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Ida Lupino was nervous about Ladies in Retirement.
After all, her part – Ellen Creed – was written as a sixty-year-old woman in Edward Percy and Reginald Denham’s Broadway play. At the time, Lupino was only twenty-three.
Columbia’s studio head, Harry Cohn, wasn’t enthusiastic about her casting either.
“You are out of your mind choosing this child to play that role,” he said.
But director Charles Vidor didn’t want his leading lady to play that much older. Instead, she would be in her 40s.
To age her, Lupino pulled back her hair, wore very little make-up, and was photographed carefully. Still, in order to sell it, she would need to turn in a powerful performance.
“I take a script and mull over it and underline the bits I want to emphasize,” Lupino said, speaking about her acting method. “When I go to set, I know exactly what I want to do.”
Appearing alongside her was her husband at the time, Louis Hayward, along with Edith Barrett and Elsa Lanchester (interestingly, Judith Anderson, Lilliah Gish, and Rosalind Russell were considered for roles as the sisters).
While there may have been hesitation at her initial casting, Lupino proved that the role was hers, anchoring the dramatic tale with her restrained yet commanding presence. Years later, she would remember this as her favorite role.