Lottie Lyell

Lottie Edith Lyell (1890-1925), actress, was born in Sydney on 23 February 1890, younger daughter of Charlotte Louise (born Hancock) and Edward Cox, real estate agent. She grew up in Balmain, Sydney. Despite the absence of a family tradition of theatrical work, Lottie was allowed by her parents to study elocution and in 1907 she embarked upon a career on the stage. Assuming the stage name Lyell, she joined Edwin Geach's Popular Dramatic Organization (where Raymond Longford was also a travelling player) and toured Australia and New Zealand earning a reputation as a compelling stage actress. Her career in films began in 1911 when she went to work for Spencer's Pictures which had also engaged Longford as a director. Thereafter she played, to considerable commercial success and popular acclaim, lead roles in such films as The Fatal Wedding (1911), The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole (1911) and Australia Calls (1913). Lyell became identified on the screen with the physically adept colonial girl, at home in male company, spurning the retiring style of nineteenth century female coyness, and she excelled at roles which utilised her talents as horsewoman and swimmer.

The peak of Lyell's acting career came in her strikingly naturalistic performance as Doreen in Longford's highly acclaimed film of C. J. Dennis's The Sentimental Bloke (1919). Thereafter her on-screen performances were curtailed by ill health and her greater involvements off the screen. Lyell's association with Longford went beyond artistic cooperation. She was his lover through the fourteen years of their collaboration, and remained loyal to him, though Longford refused to divorce his wife or publicly acknowledge their relationship until near the end of Lyell's life. But Lyell's major contribution appears to have been as much to Longford's reputation as a director, as to his romantic fulfilment. Lyell scripted and co-directed The Blue Mountains Mystery in 1921, and The Dinkum Bloke in 1923, and was given credit as co- producer, screen-writer or art director for a number of other Longford films. Contemporaries gave credit to Lyell for her 'brains' and artistic capacities, and the historian Andree Wright has recently argued in Brilliant Careers that, in an era in which women's role was supposed to be confined largely to child-bearing and child-rearing, Lyell was not given official film credits by the scandal-conscious Longford for her considerable film achievements. She certainly does rank as one of the greatest talents to grace the Australian screen though neither Longford nor Lyell appear to have transcended traditional genres and themes to any great degree. Lyell died in Sydney, on 21 December 1925 of tuberculosis.

Diane Collins