Sybil's 31 Days of Halloween!!... Scary Screen & Scream Stars!!

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Hey, what’s Halloween without our favorite very-scary stars? Check out the Horrifying “Who'z Dats?” right here under the “Who’z Dat? tab… or check out the Halloween tab! They’re all waiting right there for you at the top of the page! Just click away!! BOOOOO!

Sybil's 31 Days of Halloween... MUMMIE MEETS THE MUMMY (1931)...

... My appearance in MUMMIE MEETS THE MUMMY (1931), directed by Tod Browning. It was Hollywood's first foray into the musical-monster-comedy genre and the budget was huge. I played a terribly glamorous lady-archaeologist who discovers that she is the reincarnation of the first lady-pharaoh, Queen Ma-Hotsa-Totsa. I am reunited with my lover from 3000 years before, Kare-Lees, the high-priest of Heepsa-Hummus. Sadly, our relationship ended on the eve of our wedding, when my handmaidens caught him trying on my bridal trousseau! And then Kare-lees was turned into a mummy all wrapped in ace bandages and buried alive! Can you imagine? Well, the film was full of musical numbers, tanna leaves, of course, incense burners, pyramids, cats, camels, feasts, orgies, and lots of oiled up muscular slaves, loincloths, stranglings, poisonings, that sort of thing... oh, and way too much sand that just got in everywhere! And then that awful Hays Committee decided that the film had... um... "deviant and morally questionable overtones that might upset or confuse impressionable persons and sensitive young men". I'm sure I don't know what they meant... although my hand-hammered solid gold snake brassiere was a little to loose. But that nice Mr. Adrian adjusted it so that it wouldn't fall off during my dance of the seven veils... no matter how frisky I got. Ah, good times... good times.

Sybil's 31 Days of Halloween: Sybil Bruncheon’s “Hollywood’s Hysterical Histories”

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True Story!... Following a stunning career with the handsomest leading men and the most iconic film scripts, Ingrid Bergman was reduced to lurid, low-budget "nudie-monster-movies" after she was shunned by the studios for her out-of-wedlock affair with Roberto Rossellini. She was basically exiled from Hollywood, going from mega-stardom at Paramount, MGM, and Warner Brothers to a forlorn twilight at studios like Jankowinski Movie-Toons, Blatt Sisters Cinema, and The Creepy-Comedy Contract Players. Seen here in happier days with Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, she could only sneak back in under a sad parade of pseudonyms including Ivana Hoope, Lestrina Gargeaux, and Debbie Flatt, shown here with her "co-star/leading man" in I MARRIED A GARDEN GRUB (1951). She followed it with the musical sequels ANTZ IN HER PANTZ (1952), THE PROFESSOR & HIS PUPAS (1953), and a remake of LAURA with Vincent Price titled LARVA (1954). When asked by reporters as she left the country on the S.S. Stockholm, she was quoted as snarling, "Hollywood! Dessa stinkande jävlarna!"..

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... MARGARET HAMILTON (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985)

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Margaret Brainard Hamilton (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985) was an American film character actress best known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939).

A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actress in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image. The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's 2003 list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the top ranking female villain. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... ERNEST THESIGER (January 15, 1879 - January 14, 1961)

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Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? And while you’re considering it, let me introduce one of the rarest performers in the history of Hollywood…. An orchid in a field of daisies! He's Ernest Thesiger (January 15, 1879 - January 14, 1961).

The grandson of the 1st Lord Chelmsford, Thesiger was born in London, England and was the first cousin once removed of the explorer and author Wilfred Thesiger (1910–2003), and the nephew of 2nd Lord Chelmsford, who, exactly a week after Ernest's birth, famously led his troops in battle against and suffered a defeat at the hands of a Zulu army at the Battle of Isandlwana.

Thesiger attended Marlborough College and the Slade School of Art with aspirations of becoming a painter, but quickly switched to drama, making his professional debut in a production of Colonel Smith in 1909. After the outbreak of World War I, in 1914 Thesiger volunteered as Rifleman No.2546 with the 2nd Battalion of the 9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles). After training in England for 3 months he was sent to the Western Front in late 1914, and was wounded in the trenches on New Year’s Day in 1915. He was medically evacuated back to England. At a dinner party shortly after his return, someone asked him what it had been like in France, to which he is supposed to have responded "Oh, my dear, the noise! …and the people!"

