Born Lionel Alfred William Atwill in Croydon, London March 1st 1885. Lionel was born to a wealthy family and was educated at London's prestigious Mercer's School, he first thought of becoming an architect, but he found that his interest quickly turned to the literature and drama, especially the works of William Shakespeare. Somewhere during school he was given the nickname of "Pinky" due to his reddish hair (Which would get darker as he got older).
Lionel Atwill would make his stage debute in October of 1904, at the age of 19, at the Garrick Theatre in London as a footman in the play 'The Walls of Jericho' and would work regularly from there on, touring all over England and Australia. In 1915, Lionel came to America and would appear in around 25 plays between 1917 and 1931. He would become a star of Broadway by 1918 starring in five big productions that year. A New York Times article “Atwill is riveting his position as one of the most valuable stage importations from England in several seasons.” It would be acting in silent films by 1918, starting 'Eve's Daughter' (1918) alongside Billie Burke of 'Wizard of Oz' (Glenda The Good Witch) fame.
Lionel would marry twice during his early days of silent film. First to Phyllis Relph (1913 - 1919) who gave him one son and then to Poppy Wyndham (1920 - 1928).
Lionel did some Vitaphone One or Two Reelers in 1928. Even though Atwill would find fame on stage he was more interested in films, so he left New York in 1931 to concentrate on film. He would reprise his roll from the last play and would be in his first real film (1932) 'Silent Witness'.
Atwill, with his wonderful voice and his bullish demeanor, made him perfect for the tough-guy characters. Mad Doctors, Noble Men, Police officals, or Militay Leaders kept him working steady. His next film after 'Silent Winess', he would start him on his career in horror films, (1932) 'Doctor X'. He would work the next films in the horror genre such as (1932) 'The Vampire Bat', (1933) 'Mystery of the Was Museum', (1933) 'Murders in the Zoo' and (1933) 'The Sphinx'. In 1935 brought "Mark of the Vampire' with Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi. He brought the role of Col Bishop to life in 'Captain Blood' (WB, 1935), staring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Haviland. He one of his greatest characters, Inspector Krough, in 'Son of Frankenstein (Universal, 1939) with Basil Rathbone. Who can forget the banter with Rathbone as the play darts (or he slamming the darts into his "Wooden" Left Arm). Another great character role was that of James Mortimer in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' (20th Century, 1939), again with Basil Rathbone. In (1941) he played Dr. Rigas in 'Man Mad Monster' with Lon Chaney Jr. and Anne Nagel.
On April 28, 1941, Lionel was informed by telegram that his oldest son John Anthony Atwill (an RAF pilot), by first wife Phyllis Relph was killed in action. Lionel collapsed from the news, having just received mail from John a week earlier asking that he come over before he went to war.
Lionel was charged with perjury after being accused of showing 16mm adult films in his home at a 1940 Christmas Party. On May 21, 1941, Lionel sat in the witness chair and denied not only running, but even owning any "stag films." The court tended to believe his statements, probably due to the arm band he wore in honor of his son's death. Later he was called back to court and several of the guests at the party had testified as to events that happened. He stated "I lied like a gentleman . . . to protect friends." Atwill was convicted and sentenced to five years probation in 1941. On April 23rd, 1943 Atwill would later admit that he had lied to the Grand Jury and changed his plea from "guilty" to "not guilty," citing his "abject humiliation" and noting the Hays Office restriction from him working. He applied for, and was granted, termination of his sentence and his record. Judge McKay noted, “which would prevent the defendant from earning a living”, he expunged his record completely so he was no longer a convicted felon. Atwill thanked the Judge and left the court room in tears.
Lionel was unemployed during his sentance and his third wife Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brook MacArthur (ex-wife of General Douglas MacArthur) divorced him on June 18, 1943). He had already fallen in love with his forth wife Mary Paula Pruter and was married on July 7, 1944 in Las Vegas. She was the daughter of a Texas oilman and was a radio writer, producer and singer.
The Hays Office effectively blacklisted him from the top studios for his disgrace and unfortuanatly Hollywood did seem to turn there back on the great actor and he tried for roles on Broadway, also to no avail. He would go west again and finally find employement in Poverty Row (PRC). He did have a few bit parts and serials at Universal Studio, but most of his work was with PRC. During the making of 'The Lost City of the Jungle' (1946) Lionel bacame sick and was replaced by the stunt double George Soul who was hired to complete his scenes.
Lionel's son (by last wife, Mary Paula Pruter), Lionel Anthoney Guille Atwill, was born on Sunday, October 14, 1945 when Lionel was 60 years of age. He would die six months later.
Lionel died April 22, 1946 at the age of 61 from bronchial cancer and pneumonia at his home. His body was cremated at Pierce Bros. Mortuary in Santa Monica, California. His ashes are stored at the Chapel of the Pines crematory, in a subterranean vault along with the ashes of many other Hollywood people. No visitors are allowed to visit the vault and most employees are also restricted. He was a wonderful actor that will be missed but we do have much of his work still to be enjoyed.