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The Cinema of Arthur Lubin - Diabolique MagazineArthur Lubin (July 25, 1898 – May 12, 1995) was an American film director and producer who directed several Abbott & Costello films, Phantom of the Opera (1943), the Francis the Talking Mule series and created the talking-horse TV series Mister Ed. A prominent director for Universal Pictures in the 1940s and 1950s, he is perhaps best known today as the man who gave Clint Eastwood his first contract in film. Lubin was gay and for many years lived with Frank Buford.[1]

Arthur William Lubovsky was born in Los Angeles in 1898. His father, William Lubovsky, had come to the US from Poland in 1889. Lubovsky changed his name to Lubin in honour of filmmaker Siegmund Lubin and became a salesman.[1]

His family moved to Jerome, Arizona when Arthur was five. He was interested in acting at an early age, appearing in local Sunday school productions, with the encouragement of his mother, who died when Lubin was six. His father remarried and the family moved from Jerome to San Diego when Lubin was eight. He managed the music and drama clubs at high school and said a key influence was playing the title role in The Vicar of Wakefield.[2]

He joined the San Diego Stock Company at $12 a week; the director was John Griffith Wray and the actors including Harold Lloyd.[3]

As a child he had worked as a water boy for touring theatre companies and volunteered for circuses. He briefly served in the navy in World War One and attended Page Military Academy and Carnegie Tech, where he studied drama and made money by shifting scenery and props. On graduation from college in 1922 he decided to become an actor.[4] He worked as a drama coach at Canadian Steel Mills before following one of his college drama teachers, B. Iden Payne, to New York.[3]

In New York Lubin managed to get work on stage in such plays as The Red Poppy, Anything Might Happen and My Aunt from Ypsilanti. None of these plays were particularly successful so he moved to Hollywood, where he succeeded in getting roles in some films such as His People. He also acted in stage, notably at the Potboiler Act Theatre.[3]

In 1925, the Los Angeles Times called Lubin "one of this year's juvenile screen sensations."[5] He began directing shows for the Hollywood Writers Club.[5][6]

As an actor, he specialized in heavy melodrama, in sharp contrast with his later work as a film director.[7] He later said "every part that Joseph Schildkraut did in New York, I did... on the Coast [Los Angeles]".[8]

He appeared in Lillion. In 1925 he and some friends were charged with obscenity by the Los Angeles police for putting on a production of Eugene O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms.[9] He later worked on Broadway, including Jealousy, where he replaced John Halliday opposite Fay Bainter.[2]

His films as an actor included The Woman on the Jury (1924), His People (1925), Bardelys the Magnificent (1926) with John Gilbert for King Vidor, Millionaires (1926), Afraid to Love (1927), The Wedding March (1928), The Bushranger (1928), Eyes of the Underworld (1929) and Times Square (1929), an early talking picture.

Lubin went back to New York where he got a job casting and directing with the firm of Crosby Graige and Selwyn. They wanted to try out summer shows in Greenwich and he directed two plays there. He went out to California and briefly returned to acting in Pasadena, then decided to stick with directing. He tried out two plays at the Pasadena Playhouse which he later produced and directed in New York with the financial help of Lee Schubert.[10]

He produced When the Bough Breaks with Pauline Frederick, One Man with Paul Muni and another play with Lenore Ulric.

He worked for nine months for the Ray-Minor Company, a subsidiary of Paramount. He later sued them for unpaid wages.[12] However working for Ray-Minor which brought him to the attention of that studio's chief, B.P. Schulberg.

In June 1932, Lubin returned to Hollywood to work for William Le Baron at Paramount as an associate producer. His contract included the right to return to New York in the first six months to produce and direct a play.[13]

Lubin began directing Little Theatre in his spare time, including productions of Lilliom, and got reputation for doing "outstanding work".[14] He was fired from Paramount as part of an economy drive.[15][6]

Lubin received acclaim for directing a theatre production of The Green Bay Tree. He said "a man who knew my family said to me, 'Why don't you come with us and Trem Carr and direct a picture?'"[16] This was at Monogram, where he directed his first film as director A Successful Failure (1934). It was followed by Great God Gold (1935) and Honeymoon Limited (1935), all of which were produced by Carr.

Carr went to MGM and Lubin moved over to Republic Pictures when they merged with Monogram. In May 1935 he signed a contract with Republic for a year to make six pictures starting with Two Black Sheep which became Two Sinners. He also made an experimental film, Journey by Train,[17] He later made Frisco Waterfront (1935) and The House of a Thousand Candles (1936). These were produced by Nat Levine. In August 1935 Variety wrote about Republic, "under such fast production methods and with the limited budget [around $50,000 a film], training here is perfect for a jump into the big league. Arthur Lubin started with Republic last year, has so far turned out three good pictures."[18] He was reportedly directing The Leavenworth Case but is not credited on the film.[19]

In 1936 he signed a contract with Universal starting 15 April.[20] His first film for them was Yellowstone (1936).