In 1917, he married Janette Mary Fernie Ranken (1877-1970), sister of his close friend and fellow Slade graduate William Bruce Ellis Ranken. In her biography of Thesiger's friend, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Hilary Spurling suggests that Thesiger and Janette wed largely out of their mutual adoration of William, who shaved his head when he learned of the engagement. Another source states more explicitly that Thesiger made no secret of his homosexuality. Thesiger moved in several artistic, literary and theatrical circles. At various times, he frequented the studio of John Singer Sargent, befriended Mrs. Patrick Campbell, visited and corresponded with Percy Grainger and worked closely with George Bernard Shaw, who wrote the role of the Dauphin in SAINT JOAN for him. Somerset Maugham, on the other hand, responded to Thesiger's inquiry as to why he wrote no parts for him with the quip, "But I am always writing parts for you, Ernest. The trouble is that somebody called Gladys Cooper will insist on playing them." 

Thesiger's film debut was in 1916 in THE REAL THING AT LAST, a spoof presenting MACBETH as it might be done by an American company, in which he did a drag turn as one of the Witches. Thesiger also played the First Witch in a 1941 production of MACBETH directed by John Gielgud. He performed more small roles in films during the silent era, but worked mainly on the stage. In 1925, Thesiger appeared in Noël Coward's ON WITH THE DANCE, again in drag, and later played the Dauphin in Shaw's SAINT JOAN. He wrote an autobiography “Practically True”, published in 1927, which covers his stage career. An unpublished memoir written near the end of his life is housed in the Ernest Thesiger Collection at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection. When he appeared in a Christmas production of THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR in 1919, Thesiger met and befriended James Whale. After Whale had moved to Hollywood and found success with the films JOURNEY'S END (1930) and FRANKENSTEIN (1931), the director was commissioned to direct the screen adaptation of J. B. Priestley's Benighted as THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932), starring Charles Laughton in his first American film, together with Boris Karloff and Raymond Massey. Whale immediately cast Thesiger in the film as Horace Femm (!) launching his Hollywood career. The following year Thesiger appeared (as a Scottish butler) with Karloff in a British film THE GHOUL.

When Whale agreed to direct BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1935, he insisted on casting Thesiger as Dr. Septimus Pretorius, instead of the studio's choice of Claude Rains. Partly inspired by Mary Shelley's friend John Polidori and largely based on the Renaissance physician and botanist Paracelsus, it became Thesiger's most famous role, in which he gives a fey, flamboyant performance as Baron Frankenstein's mentor.

Arriving in the United States for the filming of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Thesiger immediately set up a display in his hotel suite of all his needlework, each with a price tag, and during the making of the film he would work on needlework, one of his hobbies.

Originally cast to play the luddite sculptor Theotocopolous in H.G. Wells's THINGS TO COME (1936), Thesiger's performance was deemed unsuitable by the author, and so was replaced by Cedric Hardwicke, although he was retained on the parallel production of Wells's THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES. Around this same time Thesiger published a book, “Adventures in Embroidery”, about needlework, which was his expert hobby. The remainder of Thesiger's career was centered on the theatrical stage, though he did appear in supporting roles in films produced in Britain, prominent among which is the 1945 CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA with Vivien Leigh and Claude Rains, and THE MAN IN THE WHITE SUIT (1951), starring Alec Guinness. He plays "Sir John," the most powerful, the richest, and the oldest of the industrialists (jointly with the trade unions) trying to suppress Guinness's invention of a fabric that never wears out and never gets dirty. In 1953, he appeared as the Roman Emperor Tiberius in THE ROBE, starring Richard Burton, Jean Simmons, and Victor Mature.

Thesiger made several appearances on Broadway, notably as Jacques to Katharine Hepburn's Rosalind in 1950 in the longest-running production of AS YOU LIKE IT ever produced on Broadway. Later films included THE HORSE'S MOUTH (1958) with Alec Guinness, SONS AND LOVERS (1960), and THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE, with Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty (1961). That same year he made his final stage appearance—a mere week before his death—in THE LAST JOKE, with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson.

In 1960, Thesiger was awarded the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). His last film appearance was a small role in THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE (1962). Shortly after completing it, Thesiger died in his sleep from natural causes on the eve of his 82nd birthday, and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.

