Lionel Alfred William Atwill (1 March 1885 – 22 April 1946) was an English-American stage and screen actor. He began his acting career at the Garrick Theatre. After coming to the U.S., he subsequently appeared in various Broadway plays and Hollywood films. Some of his more significant roles were in Captain Blood (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939) and To Be or Not to Be (1942).

Lionel Atwill
Lionel Atwill.jpg
Atwill in Nana (1934)
Lionel Alfred William Atwill

(1885-03-01)1 March 1885
Croydon, Greater London, England
Died22 April 1946(1946-04-22) (aged 61)
Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeChapel of the Pines Crematory
EducationMercers' School
Years active1904–1946
Phyllis Relph
(m. 1913; div. 1919)

Elsie Mackay
(m. 1920; div. 1928)

Louise Cromwell Brooks
(m. 1930; div. 1943)

Mary Paula Pruter
(m. 1944; died 1946)

Life and careerEdit

Lionel Atwill, Alla Nazimova, Amy Veness and Harry Mestayer in the 1918 English-language production of Ibsen's The Wild Duck—one of six leading roles Atwill played on Broadway that season

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

Lionel Atwill and Katharine Cornell in the Broadway production of The Outsider (1924)

He became a star in Broadway theatre by 1918 and made his screen debut in 1919.[2] His Broadway credits include The Lodger (1916), The Silent Witness (1930), Fioretta (1928), The Outsider (1924), Napoleon (1927), The Thief (1926), Slaves All (1926), Beau Gallant (1925), Caesar and Cleopatra (1924), The Outsider (1923), The Comedian (1922), The Grand Duke (1921), Deburau (1920), Tiger! Tiger! (1918), Another Man's Shoes (1918), A Doll's House (1917), Hedda Gabler (1917), The Wild Duck (1917), The Indestructible Wife (1917), L'elevation (1917), and Eve's Daughter (1917).[3]

He acted on the stage in Australia and then became involved in U.S. horror films in the 1930s, including leading roles in Doctor X (1932), The Vampire Bat, Murders in the Zoo and Mystery of the Wax Museum (all 1933), and perhaps most memorably as the one-armed Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939), [1] a role famously parodied by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks' 1974 satire Young Frankenstein. He appeared in four subsequent Universal Frankenstein films as well as many other of the studio's beloved chillers.

His other roles include a romantic lead opposite Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg's The Devil Is a Woman (1935), a crooked insurance investigator in The Wrong Road (1937) for RKO, Dr. James Mortimer in 20th Century Fox's film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), and Professor Moriarty in the Universal Studios film Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943).[1] He also had a rare comedy role in Ernst Lubitsch's 1942 classic To Be or Not to Be and that same year menaced Abbott and Costello in Pardon My Sarong.

Personal lifeEdit

Lionel Atwill and Elsie Mackay (1922)

Atwill married four times. His first wife was Phyllis Ralph; the couple married in 1913 and divorced in 1919. In 1941, their son John Arthur Atwill (born 1914) was killed in action at age 26.[4] Atwill married the actress Elsie Mackay in 1920. He married Louise Cromwell Brooks in 1930 after her divorce from Douglas MacArthur; they divorced in 1943.[5] Atwill married Paula Pruter in 1944, and their marriage continued until his death.[1] Their son, Lionel Anthony Atwill, is a retired writer.

In 1942, Atwill was indicted for perjury by a jury investigating the 1941 proceeding of a grand jury relative to the alleged occurrence of a sex orgy at his home. He was given five years probation, but Hollywood producers and other executives blacklisted him for minor criminal activity. He made small film appearances afterward.[6][7]

Atwill died on 22 April 1946 of pneumonia at his home in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles.[1] At the time of his death, he was filming the serial Lost City of the Jungle, playing the mastermind villain. Universal Pictures retained the footage already filmed, adapted the story to enhance the villainous role of another character, and used a double for Atwill in some scenes.[citation needed]

Origins of NameEdit

1911 passenger list where Atwell's original surname was crossed out and replaced by "Atwill."

Atwill was born Lionel Alfred William Atwell, the oldest of four children born to Alfred and Ada Atwell[8] His father was the only child of Thadeous Atwell, who migrated to England after being born and raised in Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas, B.W.I., the oldest of three boys born to William and Grace Atwell. A 1911 passenger list indicates where Atwell changed his last name to Atwill. The Atwell family that remained in Nassau eventually migrated to Key West, Florida.



  1. ^ a b c d e "Lionel Atwill, 61, Noted Actor, Dies. Veteran of Stage and Screen Made London Debut in 1904". New York Times. 23 April 1946.
  2. ^ "The Rise of Lionel Atwill". New York Times. 14 April 1918.
  3. ^ "("Lionel Atwill" search results)". Playbill Vault. Playbill. Archived from the original on 31 July 2017. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  4. ^ "Actor Lionel Atwill's Son Killed in British Air Action". Chicago Tribune. 29 April 1941. Commonwealth War Graves Commission - CWGC record.
  5. ^ "Lionel Atwill Divorced. Former Louise Cromwell Wins Decree in Washington". New York Times. 19 June 1943.
  6. ^ "Stage And Screen Actor Indicted". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. 1 July 1942.
  7. ^ "Atwill Pleads Guilty. Actor Admits Perjury in Showing of Lewd Pictures". New York Times. United Press. 25 September 1942.
  8. ^ "England and Wales Census, 1891". Family Search.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit