at us fiercely. “I have my mad moments. There is a little black devil inside me.” She took a deep breath and pressed together her lips. We were afraid she’d utter the famous Lupino Scream.

“Sometimes I must fight that devil,” she said. “It’s a terrible fight. So far I’ve always won.”

We were having lunch with Lupino and her inside-devil, her lunch consisting of a fruit bowl, two five-minute boiled eggs, toast and a bottle of milk — which didn’t strike us as an especially devilish diet. Seeing that we weren’t much impressed, Lupino continued:

“Some day I’m going to lose that fight. It will be very bad for all of us. I have moods, lots of moods and some of them very dark.”

“Well, all nice women have,” we said.

She didn’t listen. “When I’m among people, I like to go into a corner all by myself and imagine that I am those people. I try to get into them, so to speak, studying their thoughts and emotions and motives. Oh, it’s a very fascinating game.”

She called the waitress and ordered another bottle of milk which she carried with herself to the set.

We watched her on the set, trying to take in everything around her, and we realized this was nothing but an artist’s obsession to do an excellent job.

Her record proves that at several occasions she turned down money — big money — and walked out of a studio because she didn’t like the part. Consequently, Hollywood walked out on her, and she had to go the hard way to come back, breaking down obstacles that would have all but finished a person of lesser strength. She never makes concessions and never will. With her it never was salary or star-billing that she demanded, but a good story and a good part. Success and money are nice things, she admits; but what are they compared to the wonderful satisfaction that goes with a good piece of work?

We asked what kind of parts she’d really like to play.

“I don’t mind what it is as long as it is real people. I’ve fought hard to make my characters convincing. Some people say, ‘Lupino should laugh,’ or ‘Ida, stop being neurotic.’ I don’t mind committing a couple of murders and having my face covered with blood and dirt, and wearing the most horrible burlap dresses, if I play a real, flesh-and-blood character — not a silly, contrived figure.

“That’s why I liked my part in ‘Ladies in Retirement’ best. That girl wasn’t merely a scheming murderess; you saw how she became that way, what made her do it. Sure, I like comedy too. I like everything that’s good. I’d like to play a great love story against a modern background.”

Lupino is just as emphatic about what she does not want to play. (She is emphatic about most things.)

She hates those phony, one hundred percent wicked women, because she doesn’t believe in one hundred percent wicked people. “If you go back in her life, you’ll always find why she became that way. People are not born monsters. You can’t play a person who is nothing but hate from the title to the last fade out.”

She denies the rumor that “Lupino loves to cry.” “Bunk! I hate it. If you see me cry for three minutes in a picture, it meant crying for eight hours on the set. Just try that once.”

At the present time Lupino has what her friends refer to as the “writing era.” She always wanted to do good writing. She talks to you about a couple of ideas (interesting, too) and vaguely dreams of a book of short stories she’s going to do, “stories of real people, simple, down to earth, stripped to the essentials.” As you see, Lupino strives for the highest goal of true, human simplicity. She admires Sherwood Anderson. “It must be wonderful to write as he did,” she says, sighing. “Sometime in the near future, I’m going to take a year off from acting and intend to become a writing apprentice.”

“A what?” we asked, slightly startled.

Lupino beamed with pleasure. “I’m going to sit in on story conferences. I want to learn how characters are being shaped, what makes people click, how fates are being plotted.”

She brushed aside our objection that characters are shaped by life, not in story conferences; that people, not writers, do the plotting. “Sure,” she said, “but you’ve got to learn the technique. You can’t compose without knowing the keys. I’m trying to learn the keys.”

She is very definite and outspoken about everything. She has her postwar plans all drawn up. When Louis comes back — Captain Louis Hayward of the U. S. Marines, now somewhere in the Southwest Pacific — she hopes they’ll have a child. “It’s the most important thing for a woman. My child and my husband... it will be wonderful. And a couple of good chums, books and music, and lots of fun, and one picture a year, leaving me all the time for the things I want to do.”

Now, is this the language of madness? Isn’t that the soundest blueprint of life you could think of?

The things she wants to do are many. Ida is all-round talent, plays the piano (well), sings (very well, as you will hear in “Thank Your Lucky Stars”) composes songs (some of them have been played with success in the camp shows of the Canadian Royal Air Force). And her symphonic suite, “Alladin,” was played eight years ago by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

“It was the greatest moment of my life,” Ida says. No doubt she’s sincere about that.

“I’m now at work on a musical comedy. I feel I’m guided by my late father in this work.”

