Arthur William Lubovsky was born in Los Angeles in 1898. 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 joined the San Diego Stock Company at $12 a week; the director was John Griffith Wray and the actors including Harold Lloyd.
As a child he had worked as a water boy for touring theatre companies and volunteered for circuses. He 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. He worked as a drama coach at Canadian Steel Mills before following one of his college drama teachers, B. Iden Payne, to New York.
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.
In 1925, the Los Angeles Times called him "one of this year's juvenile screen sensations." He began directing shows for the Hollywood Writers Club.
As an actor, he specialized in heavy melodrama, in sharp contrast with his later work as a film director.
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. He later worked on Broadway.
A 1926 profile described him as a "genius" actor who was very down to earth:. "When I met him, it was if I were meeting a young banker or a matter of fact businessman... human and charming... not only good but awfully good looking."
His films as an actor included The Woman on the Jury (1924), His People (1925), Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), Millionaires (1926), Afraid to Love (1927), The Wedding March (1928), The Bushranger (1928), Eyes of the Underworld (1929) and Times Square (1929).
Over time his interests increasingly leant towards directing. "Every director should have acting experience," he later said. "You can talk their language. You know the problems. You know how the scene should be acted. Too many directors are former writers. They have the scene in their mind but they don't know what the actor has to do to interpret it."
Lubin went back to New York where he produced When the Bough Breaks with Pauline Frederick and One Man with Paul Muni. He also worked for the Ray-Minor Company, a subsidiary of Paramount, 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.
Lubin began directing Little Theatre in his spare time, including productions of Lilliom, and got reputation for doing "outstanding work". He also started directing films for low budget companies such as Monogram, and Republic.
Lubin's first film as director was for Monogram, A Successful Failure (1934). It was followed by Great God Gold (1935) and Honeymoon Limited (1935). 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, He later made Frisco Waterfront (1935) and The House of a Thousand Candles (1936).
In 1936 he signed a contract with Universal starting 15 April. 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).
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).
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. He 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. All the films were successful – Variety magazine named Lubin the most commercially successful director in Hollywood in 1941 – but Lubin asked to work on other movies:
I asked to be released after the fifth picture because they came on the set late, they didn't know their lines, and I think they were beginning to get tired of one another. They were bored. and for the first time they were beginning to complain about the scripts. But it was five fabulous pictures with the boys. They were very good for me. They gave me a reputation. I learned everything about timing from them. And I think I was very good for them, in this respect: not their routines, but in trying to give them some class. Whenever they got crude or rude, I'd try to soften it. And I tried in all my set-ups to keep a balance of refinement against the earthiness of some of their routines.
Lubin then directed the war film, Eagle Squadron (1942), which was a massive hit. He was now established as one of Universal's leading directors. In 1942, The New York Times published a profile on the director which commented:
On the set, Lubin is personally intense, but an easy boss to his casts. He is friendly and witty. Players like to work for him. He strives to keep them relaxed for the cameras. Holding a pow-wow before rehearsing a scene, he will frequently sit cross legged on the floor with the players seated about him. But when the camera starts going, so does Lubin. He is a pacer... He pantomimed all the parts
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.
Delightfully Dangerous (1945) was made for Hunt Stromberg and United Artists. Back at Universal he made The Spider Woman Strikes Back (1946) then the expensive box office disappointment Night in Paradise (1946).
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. 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. 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."
After the swashbuckler Star of India (1954) at United Artists, there was Francis Joins the WACS (1954) before he succeeded in filming Interruption, which became Footsteps in the Fog (1955).
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). 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 May 1956 Lubin signed an exclusive three year deal with Lubin.
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. 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. The show ran for six seasons and 143 episodes. Star Alan Young recalled the producer-director:
He was a very lovable character, but he was a character. He wanted to rush through and get things done quickly, and he didn't want to stay around the studio too long. I'll never forget one line he used. He didn't like people fooling around on the set, cracking jokes. He really didn't have a great sense of humor for a man who did so many comedies! I'll never forget when he said: "Stop that! Stop all this laughing! This is comedy, there's no time for laughter!" Well, we just all broke up. He didn't realize what he said, he didn't care.
As a longtime friend of Mae West, Lubin got her to appear on an episode of Mister Ed.
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."
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.
Hospital worker Efren Saldivar allegedly told people he killed dozens of sick and elderly patients; there was some fear that Lubin was one of these.Miss Brown My Mother (circa 1952) - based on story by Leonard MerrickWisdom of the Serpent (1952)The Israeli Story - romantic comedy set in Israel (circa 1957)An Old Spanish Custom - comedy set in Spain about an American diplomatSex and Miss Mc-Adoo (circa 1957) based on a story by Adele St JohnThe Digger (1962) - about a man who falls for a steam engineThe Ghost of Drury Lane (1962) from a script by Mrs Wallace ReidThe Taming of the Shrew (1916) – San Diego – actorThe Red Poppy (20 Dec – Dec 1922) – actorAnything Might Happen (20 Feb – April 1923) – actorHe Who Gets Slapped (1924) – Pasadena Playhouse, Los Angeles – actorLilliom (1924) – Hollywood Art Theatre, Los Angeles – actorThe Failures (1924) – The Potboilers, Los Angeles – actorJustice (1925) – Los Angeles – actorHell Bent for Heaven (1925) – actorMadam or Saint (1925) – actorThe Waltz of the Dogs (1925) – actorThe Dream Play (1925) – Pasadena Players, Los Angeles – actorThis One Man (21 Oct – Nov 1930) - New York – director – cast included Paul MuniWhen the Bough Breaks (16 Feb – March 1932) – New York - directorHer Man of Wax (11 Oct – Oct 1933) – directorGrowing Pains (23 Nov – Dec 1933) – directorLilliom (1933) - Pasadena Playhouse, Los Angeles - actorThe Green Bay Tree (May 1934) - Belasco Theatre - directorCity Without Jews (1934) - Pasadenia Playhouse, Los Angeles - directorThis Young World (May 1948) - Pasadena Playhouse, Los Angeles - director - all-child cast included Dwayne Hickman and Darryl Hickman