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Lottie Lyell as Doreen in The Sentimental Bloke (AWW, 9 Dec. 1970, p.13)
Lottie Lyell Lottie Lyell i(A76037 works by) (birth name: Lottie Edith Cox)
Born: Established: 23 Feb 1890 Sydney, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 21 Dec 1925 Sydney, New South Wales,
Gender: Female
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Actor, screenwriter, film producer, and film editor

Australia's first female film star, Lottie Lyell is largely associated with the films of Raymond Longford. Throughout the 1910s and early 1920s, the pair collaborated on at least eighteen films, including The Sentimental Bloke (1919) and On Our Selection (1920). Both films are considered to be among the most significant in Australian cinema history.

Lottie Edith Cox was raised in a middle-class family in Sydney. As Lottie Lyell, she began appearing on the stage professionally in 1909 (aged nineteen). Around the same time, she became involved with Raymond Longford, a fellow actor in the same company who had recently become estranged from his wife. Over the next few years, Longford and Lyell toured together throughout Australia and New Zealand, performing in dramas and melodramas such as The Fatal Wedding. They remained a couple until Lyell's death in 1925 but never married, due to Longford's inability to obtain a divorce from his Catholic wife.

In 1911, Lyell recreated her role from the stage production of The Fatal Wedding for Longford's first feature film as director. He also adapted the text into a screenplay. She then undertook the lead role in Longford's next film, The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole (1911), arguably one of the most popular Australian films of that era. As Margaret Catchpole, Lyell not only demonstrated her athleticism and excellent riding skills, but also introduced the type of character that endeared her to audiences across the country for years to come: the distinctively Australian heroine, girl of the bush, and equal to any man in terms of courage and resourcefulness. The film also effectively established her as the country's first female film star.

Over the next seven years, Lyell appeared in the following Longford films: The Tide of Death and The Midnight Wedding (1912); 'Neath Australian Skies, Australia Calls, and Pommie Arrives in Australia (1913); Trooper Campbell (1914); The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914); A Maori Maid's Love and The Mutiny of the Bounty (1916); The Church and the Woman (1917); and The Woman Suffers (1918). In each of these, she also invariably co-wrote the screenplays, worked as film editor, and/or or co-directed. In Photo Play Artiste, her biography of Lyell, Marilyn Dooley notes that Lyell was able to expand her range of talents beyond acting and stunt work due to the rather informal nature of the early film industry. Her contributions therefore encompassed such areas as producing, directing, writing, editing, and art direction. With A Maori Maid's Love, for example, it was Lyell who edited the Australian version for the British market.

In 1918, Longford and Lyell sought permission from C. J. Dennis to adapt his popular book of verses The Sentimental Bloke into a feature film. This decision was to result in what many film historians suggest is not only the most iconic of all Australian silent films but also a watershed moment both for the local film industry and in the formation of an Australian popular culture identity. Interestingly enough, however, it took Longford and the Southern Cross Feature Film Company more than a year to find an exhibitor to release the film. Starring well-known vaudevillian Arthur Tauchert (q.v.) as Bill 'the Bloke' and Lyell as Doreen, The Sentimental Bloke eventually caught the attention of E. J. Carroll (q.v.), who agreed to distribute it through his chain of cinemas and associated theatres. From its debut screening in 1919, the film was an enormous hit, both critically and commercially.

In late 1919, Longford began working on a sequel to The Sentimental Bloke. Released in February 1920, Ginger Mick used the same principal cast members and production team. While not capturing the public's attention to the same level as its predecessor, it was nevertheless another popular success for the director. 1920 also saw Longford direct another Australian classic, On Our Selection. Although Lyell is believed to have helped with the screenplay, she did not appear in the film or take part in the production, the result of having developed the early signs of tuberculosis.

In 1923, Lyell wrote the screenplay for Australia Calls, a semi-documentary commissioned and produced by the Commonwealth Immigration Office and the British Empire Exhibition Commission. That same year, she and Longford released The Dinkum Bloke, the first film to be produced by their own independent film company, Longford-Lyell Australian Productions. Although the company went into liquidation in 1924, they quickly established a new operation, Longford-Lyell Productions, which produced two films prior to Lyell's death: Fisher's Ghost (1924) and The Bushwackers (1925). Lyell's deteriorating health meant that her input into the creative aspects of the film making were reduced, and she concentrated primarily on assisting with the screenplays and overseeing aspects of production. Lyell eventually passed away in Sydney just before Christmas 1925, aged only thirty-five. She is buried next to Longford, who was interred beside her by his second wife, whom he married in 1933.

Lottie Lyell's contribution to Australian film making has been somewhat overshadowed by Longford's, but is nevertheless significant in itself. Though the extent to which she collaborated with Longford is unclear and only fragments of the most of the films they made together survive, most film historians acknowledge her role in his films as pivotal. Indeed, Longford's decision to abandon his career as a director is believed to have been very much a response to his reliance on her advice and expertise. The films they made together demonstrate a rich humour and provide insightful observations on the emerging national character traits that have long served as a shorthand means of defining an Australian identity. Two of their films, The Sentimental Bloke and On Our Selection, rank among the most important films in Australian cinema history. As pivotal examples of local filmmaking during the silent-film era, they also demonstrate Longford and Lyell's anticipation of neo-realism, in the way that they were able to infuse documentary-style settings and camera techniques within fictional narratives. As an actor, Lyell was also instrumental in helping to establish the concept of Australian stars within the local industry. In this regard, she ranks alongside Snowy Baker (q.v.) and Arthur Tauchert as the country's first home-grown movie stars.



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Last amended 26 Nov 2019 17:16:46
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