It was followed by Mysterious Crossing (1936), then a series of films with a young John Wayne: California Crossing (1937), I Cover the War (1937), Idol of the Crowds (1937) and Adventure's End (1937). "No one thought that Duke would ever amount to anything," recalled Lubin.[21] The films were shot in six days. "I had the reputation of doing pictures quickly and bringing them in on schedule," he said.[22]

After Midnight Intruder (1938) with Louis Hayward, Lubin went over to Warner Bros for The Beloved Brat (1938) then returned to Universal: Prison Break (1938), Secrets of a Nurse (1938), Newsboys' Home (1938), Risky Business (1939), Big Town Czar (1939), Mickey the Kid (1939), Call a Messenger (1939) (with The Little Tough Guys, and The Big Guy (1939). Lubin said "possibly one of the reasons I was used so much at Universal was my very wonderful early training as a director under Trem Carr."[24]

A more prestigious project was Black Friday (1940), with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. He went back to Republic to make Gangs of Chicago (1940) then returned to Universal: Meet the Wildcat (1940), I'm Nobody's Sweetheart Now (1940), Who Killed Aunt Maggie? (1940), The San Francisco Docks (1941) and Where Did You Get That Girl? (1941).

Lubin's career received a big break when he was assigned to direct the first Abbott and Costello star vehicle, Buck Privates (1941). The movie was a big hit, earning $4 million – Lubin, who was paid $350 a week, was given a $5,000 bonus. "It was very little credit to the director," said Lubin later. "It consisted mainly of fabulous gags that these two wonderful guys knew from years and years of being in burleque."[25]

HHe went on to direct the duo's next four movies, In the Navy (1941), which earned him another $5,000 bonus, Hold That Ghost (1941), shot before In the Navy but released afterwards, Keep 'Em Flying (1942) and Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), shot before Keep 'Em Flying but released afterwards.[26] All the films were successful – the services comedies between them brought in over $6 million and Variety magazine named Lubin the most commercially successful director in Hollywood in 1941.[27] Variety said "Lubin, who was considered just another camera flagger, is now the leader of the entire topfligt group of directors with respect to getting coin into the box office."[28]

In January 1942 Lubin was assigned to an expensive war film, Eagle Squadron (1942), which was a massive hit.[31] He was now established as one of Universal's leading directors.

Lubin made White Savage (1943) with Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu, then was given his largest ever budget when he replaced Henry Koster on Phantom of the Opera (1943) with Claude Rains. This was a great success commercially, as was Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944) with Montez, Hall and Sabu.

Lubin tried to get into the Signal Corps but they said he was more valuable making documentaries.[32] Delightfully Dangerous (1945) was made for Hunt Stromberg and his old boss Charles Rogers at United Artists. Back at Universal he made The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946), which he said he "hated" and did not want to do but the studio threatened to put him on suspension.[33]

This was followed by the expensive box office disappointment Night in Paradise (1946). After the failure of this movie, Universal elected not to review his contract.[1]

He made two more for United Artists, New Orleans (1947) and Impact (1949). Lubin continued to direct theatre on the side, doing This Young World at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1948.

He bought the rights to a series of books about Francis the Talking Mule and set up the project as a film at Universal. Francis (1950) was a big hit, leading to a series of films directed by Lubin, in which the director had a percentage of the profits.[7] (Although records show Universal paid Lubin a flat fee of $25,000 to direct - $5,000 more than he had been paid for A Night in Paradise.[34]) Francis Goes to the Races (1952) was the first sequel.

Lubin also made Queen for a Day (1951) (for United Artists), and Rhubarb (1951) (for Paramount) about a cat that inherits a baseball team by proxy. Lubin was worried about being typed as an animal director. "Everyone seems to forget I once directed John Wayne," he said.[35]

He made Francis Goes to West Point (1952), It Grows on Trees (1952), which was Irene Dunne's last film, South Sea Woman (1953) with Burt Lancaster at Warner Bros, and Francis Covers the Big Town (1953). He complained during filming the latter that he was becoming typecast as an animal director. He hoped to make The Interruption from a suspense story by W. W. Mason "just to remind producers that I can direct people too."[36]

After the swashbuckler Star of India (1954) at United Artists, shot in England, there was Francis Joins the WACS (1954) before he succeeded in filming Interruption in England; this was later titled Footsteps in the Fog (1955).[37]

Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955) was a period swashbuckler with Maureen O'Hara. It featured a young Clint Eastwood who Lubin had put under personal contract. Eastwood had a larger role in Francis in the Navy (1955), Lubin's last Francis movie; both he and star Donald O'Connor elected not to appear in Francis in the Haunted House (1956). Lubin then was let go by Universal; the directed later blamed this on the failure of Lady Godiva.[38]

Eastwood was given another support role in two films Lubin made for his own company released through RKO, The First Traveling Saleslady (1956) and Escapade in Japan (1957).

In the late 1950s, Lubin got involved in television. He directed episodic TV shows like Bronco (1958), Maverick (1959), Bonanza (1960), and The Addams Family (1965).

His best known work was Mister Ed. Lubin had wanted to make a TV series based on Francis but was not able to secure the rights. Instead he optioned a series of short stories about a talking horse, Mr Ed, back in 1957.[40] The pilot was financed by comedian George Burns, but Lubin was unable to sell it to a network. He decided to sell the show into syndication first, got a sponsor and managed to finance 26 episodes until the show was picked up by CBS.[40][41][42]

As a longtime friend of Mae West, Lubin got her to appear on an episode of Mister Ed.[44]

He directed the occasional feature, such as The Thief of Baghdad (1961), The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964) (with Don Knotts and Hold On! (1966) (with Herman's Hermits). Peter Noone who appeared in the latter remembers, "Arthur Lubin was really talented. He made us better than we actually were, which is what a good director does. I mean, this band was not exactly ready for Stanislavski."[45]

Lubin's last feature was Rain for a Dusty Summer (1971). His last work was the 1978 Little Lulu TV special on ABC Weekend Special. Lubin's career ended in the late 1970s.

He died at the Autumn Hills nursing home in Glendale, California on May 12, 1995 at age 96.[9]


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