Lupino Lane — A Nipper from Piccadilly (1927) 🇺🇸

Lupino Lane — A Nipper from Piccadilly (1927) |

August 11, 2023

It was the last night of the current Hollywood Music Box Revue. The Boulevard theater was packed, and most of the audience had seen the show several times before. Their farewell to it was a reluctant one, mainly because of Lupino Lane.

by Margaret Reid

“Of all,” rather hard-boiled Hollywood whispered to its theater partner, “the most delicious, lovable, absurd clowns!”

He danced with his loose, flexible legs that seemed not a part of him at all. He sang in his small, ingratiating, comical voice. He played the hero, villain, and heroine in a blood-curdling black-out. His entrance in every skit was the occasion for immediate hilarity. He made, in short, the show.

I had an appointment with him at this closing performance. If there does exist a less auspicious time for an interview, it may possibly be around train time in the Grand Central Station, with the tickets lost and little Mamie missing in the crowd. I waited first for Mr. Lane in the corridor near the stage door. This became difficult when the chorus inundated it, on their frenzied way to change for the next number. Mr. Lane’s English secretary rescued me and found me a chair among the gaunt, towering labyrinths of back stage.

Mr. Lane, he apologized, was swamped with visitors. His dressing room was crowded, but if I would be so kind as to wait just a bit longer —

After just a bit longer, I was again taken in tow and led down a winding flight of stairs. Doris Eaton ran past us, frantically trying to tie the silver ribbons on her slippers as she ran. The stage manager stood at the bottom of the stairs, his fingers twined in his hair, bellowing hoarsely for “Al — for God’s sake, Al!” The chorus rushed noisily up toward the stage, stamping out cigarettes as they reached the “No Smoking” barrier. They were dressed for the Spanish number, and since this was the last night and traditional “murder” must be committed, the blondes all wore their black wigs on the backs of their yellow heads. Through the amiable discord, the orchestra could be heard faintly. We arrived at Mr. Lane’s dressing room as the last visitor — Ernest Torrence — was leaving. Lupino greeted me in his mild, English voice.

Could I forgive him for keeping me waiting so long? The last night, and so many people, you know —

A little man, with bright brown eyes and a naïve smile. He was more or less disguised in the blond bobbed wig and blue tarn he wore in the skit dealing with the girlish men and manly girls of 1976. As a conjuror, he produced a chair for me from among the volcanic disarray of the dressing room. I sat down, just as the call boy cried, “Curtain, Mr. Lane!” outside the door.

Again contrite apologies. It was all a little hectic. Lupino hastily tied his flowing, baby-blue tie and piloted me out of the door and along low, winding corridors that climaxed abruptly in the wings of the stage. From a corner he dragged a pile of velvet curtains and put them down for me, and turned just in time to make his entrance. Immediately a gust of laughter swept the audience.

Lupino was twisting the lines, throwing the other actors into feebly suppressed hysterics. All the last-night foolishness was being indulged in, and the audience was loving it. Lane exited in a thunder of applause, was recalled half a dozen times, and finally joined me in the wings.

He belongs to one of the oldest and most noted theatrical families in the world — the Lupinos. As far back as the fifteenth century, they were famous pantomimists and actors. Grimaldi, probably the greatest of clowns, was a member of the family. Each boy born to a Lupino has been given the special training handed down from generation to generation.

Each little Lupino, without question and without exception, was religiously educated — by the same methods — in athletics, dancing, music, and a technical knowledge of stagecraft and management. And there the schooling abruptly ceased, leaving the child to choose whatever branch of the theater he preferred. It was always taken for granted that a Lupino would be theatrically connected in some way, but it was always left to the child’s instinct to lead him to the capacity best suited to him.

On the maternal side of the house, Lupino is of an equally famous line of managers and producers. Mrs. Sarah Lane, his aunt, who was one of England’s leading actresses in her day, is now proprietress of a theater in London. Lupino is Mrs. Lane’s favorite nephew. From his first appearance on the stage, at the mellow age of three, she watched his footsteps with a fond, as well as professional, eye. Deciding to make him her heir, she expressed a wish that he bear her name. His father, the late Harry Lupino, agreed — and the small actor was then known as Harry Lane. But when this reached the ears of Grandfather Lupino, there was indignation.

“Since the fifteenth century,” went the complaint, “Lupino has been good enough for every male member of the family!”

Automatically, Lupino Lane evolved.

After his debut at three, he continued his work steadily, doing children in musical comedy, drama, pantomime. When he reached ten years, he was known as the cleverest child performer in Great Britain.

There are no blank spaces, no idle intervals in Lupino’s career. When “Afgar” came to this country, Lupino came with it, and William Fox, scouting for new material, signed him for pictures. Lane had made films in England, on the side. During his engagement with Fox, which brought him to Hollywood for the first time, he made three two-reelers and one five-reeler.

From here, he was called back to London, to the Hippodrome. At the close of the season, Ziegfeld brought him to New York for the “Follies.” It was there that D. W. Griffith saw him, and engaged him for the pathetic little comic you remember in Isn't Life Wonderful? Griffith predicted a great future on the screen for Lane, and on the director’s urgent advice Lupino decided seriously to look into this movie business. After taking New York by storm as Koko in The Mikado, the comedian returned to the Coast to make two-reelers for Educational.

Although only six or eight of his comedies have been released, exhibitors are clamoring for more. With his first brief series he has established himself in the — to be anatomical — Hearts of the American Public. His questioning, bewildered little face and elastic tumbling will soon be as famous as the Lloyd tortoise shells, the Keaton poker face, the Langdon vacuity. [Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon]

Like them, he is conscious of the limitations of two-reelers. He would like to introduce something a little different in the way of longer comedies. There would be a market, he is sure, for a series of pictures based on nursery tales such as Jack the Giant Killer, Cinderella, and Bluebeard, modernized and made humorous by gags.

In the meantime, Lupino Lane quietly makes two-reelers that sell and sell and sell. He writes most of his own stories and plans his own gags. He lives unostentatiously, with Mrs. Lane — who was Violet Blythe of the Adelphi Theater in London — and their five-year-old son, Lauri. He is known to the colony as “Nip,” which is a criterion, since out here only the regular guys get nicknames. Aside from that, if you’re in need of a laugh, try one of his pictures.

Lupino Lane — A Nipper from Piccadilly (1927) |

Lupino Lane lives quietly in Hollywood with his wife and five-year-old son, Lauri, who, according to family tradition, should one day be a comedian, too.

Photo by: Sasha, London

He is a little man, with bright brown eyes and a naïve smile.

Photo by: Walter Fredrick Seely (1886–1959)

Lupino Lane — A Nipper from Piccadilly (1927) |

Collection: Picture Play Magazine, June 1927