Born in London, England, on March 1, 1885, actor Lionel Atwill was born into a family of wealth and privilege. Although his family pushed him to study architecture, Atwill was drawn to the stage and began his acting career in London soon after his 18th birthday. Handsome and charismatic in his youth, he found a great deal of success as an actor, touring Europe and Australia extensively. At age 28, Atwill married his first wife, stage actress Phyllis Relph, in 1913. The couple had a son, John, in 1915. Atwill left his wife and son behind when he went to New York in 1916, where he found great success on Broadway in numerous plays. In 1918, he acted in his first film, Eve's Daughter, which was a filmed version of a Broadway play starring Atwill in 1917. He married again in 1920, this time to stage actress Elsie Mackay, but this marriage ended in 1925 when she left Atwill for Max Montesole, another stage actor. Their acrimonious split made headlines in late 1925, with accusations of infidelity and abuse. But this scandal would be considered minor considering another that rocked Atwill's career fifteen years later.

He remained a stage actor and producer until 1932, when, at the age of 47, he went to Hollywood to stay. His first film in Hollywood was the Fox mystery Silent Witness (1932; with Helen Mack), but his big breakthrough role was in Warner Bros./First National horror film Doctor X (1932; with Fay Wray and Lee Tracy), shot in early Technicolor. He starred again with Fay Wray in the Warner Bros. Technicolor horror release Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and in Majestic's The Vampire Bat (1933). With all the horror films Atwill appeared in, it is surprising that he wasn't at this time typecast in horror films, as Atwill acted in such dramas as Paramount's The Song of Songs (1933; with Marlene Dietrich and Brian Aherne) and Nana (1934; with Anna Sten). However, as Atwill edged closer to his twilight years, horror films established him as a cult favorite for modern audiences.

the films of lionel atwill

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Lionel Atwill and Allen Vincent

With Allen Vincent in the Warner Bros. horror flick Mystery of the Wax Museum. This film was originally released in two-strip Technicolor and today can be seen in its original color release. This film was remade in 1953 as House of Wax in 3-D

The Sphinx (1933)

Sheila Terry and Lionel Atwill

From the Monogram mystery The Sphinx with Sheila Terry

The Vampire Bat (1933)

Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Melvyn DouglasLionel Atwill and Fay Wray

From Majestic's low-budget horror flick The Vampire Bat. LEFT: With Fay Wray and Melvyn Douglas. RIGHT: Atwill menaces Fay Wray

The Firebird (1934)

Verree Teasdale, Lionel Atwill, and C. Aubrey Smith

With Verree Teasdale and C. Aubrey Smith in the Warner Bros. drama The Firebird

Nana (1934)

Anna Sten and Lionel Atwill

With Anna Sten in the drama Nana

Mark of the Vampire (1935)

Lionel Barrymore, Lionel Atwill, and Jean Hersholt

With Lionel Barrymore and Jean Hersholt in the MGM horror release Mark of the Vampire

The Murder Man (1935)

Lionel Atwill, Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, and William Collier

From the MGM crime drama The Murder Man with Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, and William Collier

The Great Waltz (1938)

Lionel Atwill

Atwill as Count Anton Hohenfried in the MGM drama The Great Waltz

The High Command (1938)

Lionel Atwill

From the British drama The High Command

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

Lionel Atwill

As the one-armed police inspector Krogh, Lionel Atwill steals scenes in Universal's stylish horror film Son of Frankenstein

The Great Profile (1940)

John Barrymore, Mary Beth Hughes, and Lionel Atwill

From the 20th Century-Fox comedy The Great Profile with John Barrymore and Mary Beth Hughes

Man Made Monster (1941)

Lon Chaney Jr. and Lionel AtwillLionel Atwill

From the Universal horror film Man Made Monster with Lon Chaney Jr.

Cairo (1942)

Mona Barrie, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Lionel Atwill

From the MGM comedy/drama Cairo with Mona Barrie and Eduardo Ciannelli

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Lionel Atwill and Lon Chaney Jr.

