Ida Lupino’s (1918–1995) work as an accomplished actress is acknowledged by many who enjoy classic Hollywood studio films. With well-known movies like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), They Drive by Night (1940), and the memorable High Sierra (1941) as part of her acting résumé, Lupino also founded her own production company and went on to direct classic episodic televisions series in the 1960s and 1970s. She remains revered by many, including me, for her work as a film director who focused on making films that, while often falling short of financial success at the box office, provided agency to women’s issues long before it was fashionable to do so.
I wrote an essay for the 2010 MoMA publication Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art about Lupino. I also wrote a 2010 blog post about the preservation of Lupino’s directorial debut, Never Fear (The Young Lovers) (1950). The Department of Film has long been collecting films in which Lupino starred, as well as those she directed through her production company, The Filmakers. In addition to collecting motion picture materials, we also have extensive “special collections” in the Film department, and I’d like to bring to your attention a new acquisition that continues this exceptional institutional focus on Ida Lupino’s work.
Just about this time last year, a script for a musical comedy called Apple Tree Farm, written by Ida Lupino’s father, British music hall comedian and actor Stanley Lupino (1893–1942), became available for sale. The script was written by Stanley Lupino in the 1930s, and in the mid-1950s, while Ida was in full directorial mode, she revised nearly every line of the script and transformed it into a screenplay. When I write Ida was in “full directorial mode” in her career by mid-century, I mean that between 1950 and 1955 she produced six feature films and directed five of them. She was never more active as a filmmaker than during this five-year period of industry.
Each of the 47 now-yellowed pages of the Apple Tree Farm script contain Ida’s looping and elegant handwritten notations. In many cases she revises the dialogue to make it more American, rather than her father’s natural predilection towards British English, and also adds direction for camera movement. For example, when one character is commenting on the late arrival of another at the Smart Shoe Store where they work, Stanley Lupino wrote the lines as follows:
Thompson: Ask me another. He’s late again.
Bates: Yes, cricket’s just started.
Ida Lupino projected the action, originally set in the 1930s, forward to 1950; she altered the character of Augustus Bates to Augustus Vate; and instead of the reference to cricket, the sport of baseball was subbed in. Very American!Apple Tree Farm takes place in a stylish shoe shop, where the staff are all a bit madcap and tend to burst into song and dance. Andy Merrilees is the assistant manager of the shop and he is in love with Annie Turner, one of the cashiers. Annie wants more in life than what she feels Andy can offer. Through a series of misunderstandings, sight gags, and song/dance interludes, most of the principal staff of the Smart Shoe Store end up getting fired. In act two, Andy and Annie are working on a farm, albeit what the script calls an “ultra modern one and the girls and boys are in very chic farming dress.” Ida Lupino’s notes on the page containing the establishment of act two describe a sunrise waltz and ballet for the farm workers. So much of act two has been crossed out with dark and robust pencil lines that not only is the text difficult to read, but Ida Lupino also leaves cryptic notes such as “could be clearer” and “better stuff here” that render the reader powerless to assess any improvement in the story.
Apple Tree Farm was never realized as a stage or film musical. According to Mary Ann Anderson, who administers the estate of Ida Lupino, this is the only script that Miss Lupino ever retained in her personal collection of motion picture ephemera.