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Lionel Atwill Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (2) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (2) | Trivia (18) | Personal Quotes (4)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 1 March 1885Croydon, London, England, UK
Date of Death 22 April 1946Pacific Palisades, California, USA  (pneumonia)
Birth NameLionel Alfred William Atwill
Nickname "Pinky"
Height 5' 10½" (1.79 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Lionel Atwill was born into a wealthy family and was educated at London's prestigious Mercer School to become an architect, but his interest turned to the stage. He worked his way progressively into the craft and debuted at age 20 at the Garrick Theatre in London. He acted and improved regularly thereafter, especially in the plays of Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw. Atwill came to the US in 1915 and would appear in some 25 plays on Broadway between 1917 and 1931, but he was already trying his hand in silent films by 1918. He had a sonorous voice and dictatorial British accent that served him well for the stage and just as well for sound movies. He did some Vitaphone short subjects in 1928 and then his first real film role in Silent Witness (1932) (also titled "The Verdict").

That voice and his bullish demeanor made Atwill a natural for a spectrum of tough-customer roles. As shady noblemen and mad doctors, but also gruff military men and police inspectors (usually with a signature mustache), he worked steadily through the 1930s. He had the chance to show a broader character as the tyrannical but unforgettable Col. Bishop in Captain Blood (1935). It's hard to forget his Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939), wherein he agrees to a game of darts with Basil Rathbone and proceeds to impale the darts through the right sleeve of his uniform (the character sported a wooden right arm). And he sends himself up with rolling and blustering dialogue as the glory-hog ham stage actor Rawitch in the classic To Be or Not to Be (1942) with Jack Benny. However, Atwill effectively ruined his burgeoning film career in 1943 after he was implicated in what was described as an "orgy" at his home, naked guests and pornographic films included--and a rape perpetrated during the proceedings. Atwill "lied like a gentleman," it was said, in the court proceedings to protect the identities of his guests and was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years' probation.

He was thereafter kept employed on Poverty Row with only brief periods of employment by Universal Pictures, while the rest of Hollywood turned its collective back on him. He is more remembered for the horror films generally than for better efforts, but they have fueled his continued popularity and a bid by the Southern California Lionel Atwill Fan Club to petition for a Hollywood Blvd. star (he never received one).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: William McPeak

On October 14, 1942, Lionel Atwill was sentenced to five years' probation on a perjury conviction stemming from his grand jury testimony the previous year on a morals charge stemming from his showing pornographic movies to party goers at his home during his 1940 Christmas party. Atwill, the victim of an attempted shakedown, admitted he lied to an earlier grand jury. Seven months into his sentence he applied for, and was granted, termination of his sentence and his record was expunged. Unfortunately for Atwill, the Hays Office was a different matter. He'd been unemployed during his sentence, his wealthy wife Louise (the ex-wife of Douglas MacArthur) divorced him in June 1943, and he no longer felt welcome in Hollywood. Atwill spent weeks looking for roles on Broadway without success and limped back west, where he managed to gain employment at the one studio that specialized in hiring fallen name (and no-name) talent on the cheap, Producers Releasing Corporation. The very definition of Poverty Row, PRC was a far cry from his glory days at the major studios. Along Gower Gulch, "features" were usually allotted a five-day shooting schedule and retakes were forbidden. Although Atwill was able to return sporadically to Universal for some bits and serials, he was condemned to spending the remainder of his life working in Poverty Row. Atwill died of lung cancer while working on a quickie serial, Lost City of the Jungle (1946).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jack Backstreet

Spouse (4)

Mary Paula Pruter (7 July 1944 - 22 April 1946) (his death) (1 child)
Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brook MacArthur (1930 - 18 June 1943) (divorced)
Poppy Wyndham (1920 - 1928) (divorced)
Phyllis Relph (1913 - 1919) (divorced) (1 child)

Trade Mark (2)

Often portrayed police officers
Frequently portrayed doctors. More often than not the doctors would be guilty of a crime or would be mad scientists.

Trivia (18)

Screen and stage actor.
Educated at Mercer's School, London.
His third wife, the former Louise Brooks Cromwell of Philadelphia society, had formerly been married to Gen. Douglas MacArthur (his first wife).
Died before completing his work on Lost City of the Jungle (1946). His remaining scenes were completed using a double.
Played the title role in the play "Napoleon," but it ran for only 12 performances in 1928. Atwill made headlines when he verbally abused the critics who had panned the show from the stage.
First son John Anthony Atwill, by first wife Phyllis Relph, was a WWII flying officer with the Royal Air Force killed in action in 1941. A second son, Lionel Anthony Guille Atwill, was born to him late in life (at age 60) by last wife, Mary Paula Pruter. Atwill died six months later.
His racy reputation for hosting "wild" parties at his home caught up with him and a sex scandal erupted. In 1943 he was sentenced to five years probation for perjury during a loosely connected rape trial. The Hays Office effectively blacklisted him from the top studios for his disgrace. The remainder of his career was spent doing a few plays in New York and low-budget "B" pictures and serials.
Acquired the nickname "Pinky" due to his reddish-tinged hair, which darkened over the years.
Great grand uncle of Gregg Atwill.
Has the distinction of being the only actor to appear in five of the eight Frankenstein films released by Universal from 1931-1948. Atwill appeared in Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945).
Narrated trailer for the 1932 prison movie, "Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing" as well as the classic "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.".
Atwill had bad luck with his homes. A $42.000 mansion burned to the ground in the California fires of October 1935, and a December 1936 coastal storm undermined two of Atwill's homes which slid into the ocean along with $12,000 worth of antique furniture. The actor's Maryland estate, which had served as a honeymoon retreat for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, was burglarized twice in August 1937.
In 1930 Atwill directed Basil Rathbone in a comedy on Broadway, "A Kiss of Importance.".
In 1930 Atwill wed the former Mrs. Douglas MacArthur, a prominent socialite who was married to the famous general from 1922 to '29.
Atwill played Hamlet to Larette Taylor's Oophelia at an actors' benefit in 1920.
Fred Bickle, later to be known professionally as Fredric March, understudied Atwill in the early 20's.
Came to the U.S. in 1916. He was honored at a 1925 banquet where Bela Lugosi was also in attendance.
Made his stage debut in London in "Wallls of Jericho" followed by "Napoleon" and "Julius Caeser.".

Personal Quotes (4)

One side of my face is gentle and kind, incapable of anything but love of my fellow man. The other side, the other profile, is cruel and predatory and evil, incapable of anything but the lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you--or the camera. It all depends on which side faces the moon at the ebb of the tide.
There is something about horror that is horribly compelling. Is it because we see our possible selves in these dark mirrors?
(In 1934) Frankly I've had my fill of art, It's all very well in its way, but there's an entirely different fascination to pictures that I haven't gotten over yet. No doubt I never will. It may be a little childish, but the sheer mechanical ingenuity of the whole thing gets under my skin the way a mechanical toy fascinates a boy.
(In 1941) All women love the men they fear. All women kiss the hand that rules them... I do not treat women in such soft fashion. Women are cat creatures. Their preference is for a soft fireside cushion, for delicate bowls of cream, for perfumed leisure and for a master - which is where and how they belong.

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