Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Mayne Lynton (1885–1965)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Nancye Doris Lynton

William Mayne Lynton (1885-1965) and Nancye Doris Lynton (1893-1973), actors, were husband and wife. William was born on 4 May 1885 at Bowness, Cumberland, England, son of John Linton, general labourer, and his wife Catherine, née Mains. Educated at Glasgow, he moved south, trod the boards in music halls and pestered theatrical managements until given a part in Rob Roy in 1905. He travelled with (Sir) Frank Benson's Shakespearian Company in 1906-07 and was subsequently based in London. At the register office, St Giles, on 2 July 1912 he married Annie Lenon (otherwise 'Hughes'), née Gass, a 42-year-old divorcee and an actress; they were later divorced. A strong, good-looking man with a trim moustache, Lynton had worked in the United States of America from 1911: he went on Shakespearian tours, supported Douglas Fairbanks and George Arliss, appeared in silent films, and toured the country lecturing on 'Scott of the Antarctic'. Lynton was commissioned honorary lieutenant in the British Army on 27 June 1917; after carrying out recruiting duties at Toronto, Canada, he was attached to the Military Control Office, New York. In 1919 he returned to the stage.

Nancye was born on 19 June 1893 at Chingford, Essex, England, daughter of theatrical parents George Musgrove and Nellie Stewart. Brought to Australia in September, she was mainly educated in her mother's dressing-room by a governess who travelled with the company. At school at Lausanne, Switzerland, she trained as a pianist and made friends with (Dame) Cicely Courtneidge. She was later taught dancing by Edouard Espinosa in London and fencing by Frank Stuart in Sydney. In 1910-11 she conducted the orchestra for her mother's eight-month tour of Australia. Nancye Stewart made her stage début on 14 February 1914 in Joseph and his Brethren at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne. Over the next five years she appeared under various managements, sometimes with her mother. In 1916 she joined Marie Tempest's company, playing five roles as well as understudying her. Nancye acted in the farce, Pretty Soft, at the Morosco Theatre, New York, in 1919, then played in repertory at the Copley Street Theatre, Boston.

Stewart and Lynton met in New York in 1920 when they were cast in George M. Cohan's production of Genius and the Crowd. They claimed to have married there on 5 March 1920 before crossing the U.S.A. with Walker Whiteside in The Master of Ballantrae. Nancye returned home in 1921. Mayne followed her next year to take up a contract with J. C. Williamson Ltd which lasted on and off for twenty years. He played the detective in The Bat, and had leading roles with Pauline Frederick, Gertrude Elliott, Muriel Starr and Emélie Polini. At the registrar general's office, Sydney, Mayne and Nancye were married on 15 September 1924. Between giving birth to three sons, she performed in stage shows such as De Luxe Annie and My Old Dutch. Lynton appeared (1924-59) in five Australian films, notably as Lieutenant Bligh in Charles Chauvel's In the Wake of the Bounty (1933).

Among the earliest actors to pioneer (from 1925) radio drama, the Lyntons were more active in radio than the theatre throughout the 1930s. During the Depression Mayne broadcast poetry readings with musical accompaniments provided by Nancye. In 1934 he adapted and directed plays (which starred his wife) for radio 2UW. By 1935 he was producing for F. W. Thring's radio 3XY in Melbourne. Next year he and Nancye negotiated contracts with the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Melbourne at a joint salary of £25 a week. Mayne was soon held to be a bad influence in the studio; 'consistently halting', he 'fluffed' his lines and treated the producer 'cavalierly by his late arrival and behaviour'. In 1938 he complained to William Cleary: 'I went over to the Melbourne National Stations an established success, both as Producer and Player—finished literally carrying a Spear before the Microphone, discredited both as Producer and Player'. He took up directing for 3XY.

Performing 'everything from evanescent variety to the unquenchable classics', Nancye Stewart excelled as a character actress. Throughout her career she appeared in more than five hundred radio plays. She enjoyed gardening, cooking, jam-making, dressmaking, reading and travel, treasured the briar-rose patterned china from her mother's house in England, and had 'an intense interest in the renovation of old houses and old furniture'. Nancye was a practical person with 'a direct no-nonsense manner'. The family returned to Sydney in 1945.

By then Lynton was a 'big, heavy-looking man very much in the mould of the old actor-manager'. The things he liked doing did not pay much. Shakespeare was his real love. In 1946-49 he produced matinées for Leaving certificate students, among them The Tempest and Julius Caesar. The Lyntons went to Britain in 1949. Nancye was to comment that: we 'were only successful in our careers when we were touring separately'. They squabbled when together and wrote each other love letters when apart. Mayne appeared in (Sir) Tyrone Guthrie's production (1949) of The Three Estates at the Edinburgh Festival of Music and Drama, and Nancye in London in Terence Rattigan's Who is Sylvia? She toured (1951-52) Australia with the John Alden Company in three Shakespearian plays, then returned to Britain. While Mayne acted in London in Ring Round the Moon and other plays, Nancye appeared with the Old Vic Theatre Company (1953-54) under the Oliviers and with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company, Stratford-on-Avon (1954-55). Her parts included Gertrude in Richard Burton's Hamlet, which they also performed at Kronborg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark.

Mayne did little professionally after they came back to Sydney in 1955. He died on 20 May 1965 in North Sydney and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Nancye had supported (Dame) Margaret Rutherford in The Happiest Days of Your Life and Leo McKern in Ned Kelly for the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust. Her last stage role was Aunt Julie in Hedda Gabler (Hobart, 1969), but she continued to perform in television and radio plays, and as Mabel in the long-running radio serial 'Blue Hills'. Survived by two of her sons, Nancye Stewart died on 8 August 1973 at her Neutral Bay home and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Stewart, My Life's Story (Syd, 1923)
  • H. Porter, Stars of Australian Stage and Screen (Adel, 1965)
  • M. Skill, Sweet Nell of Old Sydney (Syd, 1974)
  • R. Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama 1923-1960 (Melb, 1994)
  • Wireless Weekly, 16 Feb 1934, p 12, 25 Oct 1935, p 23
  • Weekly Times, 20 Sept 1941
  • New York Times, 19 Sept 1911, 17 Dec 1912
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Feb 1914
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Apr 1922, 7 July, 5, 10 Aug 1933, 13 Apr 1946, 21 June 1956, 30 May 1965
  • ABC files, SP1558/2 box 20 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Lynton, William Mayne (1885–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 May, 1885
Bowness, Cumberland, England


20 May, 1965 (aged 80)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.