In the fictionalized James Whale biopic GODS AND MONSTERS (1998), Thesiger was portrayed by Arthur Dignam. And the real Thesiger is seen in the film when Brendan Fraser, as Whale's gardener, sits at a bar watching televised repeats of the original 1935 BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... GEORGE ZUCCO (January 11, 1886 – May 27, 1960)

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Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? And while you’re considering it, I’ve decided to spend the whole month of October (one of my very favorite months!) celebrating the folks that make Hallowe’en so special for me by their work in scary movies (some of my very favorite movies!!)

Well our next guest has always come off as a man of superior brains and intellect. Every role he played was one of cunning and craft. Let me introduce you to George Zucco (January 11, 1886 – May 27, 1960). Born in Manchester, Lancashire, England, George Desylla Zucco’s mother, Marian (née Rintoul), ran a dressmaking business; she was a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. His father, George De Sylla Zucco, was a Greek merchant.

Young George debuted on the Canadian stage in 1908. He and his wife Frances toured the American vaudeville circuit during the 1910s, their satirical sketch about suffragettes earning them renown. He returned to Great Britain and served as a lieutenant in the British Army’s West Yorkshire Regiment during World War I. He saw action and was wounded in his right arm by gunfire. Subsequent surgery partially handicapped the use of two fingers and a thumb. However, having honed his theatrical talents, he proceeded to enter the London stage scene and was rewarded with a developing career that made him a leading man as the 1920s progressed and made his film debut in 1931, playing Eugène Godefroy Cavaignac in THE DREYFUS CASE an early British re-telling of the Dreyfus Affair with Cedric Hardwicke. What followed were thirteen B-grade movies through 1935, until THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES (1936) with Roland Young and Ralph Richardson. Zucco then returned to America and Broadway by late 1935 to play Disraeli opposite Helen Hayes in the original play VICTORIA REGINA which ran from December 1935 to June 1936. After that came a Hollywood contract and his first American picture, SINNER TAKE ALL (1936). Zucco had a sharp hawk nose, magnetic dark eyes, and an arching brow that fit well with authoritative and intimidating characters. That same year, he was in the second installment of the "Thin Man" series with William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Jimmy Stewart,  followed by a series of supporting roles in nine films in 1937, usually type-cast as a doctor or English aristocrat. There were good supporting roles in "A" films, but he was also taking on darker characters. This was evident in CHARLIE CHAN IN HONOLULU (1938) and more so with ARREST BULLDOG DRUMMOND (1939). In the latter, he played Rolf Alferson, alias the criminal mastermind "The Stinger," who could administer a poisonous sting from a needle at the tip of his cane. It was a typical pop movie in the pulp mystery/horror genre with the usual sort of ending, but it started him on the road as a Hollywood arch villain. That same year, he was cast as Professor Moriarty, the brilliant archenemy of the world's most famous detective in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) opposite Basil Rathbone in the title role and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.

During the 1940s, he took every role he was offered, landing himself in B-films and Universal horror films, including THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), THE MAD MONSTER (1942), THE MAD GHOUL (1943), DEAD MEN WALK (1943), THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944), HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and TARZAN AND THE MERMAIDS (1948).  Although some of these were made by the relatively major Universal Pictures, Zucco began grinding out outlandish horror stuff for the infamously “bottom-of-the-barrel” Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC). It would be incorrect to say he sold out completely to the horror genre though, even if horror buffs have made him their own. He was reunited with Basil Rathbone in another Sherlock Holmes adventure, SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (1943), this time playing not Moriarty, but a Nazi spy. His distinctive presence, talent, and class also got him cast in higher end films on occasion with big stars such as CAPTAIN OF CASTILE (1947) with Tyrone Power, THE PIRATE with Gene Kelly and Judy Garland (1948), JOAN OF ARC (1948) with Ingrid Bergman, and MADAM BOVARY (1949) with Jennifer Jones. Zucco even managed to make appearances in two Fred Astaire musicals, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY (1949) and LET’S DANCE (1950). He retired due to illness, after playing a bit part in DAVID AND BATHSHEBA in 1951. Kenneth Anger, in his 1988 book Hollywood Babylon II, claimed that Zucco died in a madhouse, convinced that he was being haunted by H.P. Lovecraft’s creation Cthulhu, and that Zucco's wife and adult daughter committed suicide in response to the loss. However, in reality, Zucco spent his final years in quiet dignity in the Monterey Sanitarium, an assisted-living facility and died from pneumonia in 1960, aged 74. His only daughter, 29-year old Frances Zucco, was an award-winning equestrian and minor actress; she died exactly 20 months to the day after her father from throat cancer on March 14, 1962. His widow Stella Francis whom he had married in 1930, died from natural causes in 1999 (aged 99). Quiet-spoken off stage, he had always been an avid dog lover who owned several German Shepherds. Because of his consistency as an actor and his professionalism at all times, his nickname on the set of Universal Studios was "One-Take Zucco". After his death, George Zucco was cremated and his ashes are now interred at the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... JOHN HOYT (October 5, 1905 - September 15, 1991)

