Ida Lupino's 100th Birthday

Feb 3, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ida Lupino was a Hollywood star of the '40s and '50s - gorgeous, gifted and a trailblazer for women directors. Ida Lupino was born a century ago this weekend. So we're joined by playwright, lyricist and broadcaster Murray Horwitz. And he's got a bias.

MURRAY HORWITZ, BYLINE: (Laughter).

SIMON: He's been in love with Ida Lupino since he was 7 years old.

HORWITZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: Murray, thanks so much for being with us.

HORWITZ: Thank you for having me, Scott. It's a pleasure. And it's a pleasure to talk about Ida Lupino.

SIMON: Well, help us remember.

HORWITZ: She was - there was nothing she couldn't do. She could act. She was a wonderful actress. She was also a wonderful star - a glamorous one. She directed. She's certainly among the most prolific Hollywood female directors of all time. Shoot, for many years in the '50s, she was the only working director of the Directors Guild of America - some 1,300 people - who was a woman. She wrote. She produced. She did everything well.

SIMON: We've got some audio that'll help us remember Ida Lupino. This first clip, I guess, is "High Sierra."

HORWITZ: Yeah. One of the things I wanted to show with these clips is she was an actress of astonishing range. Here she is with Humphrey Bogart as this kind of really devoted, almost puppyish lover.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HIGH SIERRA")

HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Roy Earle) Going back East, I guess.

IDA LUPINO: (As Marie) I'm going with you.

BOGART: (As Roy Earle) Well, don't talk like a sap. You stick around with me, you'll never be in anything but trouble.

LUPINO: (As Marie) Look, Roy, no matter what happens, I'm sticking with you.

HORWITZ: And then you compare that to a kind of film noir. She's a scheming woman. She's determined to climb her way up from this dirty steel town where she lives. And be sure to listen to the slap. This is Ida Lupino with Cornel Wilde.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROAD HOUSE")

LUPINO: (As Lily Stevens) I came out of here with a contract. I needed the dough. And I'm going to collect every nasty little cent of it, maybe, more.

CORNEL WILDE: (As Pete Morgan) Now, look, baby, I'm not trying to rush you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLAP)

LUPINO: (As Lily Stevens) Silly boy.

SIMON: Ooh.

HORWITZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: That wasn't a sound effect, was it?

HORWITZ: Silly boy (laughter).

SIMON: Silly boy, did she say? How did you become a director? I guess knowing how to slap Cornel Wilde...

HORWITZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Is one qualification.

HORWITZ: Yeah, she watched every - she observed. She would hang with the cameramen. And she would hang with the lighting designers. And she would - she just - she watched everything so that in 1949, when she and her then-husband, Collier Young, were producing a movie called "Not Wanted," and the director, Elmer Clifton, had a heart attack right as shooting began, it was natural for her to step in because she knew more about directing than anybody else. She did the most important thing any Hollywood director can do, Scott. She got out on time and under budget. And the movie was a hit. It recouped about ten times its investment.

SIMON: What films - Ida Lupino films - do you want to point us to?

LUPINO: Well, the most important one is "The Hitch-Hiker." It's brilliantly directed. It's a film noir. It's a thriller. It's so well-shot. She was great at moving camera angles, at really interesting camera angles, at lighting. And the other thing - she's great at telling the story without much dialogue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HITCH-HIKER")

WILLIAM TALMAN: (As Emmett Myers) You get the know-how and a few bucks in your pocket. You can buy anything or anybody, especially if you got them at the point of a gun. That really scares them.

FRANK LOVEJOY: (As Gilbert Bowen) You ever been at the other end of a gun?

TALMAN: (As Emmett Myers) No. And I never will be.

SIMON: Is Ida Lupino - I'll put it this way - ready for her close-up? Is she ready to be rediscovered, do you think?

HORWITZ: I think so. I think it's an extraordinary body of work. She's in, like, 60 films. She's in countless television shows.

SIMON: Any guess as to why Ida Lupino isn't better known today?

HORWITZ: You know, I've got a guess. There are some feminist critics who say, well, she really wasn't that much of a pioneer because so many of her characters - not only the ones that she portrays but the ones in her movies - are in traditional female roles. There are other feminist critics who say, hey, wait a minute. Look a little deeper. And you'll see that she took on some very controversial subjects. She took on rape. She took on unwanted pregnancy. There was always an edge to what she did. I would argue, as an actress, as well - Lee Grant, who was a terrific actress, said, what's fascinating is her intensity. There's a depth to her that a lot of actresses just don't have. And there's also an edge. She liked to shake things up.

SIMON: Murray Horwitz. (Speaking French).

HORWITZ: (Laughter).

SIMON: He also hosts The Big Broadcast on WAMU, which is also available online if you're desperate for companionship.

HORWITZ: (Laughter) If you're having trouble sleeping is what I tell people.

SIMON: (Laughter) Murray, thanks so much for being with us.

HORWITZ: Thank you, Scott. It's always a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAUL BLEY TRIO'S "IDA LUPINO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.