Hard, Fast, and Capital: Ida Lupino and The Art-Business Divide of 1950s Hollywood

When Warner Bros. star Ida Lupino felt frustrated playing roles that Bette Davis refused, she did what many of her colleagues did: she formed an independent film company. But Lupino went even further. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lupino was the sole female director in Hollywood, writing and directing a number of features for her company, The Filmakers, which tackled issues such as pregnancy, rape, and bigamy. To avoid studio interference, she joined forces with Irving Levin to form a distribution company and bring films to directly to audiences. But the most curious thing happened. As the company reached the height of its power and success, Lupino stepped away from The Filmakers to direct television instead. Why did Lupino think she would have more creative success in television than continuing to operate an independent production company? This paper interrogates the mid-century relationship between artistic and business impulses by examining Lupino and The Filmakers company. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, creative industries are unique sites for business history interested how culture shapes the organizational structures of business. How do issues of art’s mystique influence and dictate how creative individuals operate as entrepreneurs? Using press releases, interviews, and internal documents revealed in Filmakers Releasing Organ v. Realart Pictures (1964), this paper traces how The Filmakers distribution model aimed to disrupt Hollywood and why it failed to serve Lupino’s artistic vision. I focus on the different visions for Levin and Lupino and how they envisioned their idea of Hollywood. Building on the research of Walter A. Friedman, Geoffrey Jones, and Richard Caves, this paper explore the fundamental paradox at the heart of Hollywood, and whether it could properly serve both industrial and artistic aims in tandem.