Lionel Atwill

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Lionel Atwill
Lionel Atwill.jpg
Born (1885-03-01)1 March 1885
Croydon, Surrey, England, UK
Died 22 April 1946(1946-04-22) (aged 61)
Pacific Palisades, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1905–1946
Spouse(s) Phyllis Relph (1913-1919) (divorced) 1 child
Elsie Mackay (1920-1928) (divorced)
Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brook MacArthur (1930-1943) (divorced)
Mary Paula Pruter (1944-1946) (his death) 1 child

Lionel Alfred William Atwill (1 March 1885 – 22 April 1946) was an English stage and film actor.


Early life[edit]

He was born on March 1, 1885 in Croydon, Surrey, England. He studied architecture before his stage debut at the Garrick Theatre, London, in 1904.


He became a star in Broadway theatre by 1918,[1] and made his screen debut in 1919. He acted on the stage in Australia but was most famous for his U.S. horror film roles in the 1930s. His two most memorable parts were as the crazed, disfigured sculptor in Mystery of the Wax Museum (Warner Brothers, 1933), and as Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939), memorably sent up by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein (1974).

When he was not cast in macabre roles, Atwill often appeared in the 1930s as righteous-minded authority figures. For example, in 1937's less memorable The Wrong Road for RKO, investigator Atwill persuades a young, bank-robbing ingenue played by Helen Mack and her boyfriend Richard Cromwell to return their ill-gotten $100,000 and give up a life of crime. Two of Atwill's other notable non-horror roles were opposite his contemporary Basil Rathbone in films featuring Arthur Conan Doyle's character Sherlock Holmes, including a role as Dr. James Mortimer in 20th Century Fox's 1939 film rendition of the Conan Doyle novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the 1943 Universal Studios film Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, in which he played Holmes' archenemy and super-villain, Professor Moriarty.[2]

He remained a stalwart of the Universal horror films until his career flagged in the 1940s because of a widely publicized sex scandal.

Personal life[edit]

He married four times:

  • Phyllis Ralph in 1913 and divorced in 1919. In 1941 their son, John Arthur Atwill (born 1914), was killed in action aged 26.[3]
  • American actress Elsie Mackay in 1920[4] (one source claims he had a son, John, with her).[5] In 1925 Atwill had detectives raid an apartment on Manhattan's 68th Street, where Mackay was found with actor Max Montesole. A divorce was finally granted in March 1928.[6]
  • Louise Cromwell Brooks in 1930 and divorced in 1943. She had previously been married to Douglas MacArthur.
  • Mary Paula Shilstone (d.2002) in 1944 to his death in 1946.[7] She gave birth to his only surviving child, Lionel Anthony Atwill, now a retired writer.

In 1942, he was indicted with perjury by a jury investigating the 1941 proceeding of a grand jury relative to the alleged occurrence of a sex orgy at his home.[8]

He died while working on the 1946 film serial Lost City of the Jungle. His ashes were once interred in Chapel of the Pines Crematory.

Partial filmography[edit]


  1. ^ "The Rise of Lionel Atwill", The New York Times, April 14, 1918, p. X6.
  2. ^ Official Lionel Atwill - Web Site & Fan Club
  3. ^ "Actor Lionel Atwill's Son Killed in British Air Action". Chicago Tribune. 1941-04-29.  Commonwealth War Graves Commission - CWGC record.
  4. ^ Condé Nast
  5. ^ Great Character Actors - Lionel Atwill at the Wayback Machine (archived February 28, 2002)
  6. ^ There were two actresses by the name of Elsie Mackay in the 1920s, but the English actress and aviator was known on stage (London and Broadway) and film as Poppy Wyndham. Poppy Wyndham at 'Find a Grave' Many sources conflate the careers of these two actresses, but IMDB makes clear the distinction as Atwill's (ex)wife Elsie Mackay was still performing in 1935, whilst 'Poppy Wyndham' died in an air accident in 1928. IMDB - Disambiguation page for Elsie Mackay
  7. ^ Official Lionel Atwill - Web Site & Fan Club
  8. ^ "Lionel Atwill Indicted", The New York Times, July 1, 1942, p. 28.Stage and screen actor indicted


  • Mank, Gregory William (1998). Hollywood's Maddest Doctors. A Biography of Lionel Atwill, Colin Clive and George Zucco. Baltimore MD: Midnight Marquee Press. ISBN 188766422X. 
  • Smith, Ronald L. (2010). Horror stars on radio, The broadcast histories of 29 chilling Hollywood voices. Jefferson NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0786445257. 
  • Pitts, Michael R. (1981). Horror Film Stars. Jefferson NC: McFarland. ISBN 0-89950-004-8. 
  • Stuart, Ray; Banasiewicz, Czeslaw Z. (1965). Immortals of the Screen. New York: Bonanza Books. ASIN B000OGH3S2. 
  • Twomey, Alfred E.; McClure, Arthur F. (1969). The Versatiles, A Study of Supporting Character Actors and Actresses in the American Motion Picture, 1930-1955. South Brunswick NJ: A.S. Barnes & Company. ISBN 978-0498067921. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Lionel Atwill at Wikimedia Commons