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: 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?"... BASIL RATHBONE (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)

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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???.... while you’re reflecting, I’m inviting into our hallowed hall one of my very favorite people in show biz!!! Here he is folks, Mummy decided to add a special extra helping of WHO'Z DAT Deliciousness to the schedule...BASIL RATHBONE!!! (June 13, 1892 – July 21, 1967)

        For me, this fellow is the gold...NAY!..The PLATINUM standard for Hollywood royalty! (Ironically, he was knighted by George VI, and received even further elevations from Elizabeth II). Equally known for playing both heroic and villainous roles in some of the most iconic movies of the Cinema Golden Age, Basil Rathbone epitomized suave sophistication, brains, craftiness, and class. His face alone was one of the greatest pieces of cinema sculpture, and the camera adored him....you could light those bones a thousand different ways, and all of them were art! On the rare occasion when he would laugh without a villainous glint in his eyes, you could see all sorts of warmth and charm beneath that lacquered perfection, and indeed there are many stories about Rathbone and his wife being famous party givers to crowds of friends and admirers!

         Born Philip St. John Basil Rathbone in South Africa, (June 13, 1892), he rose to prominence in England as a Shakespearean stage actor and later went on to appear in over 70 films, primarily costume dramas, swashbucklers, and, occasionally, horror films. He was twice nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, both for his role of Tybalt in "Romeo and Juliet" (1936) and for his role of King Louis XI in "If I Were King" (1938), losing out both times to Walter Brennan. His most famous role, however, was eccentrically heroic—that of Sherlock Holmes in fourteen Hollywood films made between 1939 and 1946 and in a radio series done with his great friend Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. His later career included Broadway and television work; he received a Tony Award in 1948 as Best Actor for his performance as the unyielding Dr. Austin Sloper in the original production of THE HEIRESS, which featured Wendy Hiller as his timid, spinster daughter.                

         Rathbone was married twice; first to actress Ethel Marion Foreman in 1914. They had one son, Rodion Rathbone (1915–1996), who had a brief Hollywood career under the name John Rodion. The couple divorced in 1926. In 1924 he was involved in a brief relationship with Eva Le Gallienne. In 1927, he married writer Ouida Bergère; the couple adopted a daughter, Cynthia Rathbone (1939–1969). During Rathbone's Hollywood career, Ouida Rathbone, who was also her husband's business manager, developed a reputation for hosting elaborate expensive parties in their home, with many prominent and influential people on the guest lists. This trend inspired a joke in The Ghost Breakers (1940), a film in which Rathbone does not appear: During a tremendous thunderstorm in New York City, Bob Hope observed that "Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party". Although his later career may have vexed him on some level appearing in two spoofs of his earlier swashbuckling villains: CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) opposite Bob Hope and THE COURT JESTER (1956) with Danny Kaye, he also appeared in major films, including the Humphrey Bogart comedy WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955) and John Ford’s political drama THE LAST HURRAH (1958). The 1950s and 60s saw Rathbone performing on radio and television in various Christmas specials, variety shows, and even on game shows where he was very popular for his wit and polish. But he also was reduced to campy horror films and pastiches like THE BLACK SLEEP (1956), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1964) the only film to feature the "Big Four" of American International Pictures' horror films: Price, Rathbone, Karloff and Peter Lorre, QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966), THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966, with comic Harvey Lembeck joking, "That guy looks like Sherlock Holmes"), HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967, also featuring Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine), and his last film, a low-budget, Mexican horror film called AUTOPSY OF A GHOST (1968).

       Although his later career began to be made up of lower budget monster movies and spoofs of his own distinctive reputation as either a mad scientist or a British detective, Rathbone's immortality as a great invention of the Hollywood imagination will never dim! Basil Rathbone has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for films, at 6549 Hollywood Boulevard; one for radio, at 6300 Hollywood Boulevard; and one for television, at 6915 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. British actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell once described Rathbone as "two profiles pasted together", and later stated in the same autobiography, that she thought of him as "a folded umbrella taking elocution lessons." Rathbone died suddenly of a heart attack in New York City in 1967 at age 75. He is interred in a crypt in the Shrine of Memories Mausoleum at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. For his many fans around the world, he continues to be luminescent, enigmatic, iconic.... a Star!!! 

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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?"... 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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