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Lyell, Lottie Edith (1890–1925)

by Mervyn J. Wasson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Lottie Edith Lyell (1890-1925), actress and film producer, was born on 23 February 1890 at Balmain, Sydney, younger daughter of Joseph Charles Cox, land and estate agent, and his wife Charlotte Louise, née Hancock, both native born. About 1906 she was taught 'elocution and the natural method' by the Shakespearean actor Harry Leston. Her parents then placed her in the care of Raymond Longford, an actor with Edwin Geach's Popular Dramatic Organisation which she joined. For several years, as 'Lottie Lyell' she toured Australia and New Zealand in such romantic melodramas as Why Men Love Women, Her love against the world and The Midnight Wedding. Reviews noted her enunciation, stagecraft and vivacity. She had bobbed dark hair and an oval face with large brown eyes, a straight nose and determined chin.

In 1911 Lottie Lyell joined Spencer's Pictures when Longford was appointed to direct its films. She repeated her stage role in his first production, The Fatal Wedding (1911). The film had great commercial success, and she played leading roles in other films made by Longford for Spencer: The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole (1911), The Midnight Wedding (1912) and Australia Calls (1913). She was a capable swimmer and an accomplished horsewoman who often displayed her riding skills on the screen.

When Spencer's Pictures Ltd amalgamated with other companies to form Australasian Films Ltd, Lottie Lyell, married to Longford in all but name, stayed with him and acted only in films that he directed. These included 'Neath Austral Skies (1913), The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914), A Maori Maid's Love (1915), The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916), and The Church and the Woman (1917). She accompanied him to South Australia to make The Woman Suffers (1918). Her mounting reputation as a screen actress was crowned with general acclaim for her sensitive portrayal of Doreen in Longford's masterpiece, The Sentimental Bloke (1919).

Failing health and added work in production made her screen appearances less regular, but she played Doreen in Ginger Mick (1920) and Nell in Rudd's New Selection (1921). She scripted and co-directed with Longford The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) and had 'plenty of healthy argument when their ideas about a scene differed'. With him she formed a partnership, Longford-Lyell Australian Productions, but despite popular success with The Dinkum Bloke (1923) the company failed through lack of financial backing. She had again helped to script and direct the film in which she appeared on the screen for the last time. They formed a new company, Longford-Lyell Productions, and made Fisher's Ghost (1924) and The Bushwhackers (1925).

Lottie Lyell died of tuberculosis on 21 December 1925 and was buried with Anglican rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery. She had made a unique contribution to the Australian film industry as its first female star and producer. She was admired for her brains and proved her capacity as a script-writer, film editor and director, although credited as Longford's assistant director in only two films.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Pike and R. F. Cooper, Australian Film 1900-1977 (Melb, 1980)
  • J. Tulloch, Legends on the Screen (Syd, 1981)
  • Australian Variety and Show World, 31 May 1916
  • Picture Show, June-Oct 1919, Feb, Dec 1920, Nov 1921
  • Lone Hand, Feb, Mar 1920
  • Everyone's, 12 Aug 1925
  • Cinema Papers, June-July 1976
  • Longford records and archival films (National Film and Sound Archive)
  • Emilie Longford interviews and documents (privately held).

Citation details

Mervyn J. Wasson, 'Lyell, Lottie Edith (1890–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lyell-lottie-edith-7266/text12591, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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