With Lon Chaney Jr. as the monster in Universal's underrated The Ghost of Frankenstein

Fog Island (1945)

Lionel Atwill, Sharon Douglas, Veda Ann Borg, Jerome Cowan, and Ian Keith

From the PRC horror thriller Fog Island with Sharon Douglas, Veda Ann Borg, Jerome Cowan, and Ian Keith

later years

Atwill's career nearly came to a halt in 1941, following a Christmas party he hosted in late 1940 that allegedly involved an orgy, a minor, naked guests, and pornographic films. Accused of lying to a jury in 1941 about the alleged orgy he had hosted at his Pacific Palisades home, he was indicted for perjury in October 1942. Trying to protect the identity of his guests, Atwill originally pleaded guilty to the charge and was put on a probation period of five years. However, in April 1943 the actor was allowed to change his plea to not guilty and was exonerated. While many film historians argue that the scandal made Atwill virtually unemployable, in truth his career weathered the scandal amazingly well for the period and he was out of work for only a few months. Losing his connections with 20th Century Fox and MGM, Atwill kept working at Universal, Republic, RKO, and PRC, starring in numerous horror films such as The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942; with Anne Gwynne), Night Monster (1942; with Bela Lugosi), and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943; with Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi). The scandal did cost him his marriage to his wealthy third wife, socialite Louise Brooks Cromwell, who divorced Atwill in 1943. He married his fourth wife, singer Mary Shilston, in July 1944, and she gave birth to a son in late 1945. By this time, however, Atwill was suffering from bronchial cancer. He began shooting scenes for the Universal serial Lost City of the Jungle in January 1946, but he was too ill to complete filming the 13-chapter serial. His scenes were completed with the use of a double. Sadly, six months after the birth of his son, Tony, Lionel Atwill passed away from cancer on April 22. 1946, at the age of 61. He was survived by his wife, Mary, and his son, Tony. He was predeceased by his son from his first marriage, John, who was killed as an RAF pilot in 1941.