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                Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great "character" actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to periodically post a regular, special entry called "SYBIL'S WHO'Z DAT?"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place", well maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships". (I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think???). Here's our next guest!!...and he’s perfect for the October season. What would Halloween be without science fiction, and what would great science fiction films be without John Hoyt (October 5, 1905- September 15, 1991).

               Born John McArthur Hoysradt, in Bronxville, New York, he was the son of a banker father who wanted John to follow him in the same profession. His mother, however, countered that wish by promoting the child’s talent for classical piano, and his two sisters worked tirelessly with him, nurturing his vocal techniques. He attended The Hotchkiss School, and later Yale University, where he served on the editorial board of the campus humor magazine “The Yale Record” because of his intelligent wit. He earned both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree there and worked as a history instructor at the Groton School in Massachusetts. He appeared at several regional theatres in the 1920s, working as an acting teacher, and even a nightclub comedian as John Hoysradt. He made his Broadway debut in 1930 with the play OVERTURE. Being a very accomplished pianist, he became the “ghost” pianist, playing offstage for Katherine Cornell who was playing a concert pianist in Sidney Howard’s play ALIEN CORN (1932). When Cornell toured 3 plays in repertory the next year, John was invited to play roles in all three. The tour would be a long, arduous trek by train and, as it turned out, John’s roommate on the theatrical odyssey was another newcomer named Orson Welles. He also played in THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1936 along with Bob Hope, Josephine Baker, and Fanny Brice. He eventually became an actor with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre appearing in Welles’ production of JULIUS CAESAR in 1937 in the role of Decius Brutus (a.k.a. Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, a role he would play again in film in 1953.)

                  It was during this time that he married his first wife, Marian Burns, whom the New York Post described as a “former athletics teacher,” and became the father of his only biological child, a son named David. Other productions with Welles included HEARTBREAK HOUSE and ‘TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE. Continuing his stand-up comedy career, after performances onstage, he would dash off to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center to appear as “The Master Of Satire”. One of his specialties was impressions of famous entertainers, and his impersonation of Noël Coward was so remarkable that he was hired for the original cast of the Broadway comedy THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1939) in which he played Beverley Carlton. He remained with the Mercury Players until he was called up for military service in 1945. It was not until the age of 40 that he became “Hoyt,” moving the family to Hollywood. Paramount Studios performed the name change and quickly fastened onto Hoyt’s panache with dialects and languages (he spoke five). He made his film debut in O.S.S. (1946), a wartime drama with Alan Ladd about the Office of Strategic Services which was the predecessor to the C.I.A., followed by MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE (1947), a comic take-off on film noir starring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney Jr.

                Among his impressive credits is THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (1955) with Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier. Mr. Hoyt appeared in 75 films, including JULIUS CAESAR (1953) with Marlon Brando, James Mason, and John Gielgud, SPARTACUS (1960) with Kirk Douglas, Charles Laughton, and Lawrence Olivier, and CLEOPATRA (1963) with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Rex Harrison. Because of his classical training, he fit right into these “classical productions" often being mistaken for being British himself.

                Although Hoyt played Nazis, indignant fathers, and forbidding megalomaniacs, in his real life, he was tending to his sick wife Marian who, it was known, was suffering from medical problems aggravated by alcoholism. Marian did not survive and John soon after married Dorothy Haverman who had been a close family friend with one son. They were married for his last 25 years. Hoyt’s unusual presence and talent allowed him to participate in science fiction films like THE LOST CONTINENT (1951), WHEN WORLD’S COLLIDE (1951), ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958), X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (1963), and several episodes on tv of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and on the original pilot of STAR TREK in 1964. He was versatile enough to have a huge career in Westerns both in film and on television, and despite his great ability in comedy, the majority of his work existed in gritty dramas, film noir, and mysteries. Over the 1950s and 60s he became a major character guest star on all sorts of television hit programs including THE RIFLEMAN, repeated appearances on PERRY MASON.