And this is another part of the Lupino Legend — one that has made people utter, “She’s nuts. Now she claims spiritual communication with the other world.”

The fact is that Ida Lupino was deeply devoted to her father, the late, great actor Stanley Lupino, who was caught by a German bomb when he did air raid warden duty at the height of the London blitz. The shock of his death made her break down, made her ill for months. Now, in doing things which she feels he would have liked her to do, she feels a sort of inner guidance — not a spiritual phenomenon but a deep memory. You don’t have to be mad to feel that way.

“I’ve been trying to finish the score,” she says. “Unfortunately, the day has only twenty-four hours. And when I come home from the studio, I have to learn my lines for the next day.”

At this moment, Paul Henreid, her partner in her current vehicle, “In Our Time,” appeared on the scene. “Why didn’t you study last night?” he demanded. “You missed your lines three times this morning.”

As though this were her cue, Ida pretended to be temperamental and accused Mr. Henreid of a score of the most abominable lines, while he was bursting with laughter. Whereupon Lupino got over her rage and then they were both laughing. Most moviegoers don’t know it... but Lupino has a very happy, gay, contagious laugh.

“Paul, you’re horrible,” she said. To us she said, “Paul is my favorite partner.”

When something goes wrong at the studio, Ida goes over to the Henreids and has dinner with them. “She works up a terrific appetite by uttering insults against her enemies,” Mr Henreid says. “Then Mrs. Henreid, in true womanly spirit, supports Ida’s views and gets quite mad herself. Afterwards you can find their nail polish and fingernails bitten off all over the place. Those women are wonderful.”

Troupers par excellence, Lupino and Henreid can put on an improvised show between the dinner courses. Henreid teaches her sentimental European folk songs — Ida speaks a little French — and in return she gives Paul the lowdown on some old English ditty. Some time a movie magnate will drop in, and the next morning they will be cast in a super-musical, legs, songs, technicolor and all. At the studio Lupino and Henreid are always concocting corny jokes such as telling Humphrey Bogart that they’ve heard a terrible rumor about him. Of course, they haven’t, but who wouldn’t be frightened in these days? Ida loves people with a sense of humor that is what she liked so much about Louis Hayward, from the beginning.

“He was always a good sport even when I did get angry. He told me to stop bleaching my hair, and he cured my shyness. Five years ago I wouldn’t have walked alone into the studio commissary, much less a party.”

If you knew what an amazing transformation Ida has gone through, from the ugly little duckling she was to one of our leading glamor divas, you’d give Louis Hayward all the credit he deserves. She is proud of Louis. He enlisted without publicity and picture-in-uniform.

“He’d been recovering from bronchitis. He was afraid the doctors might send him back, and so he went under the sun lamp for hours and burned himself out until he was sure they wouldn’t say no.”

She writes every day and sends him telegrams, driving the Western Union people crazy with her requests to change the fixed wordage. “They wouldn’t even let me put in affectionately and such things.”

She is a second lieutenant in the Women’s Ambulance Corps, works at the Hollywood Canteen, appears in camp shows. She doesn’t talk much about her war work. To her it’s a matter-of-course. On Sundays she swims, works in her victory garden, and dances with her sister Rita. Or they put on a weird and wonderful home show, with her mother, the famous Connie Emerald, taking part. “Oh, we are wonderfully mad,” Ida says. “The Lupinos always were. Our family tree is full of crazy people for centuries, many of them hanging up from its branches where they belong.”

She came to Hollywood after playing murderesses and similar cheerful characters in British pictures. In one of her films there was one scene where she portrayed a demure, noble character, by way of fun. Somebody saw that scene, sent it to Hollywood and said, “There is your Alice-in-Wonderland.” They sent for her. By the time she arrived they knew the truth about the sweet little lamb, and she didn’t play Alice after all. Her greatest break came when William Wellman gave her the part of Bessie, the neurotic barmaid who slashed the artist’s masterpiece in “The Light That Failed.” She walked right into Mr. Wellman’s office and gave such a convincing, horrible performance of a crazy girl that Mr. Wellman’s blood ran in reverse.

Which proves what we said in the beginning, that Ida Lupino is far from being mad. Only an exceedingly clever and sober-minded person could have staged that act, performing it with such workmanlike, splendid perfection.

In other words, she is an artist, not a mad woman. We prefer the artist... and we think that you will, too.

The End

Lupino with Olivia de Havilland and George Tobias in The Dreamer number in Warners’ “Thank Your Lucky Stars.”

CollectionMovieland MagazineNovember 1943