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Genius at Work (1946) with Wally Brown, Alan Carney, Anne Jeffreys, and Bela Lugosi
Lost City of the Jungle (1946) with Russell Hayden, Jane Adams, and Keye Luke
House of Dracula (1945) with Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Martha O'Driscoll, Jane Adams, and Glenn Strange
Crime, Inc. (1945) with Leo Carrillo, Tom Neal, Martha Tilton, and Sheldon Leonard
Fog Island (1945) with George Zucco, Jerome Cowan, and Veda Ann Borg
House of Frankenstein (1944) with Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, George Zucco, and Elena Verdugo
Secrets of Scotland Yard (1944) with Edgar Barrier, Stephanie Bachelor, and C. Aubrey Smith
Raiders of Ghost City (1944) with Dennis Moore and Wanda McKay
Lady in the Death House (1944) with Jean Parker, Douglas Fowley, and Marcia Mae Jones
Captain America (1944) with Dick Purcell and Lorna Gray
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) with Lon Chaney Jr., Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Dwight Frye
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce
Night Monster (1942) with Bela Lugosi, Leif Erickson, Irene Hervey, Ralph Morgan, and Don Porter
Cairo (1942) with Jeanette MacDonald, Robert Young, Ethel Waters, Reginald Owen, and Grant Mitchell
Pardon My Sarong (1942) with Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Virginia Bruce, Leif Erickson, William Demarest, and Marie McDonald
Junior G-Men of the Air (1942) with Billy Halop, Gene Reynolds, Frank Albertson, Huntz Hall, Frankie Darro, David Gorcey, and Turhan Bey
The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942) with Patric Knowles, Anne Gwynne, Shemp Howard, Paul Cavanagh, and Mantan Moreland
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) with Lon Chaney Jr., Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, and Evelyn Ankers
The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) with Una Merkel, Nat Pendleton, Claire Dodd, and Anne Nagel
To Be or Not to Be (1942) with Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, and Robert Stack
Man Made Monster (1941) with Lon Chaney Jr. and Anne Nagel
Boom Town (1940) with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert, Hedy Lamarr, Frank Morgan, Chill Wills, and Minna Gombell
The Great Profile (1940) with John Barrymore, Mary Beth Hughes, John Payne, and Anne Baxter
Girl in 313 (1940) with Kent Taylor, Kay Aldridge, Mary Treen, Jack Carson, and Elyse Knox
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise (1940) with Sidney Toler, Marjorie Weaver, Victor Sen Yung, Robert Lowery, Don Beddoe, Leo G. Carroll, and Cora Witherspoon
Johnny Apollo (1940) with Tyrone Power, Dorothy Lamour, Edward Arnold, and Lloyd Nolan
Charlie Chan in Panama (1940) with Sidney Toler, Jean Rogers, Mary Nash, Victor Sen Yung, and Kane Richmond
The Mad Empress (1939) with Conrad Nagel and Evelyn Brent
Balalaika (1939) with Nelson Eddy, Ilona Massey, Charles Ruggles, Frank Morgan, C. Aubrey Smith, Joyce Compton, and Phillip Terry
The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939) with Lew Ayres, Lionel Barrymore, Nat Pendleton, and Laraine Day
Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) with Peter Lorre, Virginia Field, and John 'Dusty' King
The Sun Never Sets (1939) with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Basil Rathbone, Virginia Field, Melville Cooper, and C. Aubrey Smith
The Gorilla (1939) with the Ritz Brothers, Anita Louise, Patsy Kelly, and Bela Lugosi
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) with Richard Greene, Basil Rathbone, Wendy Barrie, Nigel Bruce, and John Carradine
The Three Musketeers (1939) with Don Ameche, The Ritz Brothers, Binnie Barnes, Gloria Stuart, John Carradine, Douglass Dumbrille, and John 'Dusty' King
Son of Frankenstein (1939) with Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi
The Great Waltz (1938) with Luise Rainer, Hugh Herbert, and Minna Gombell
The High Command (1938) with Steven Geray and James Mason
Three Comrades (1938) with Robert Taylor, Margaret Sullavan, Franchot Tone, and Robert Young
The Great Garrick (1937) with Brian Aherne, Olivia de Havilland, Edward Everett Horton, Melville Cooper, Lana Turner, and Marie Wilson
The Wrong Road (1937) with Richard Cromwell, Helen Mack, and Marjorie Main
Lancer Spy (1937) with Dolores del Rio, George Sanders, Peter Lorre, and Virginia Field
The Last Train from Madrid (1937) with Dorothy Lamour, Lew Ayres, Gilbert Roland, Helen Mack, Robert Cummings, Anthony Quinn, and Lee Bowman
The Road Back (1937) with John 'Dusty' King, Richard Cromwell, Slim Summerville, Andy Devine, Noah Beery Jr., and Spring Byington
Absolute Quiet (1936) with Irene Hervey, Stuart Erwin, and J. Carrol Naish
Till We Meet Again (1936) with Herbert Marshall and Rod La Rocque
Lady of Secrets (1936) with Ruth Chatterton, Otto Kruger, Marian Marsh, and Lloyd Nolan
Captain Blood (1935) with Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander, and Guy Kibbee
Rendezvous (1935) with William Powell, Rosalind Russell, Binnie Barnes, and Cesar Romero
The Murder Man (1935) with Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, James Stewart, and William Demarest
The Devil Is a Woman (1935) with Marlene Dietrich, Edward Everett Horton, Alison Skipworth, and Cesar Romero
Mark of the Vampire (1935) with Lionel Barrymore, Elizabeth Allan, Bela Lugosi, and Jean Hersholt
The Man Who Reclaimed His Head (1934) with Claude Rains and Joan Bennett
The Firebird (1934) with Ricardo Cortez, Anita Louise, and C. Aubrey Smith
The Age of Innocence (1934) with Irene Dunne, John Boles, and Laura Hope Crews
One More River (1934) with Jane Wyatt, Colin Clive, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, and Alan Mowbray
Stamboul Quest (1934) with Myrna Loy and George Brent
Beggars in Ermine (1934) with Betty Furness, Astrid Allwyn, and George 'Gabby' Hayes
Nana (1934) with Anna Sten, Richard Bennett, Mae Clarke, and Reginald Owen
The Solitaire Man (1933) with Herbert Marshall, Mary Boland, and May Robson
Secret of the Blue Room (1933) with Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas, and Edward Arnold
The Song of Songs (1933) with Marlene Dietrich, Brian Aherne, and Alison Skipworth
The Sphinx (1933) with Sheila Terry
Murders in the Zoo (1933) with Charles Ruggles, Gail Patrick, and Randolph Scott
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) with Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell, and Frank McHugh
The Secret of Madame Blanche (1933) with Irene Dunne, Phillips Holmes, Una Merkel, and Jean Parker
The Vampire Bat (1933) with Fay Wray, Melvyn Douglas, and Dwight Frye
Doctor X (1932) with Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, and Preston Foster
Silent Witness (1932) with Helen Mack and Alan Mowbray
The Highest Bidder (1921) with Madge Kennedy and Vernon Steele
The Eternal Mother (1920) with Florence Reed
The Marriage Price (1919) with Elsie Ferguson
For Sale (1918) with Creighton Hale
Eve's Daughter (1918) with Billie Burke

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Watch Lionel Atwill's 1942 Universal horror feature The Strange Case of Doctor Rx

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