                  In 1982, at age 77, after moving to Santa Cruz, he signed a contract with NBC to play Grandpa Kanisky on NBC’s "Gimme A Break," a role he portrayed for seven years. And in 1985, stock footage of his performance as a man from the future dealing with mutants in THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964) is played in a movie theatre as the final comic sequence in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (1985) for Madonna and Roseanna Arquette; a wonderful film-within-a-film gimmick! Hoyt died of lung cancer at the age of eighty-five in 1991 in Santa Cruz, California. He was survived by his wife, Dorothy; a son, David, a stepson, Kurt L. Haveman, both of Santa Cruz, and 10 grandchildren. In 1996, Dorothy, in an interview with writer Paul Grondahl, revealed that John had been gay all his life, despite his two marriages. She gushed with love for him. “He was a presence,” she said in a letter. “Whenever he entered, people recognized a special quality of distinction, culture and an engaging manner. John had all the ability to ride easy on the surface of life. He didn’t have to labor over anything. A movie script was presented and memorized immediately. He did not have to strive.” Dorothy, matter of factly indicated they had an agreement and an open marriage and that he was quite open with his young lovers. Hoyt was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Pacific by his family.

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A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... LIONEL ATWILL (March 1, 1885 - July 22, 1946)

MARCH 1st...! A New Sybil Bruncheon's "WHO'Z DAT!!"..... LIONEL ATWILL (March 1, 1885 – April 22nd, 1946)...

Darlings! Mummy has made a decision! After reading dozens of posts and having hundreds of conversations with well-meaning folks who just don't know about the great CHARACTER actors who gave films the depth and genius that surrounded and supported the so-called "stars", I am going to post a regular, special entry called SYBIL'S "WHO'Z DAT??"....there'll be photos and a mini-bio, and the next time you see one of those familiar, fabulous faces that you just "can't quite place".......well, maybe these posts will help. Some of these actors worked more, had longer and broader careers, and ended up happier, more loved, and even wealthier than the "stars" that the public "worships"......I think there may be a metaphor in that! What do you think??? Well, while you're mulling that over, let me present a face that everyone always recognizes and a voice and manner that go with it perfectly! It’s Lionel Atwill (March 1, 1885 – April 22nd, 1946).

Lionel Alfred William Atwill (nicknamed ‘Pinky’ for the red tinge of his hair) was born into a wealthy family in Croydon, Surrey, England. Educated at London's prestigious Mercer School, he had considered a career in medicine but was working in a surveyor’s office with an aim toward becoming an architect when he was lured away from the promise of steady income by the siren’s call of the theatrical arts and eventually turned his interest to the stage. He made his debut at twenty at the famous Garrick Theatre in London in 1904 and worked steadily there and in Australian tours, appearing in plays by both Ibsen and Shaw.

He came to New York in 1915 to tour the United States with Lillie Langtry in MRS. THOMPSON. The production was a disaster but Atwill persevered and made it to Broadway, where he staged and acted in a production of THE LODGER (a full decade before Hitchcock’s silent screen adaptation) at New York’s Bandbox Theater in January of 1917. Atwill was Julius Caesar to Helen Hayes’ Cleopatra in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA in 1925, appeared with Russian diva Alla Nazimova in a trio of Ibsen plays performed in repertory and appeared opposite Fanny Brice and Louise Brooks in the notorious Broadway flop FIORETTA in 1929. The New York Times devoted a feature to Atwill as early as 1918 (“The Rise of Lionel Atwill”) and he appeared with his second wife in a highly publicized pictorial in Vanity Fair in 1921, in conjunction with his vaudeville tour of THE WHITE FACED FOOL.

