Ida Lupino, British-born actress who gave up a lucrative film contract to become one of Hollywood’s first major women producers and directors, has died. She was 77.
Miss Lupino, who had been battling colon cancer, died Thursday night at her Burbank Rancho home of complications from a stroke, her conservator and business manager, Mary Ann Anderson, said late Friday.
A popular film star in the 1930s and 1940s, Miss Lupino deprecated her own acting accomplishments, once declaring herself “a poor man’s Bette Davis.”
Always spunky and independent, the diminutive actress boldly walked out on a $1,700-a-week contract in 1937 because she was fed up with lightweight ingenue parts. The move put her out of work for a while, but eventually landed her significant and successful roles as the cockney harridan model in “The Light That Failed” in 1939, the domineering sister in “The Hard Way” in 1942, for which she won a Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics, and as Emily Bronte in “Devotion” in 1946.
Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper credited Miss Lupino with combining “three little words— talent, nerve and courage— to spell success. “
Miss Lupino abandoned another lucrative acting contract in the early 1950s to produce, write and direct, and within a few years became a much-sought-after director in television and films.
She directed episodes of such famed television series as “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “77 Sunset Strip” and “G.E. Theater.”
She also directed several low-budget, high-voltage films that were box office successes. Her favorite directing project was the 1966 film “The Trouble With Angels,” starring Rosalind Russell.
Miss Lupino returned to acting, including a 1957-58 television series with her third husband, the late actor Howard Duff, called “Mr. Adams and Eve,” loosely patterned on their own experiences as married actors.
Her last acting appearance was in a 1976 episode of “Charlie’s Angels,” titled prophetically “I Will Be Remembered.”
Miss Lupino made it clear she preferred her work behind the cameras to that in front, telling a Times columnist in 1960 when he lamented the absence of her acting: “Darling, I loathe acting. Darling, I have been acting all my life. Let me direct. It’s so much more fun. Creating it yourself, not just parading in front of a camera.”
Born Feb. 4, 1918, in London, Miss Lupino was the daughter of British comedian Stanley Lupino and actress Connie Emerald, and she was a descendant of a theatrical family dating back to the 17th Century.
She made her film debut at 15 in “Her First Affaire” after she accompanied her mother to an audition but attracted the director’s eye and won the role herself.
After appearing in a number of other British films, Miss Lupino was summoned to Hollywood by Paramount in 1934 as a candidate for “Alice in Wonderland.” With her own ideas of Hollywood glamour, the teen-ager bleached her hair and applied a lot of makeup—and lost the Alice role.
“I thought it would be most impressive if I copied the top stars. One week I would try to look like Dietrich by penciling my eyebrows way up on my forehead and the next I would copy Colbert and cut bangs. Oh, I was all over the place doing things with makeup and changing the color of my hair,” she recalled later. “I finally took Hedda’s advice—stopped doing ridiculous things with myself and concentrated on developing my talent.”
She was cast as a brainless blond glamour girl in a series of forgettable pictures, with a couple of notable exceptions such as “Anything Goes” opposite Bing Crosby in 1936 and “Artists and Models” with Jack Benny in 1937.
Miss Lupino’s favorite acting roles, Anderson recalled Friday, were in “Ladies in Retirement” in 1941 and “Road House” in 1948. Her least favorite—in fact she hated it—was in “The Devil’s Rain” in 1975, John Travolta’s first film.
Miss Lupino married and divorced three times—actor Louis Hayward, Columbia executive Collier Young and Duff, whom she separated from in 1972 and divorced in 1983.
In addition to their television series, Miss Lupino appeared in several movies with Duff.
She is survived by their daughter, Bridget Duff of Burbank, and a sister, Rita Lupino of Beverly Hills.
No public memorial service is planned.
“If you give me a funeral,” Anderson quoted Miss Lupino as saying, “I won’t go.”