Virginia Van Upp

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Virginia Van Upp
Virginia Van Upp in 1946
Born(1902-01-13)January 13, 1902
Chicago, Illinois, US
DiedMarch 25, 1970(1970-03-25) (aged 68)
Los Angeles, California US

Virginia Van Upp (January 13, 1902 – March 25, 1970)[1] was an American film producer and screenwriter.

Early life[edit]

Virginia Van Upp was born in Chicago, the daughter of Harry and Helen Van Upp. Mrs Van Upp had been an editor and title writer for Thomas H. Ince.[2]

Van Upp performed in several silent films as a child actress. She soon worked her way up in the film industry becoming a script writer, film editor, script reader, casting director, and agent.


Her first screenplay credit was for Paramount Pictures' The Pursuit of Happiness in 1934. She was a prolific writer and re-writer of screenplays for Paramount until 1943.

Queen of Columbia[edit]

Ever on the lookout for talent, and after several writers failed to create a satisfying screenplay of Cover Girl, Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures hired Van Upp from Paramount to do the script. Cover Girl was designed as a massive Technicolor blockbuster for Columbia's Rita Hayworth. Cohn surrounded his star with the best talent available, such as costume designers Travis Banton and Gwen Wakeling, who had extensive experience in big budget 20th Century Fox films.[3] Cohn was initially reluctant to have Gene Kelly from MGM as Hayworth's co-star, until he was convinced that Kelly and his assistant Stanley Donen would do the choreography for the film for no extra fee. Van Upp not only fashioned a successful screenplay from the discarded drafts, but most importantly, gained the confidence of Rita Hayworth, becoming a friend and a mediator between her and the studio - even supervising Rita's costumes and rewriting her own work to suit Hayworth's new persona.

Seeing the impressive results, Cohn made Van Upp an associate producer and later Executive Producer at the studio. Not only did Cohn recognize the importance of appealing to the large female audiences, whose men were away during World War II, but Van Upp's broad experience in the film industry at all levels made her a rarity: as opposed to most screenwriters who resented studio interference with their work,[4] she understood and welcomed diversity of opinion and pressure from the studio to complete a successful film.

Van Upp was only one of three female producers in Hollywood at the time. (The others were Joan Harrison of Universal Studios, who was associated with Alfred Hitchcock, and Harriet Parsons, daughter of influential gossip columnist Louella Parsons.) On January 7, 1945, The New York Times noted:

Miss Van Upp's new berth is considered to be the most important position yet for a woman at a major studio. She will have the overall supervision and preparation and actual filming of twelve to fourteen top budget pictures to be made by Columbia during the year. Working under her will be several associate producers, all men.[5]

As a producer, her work was often uncredited, such as salvaging Orson Welles' vehicle for his wife Rita Hayworth, the expensive The Lady from Shanghai.[6]

Perhaps Van Upp's most famous production was the 1946 film Gilda, which she co-wrote and carefully supervised.[7]

After making The Guilt of Janet Ames with Rosalind Russell, Van Upp left Columbia to spend time with her family. Harry Cohn rewarded her with a job inspecting the Latin American market, where she visited 14 Central and South American countries.[8] During this visit Van Upp announced that she would produce films based on the novels Christ the Man and Tolvanera by Spanish writer Dr. Ginés de La Torre, but these plans never came to fruition.[9] It was also announced that Virginia would produce a film on the life of Rudolph Valentino for director Edward Small; Small made the film several years later without her.[10]

Van Upp's script for Christ the Man, titled The Trial, about a staging of the life of Jesus Christ in a small, American town, was projected for producer/director Frank Capra. However, on Feb. 27, 1951, Paramount announced the picture had been abandoned because of "the heavy expenditure necessary to produce it," circa $2,000,000. Capra believed the subject matter influenced the decision.[11]

She returned to Columbia to work on Rita Hayworth's comeback film Affair in Trinidad, which reunited her with Gilda co-star Glenn Ford.

A projected film at Republic Pictures was cancelled due to an illness, and she reportedly made films for the United States Army in West Germany.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Virginia Van Upp was married twice. Her second husband was production manager Ralph W. Nelson.[13] They were divorced in 1949. They had one daughter.



  1. ^ Variety Obituary April 15, 1970
  2. ^ Francke, Lizzie. Script Girls: Women Screenwriters in Hollywood British Film Institute (1994) p. 59
  3. ^ Finler, Joel Waldo The Hollywood Story Wallflower Press (2003) p. 91
  4. ^ Dick, Bernard F. The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures University Press of Kentucky (1993) p.67
  5. ^ Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir Johns Hopkins University Press (2005) p. 147
  6. ^ Kaplan, E. Ann. Women in Film Noir British Film Institute (1998) p. 227
  7. ^ McLean, Adrienne L. Being Rita Hayworth: Labor, Identity, and Hollywood Stardom Rutgers University Press (2004) p. 236
  8. ^ The Lima News October 22, 1949 p. 4
  9. ^ Newsweek Volume 34 1949
  10. ^ The Milwaukee Sentinel December 17, 1948
  11. ^ The New York Times Feb. 28, 1951
  12. ^ Virginia Van Upp Film Directors Site
  13. ^ Ralph W. Nelson IMDB

External links[edit]