Atwill performed in twenty-five Broadway plays between 1917 and 1931, but he also began exploring the new medium of silent film dabbling in it while continuing on stage. His distinctive voice and commanding British accent that served him so well in the theatre made his transition into the “talkies” extremely easy beginning in 1928 when he did some Vitaphone short subjects and then his first real film role in THE SILENT WITNESS (1932), also titled THE VERDICT. His next role was as the chilly clinician Dr. Xavier in First National’s DOCTOR X (1932), which was filmed in revolutionary two-strip Technicolor and costarred Fay Wray. The story was filled with all sorts of lurid horror gimmicks and was a “murder mystery” as well. Cleared of the charge of cannibalism by the fade-out, Atwill’s character turns out to be a loving father and hero by the end of the film. More often than not, he was the fiendish villain as in THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1932), THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), THE SPHINX (1933), MURDERS IN THE ZOO (1933), THE MAN WHO RECLAIMED HIS HEAD (1934), and in Tod Browning’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935).

Although he did travel on occasion to Australia to appear onstage, his focus remained in U.S. horror film roles in the 1930s. He also specialized as shady noblemen, gruff military men, and police inspectors (usually with a signature mustache) and worked steadily. He had the chance to show a broader character as the tyrannical but unforgettable Col. Bishop in CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) with super-stars Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone. Perhaps one of his most iconic roles was Inspector Krogh in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939). In an almost comical scene, Inspector Krogh agrees to a game of darts with Basil Rathbone’s Baron Frankenstein and proceeds to impale the darts through the right sleeve of his uniform (the character sports a wooden right arm that replaces the one he lost as child to the original monster.) Few actors could deliver a line like ”One doesn’t easily forget, Herr Baron, an arm torn out by the roots!” and still sound classy. It is as much the over-the-top character of Krogh as Atwill’s delivery of him that is memorably sent up by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

In addition to macabre roles, Atwill often appeared in the 1930s as various other authority and villainous figures. Two of his most notable non-horror roles were again 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 THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1939) and the 1943 Universal Studios film SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON, in which he played Holmes' archenemy and super-villain, Professor Moriarty. Known for his sense of humor, Atwill sends himself up with the wonderful portrayal of stage-ham repertory actor Rawitch in Ernst Lubitsch’s classic TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942) with Jack Benny. Co-starring such comedic giants as Sig Ruman, Carole Lombard, Felix Bressart, and others, Atwill holds his own with comedic timing and self-important puffery! His films during these years included musicals like THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1939) with Don Ameche, and even a variety of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto murder mysteries.

Atwill remained a stalwart of the Universal horror films until in 1943, he effectively ruined his solid film career when he was implicated in what was described as an "orgy" at his home. Naked guests (many of them purportedly Hollywood celebrities) along with pornographic films--and an alleged rape perpetrated during the proceedings brought the police, arrests, and scandal. 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, an odd and tragic distinction in the Hollywood community. Only seven months into his sentence he applied for and was granted termination of his sentence, and his record was expunged. Unfortunately, the Hays Office was a different matter. He'd been unemployed during the trial and his sentence, and his wealthy wife Louise (the ex-wife of General Douglas MacArthur!) divorced him in June 1943.

He no longer felt welcome in Hollywood, and he moved East spending weeks looking for roles on Broadway without any success. The only possibility was back in Hollywood at the one studio that specialized in hiring fallen name (and no-name) talent on the cheap, Producers Releasing Corporation. Known as the very definition of Poverty Row, PRC was a far cry from his glory days at the major studios. Within the industry, working along Gower Gulch was an admission of failure and disgrace. PRC "features" were usually allotted a five-day shooting schedule and retakes were forbidden. Although Atwill was able to return sporadically to Universal for some sporadic bits and serials, he was condemned to spending the majority of his remaining career working in Poverty Row. Atwill died of pneumonia and lung cancer while working on a low-budget serial, LOST CITY OF THE JUNGLE (1946).

Lionel Atwill has the distinction of being the only actor to appear in five of the eight Frankenstein films released by Universal from 1931-1948. He 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). During his lifetime, he had made more than 60 films. Atwill had a strange string of 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 his 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.

Atwill had been married four times, and had two sons. His first son John Anthony Atwill, by first wife Phyllis Relph, was a WWII flying officer with the Royal Air Force and was killed in action in 1941. A second son, Lionel Anthony Guille Atwill, was born to him late in life (at age 60) by his last wife, Mary Paula Pruter. Atwill died just six months after his second son’s birth. Interestingly, given Atwill’s career and personal troubles, he was once quoted as saying, “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 lusts and dark passions. It all depends on which side of my face is turned toward you--or the camera.” His body was cremated, and his ashes were once interred in the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles, but the family later moved them to another location.

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