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.
Film director, producer, actor, screenwriter.
1878-1910: Although born in Melbourne, John Walter Longford was raised in Sydney, where his father, a civil servant, had been redeployed as a prison warder. His mother, Charlotte Maria, née Hollis, was English. After completing his education at St John's Parochial School, Darlinghurst, Longford was apprenticed as a seaman, and at 18 held a third mate's ticket. In 1900 he married Melena Louisa Keen at St Luke's Anglican Church, in the Sydney suburb of Concord (5 February). Longford gave his occupation as able-bodied seaman. He also added Raymond to his names. The couple had one child, a son called Victor who was born in August the same year.
In the early 1900s Longford decided to pursue a career on the stage, and eventually joined Edwin Geach's Popular Dramatic Organisation, taking on the stage name Raymond Hollis Longford. He toured Australia and New Zealand for some ten years with Geach's company, and later for Clarke and Meynell. While often cast in villain roles, Longford could also play more sympathetic roles, notably in melodramas such as Camille, Her Love Against the World, The Midnight Hour and The Power of the Cross. He also distinguished himself as the patriotic hero Mr Brown in An Englishman's Home in 1909. Tall, long-faced, brown-haired and clean-shaven, he had a commanding presence and a resonant voice.
By 1907 Longford had separated from his wife. A year or two later he was entrusted the care of Lottie Lyell by her parents, presumably friends of his family. Then in her late teens Lyell was a vivacious and promising actress. The pair eventually formed a close attachment which lasted up until Lyell's death in 1925.
1911-1917: In 1911, with the Australian film industry finding strong demand for local films, Longford was engaged by Cozens Spencer (Spencer's Pictures) to appear in two bushranging features - Captain Midnight and Captain Starlight. He also took on the role of Gabbitt in The Life of Rufus Dawes, an adaptation of Marcus Clarke's His Natural Life.
Longford's first foray into film excited him, and he almost immediately set about pursuing a career behind the camera. That same year he directed his first feature The Fatal Wedding for Spencer's Pictures. Adapted by Longford from a popular stage melodrama, he engaged Lyell to recreate her role from the production the pair had toured in 1910. He also hired as director of photography, Arthur Higgins, the cinematographer who is largely associated with Longford's film career.
Longford followed The Fatal Wedding with The Romantic Story of Margaret Catchpole (1911), arguably one of the most popular Australian films of that era. With Lyell again cast in the lead role, the film established her as the country's first female movie star. As Margaret Catchpole she was given the opportunity to not only demonstrate her athleticism and excellent riding skills but she 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.
Over the next half dozen years Longford established himself as one of Australia's leading film directors, producing more than a dozen features. All but one (Sweet Nell of Old Drury, 1911) starred Lottie Lyall. Among the more significant films are: Trooper Campbell (1914), The Silence of Dean Maitland (1914), A Maori Maid's Love and The Mutiny of the Bounty (both 1916); and The Woman Suffers (1918).
1918-1925: 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 eventuate in what many film historians argue as the most iconic of all Australian silent films and a watershed moment in both the local film industry and 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 as Bill 'the Bloke' and Lottie Lyell as Doreen, The Sentimental Bloke eventually caught the attention of E. J. Carroll who agreed to distribute it through his chain of cinemas and associated theatres. From its debut screening in 1919 the film was a 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 utilised the same principal cast members and production team, and while not capturing the public's attention to the same level as its predecessor, 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 having developed the early signs of tuberculosis. Financed by E. J. Carroll, On Our Selection premiered in Melbourne in July, and went on to become another massive hit for Longford.
Longford continue to produce and direct feature films up until the mid-1920s, including: Rudd's New Selection and The Dinkum Bloke (1923). The latter film is the only production made by Longford-Lyell Australian Productions (1922-1924). Within months of the company being forced into liquidation he and Lyell established the similarly named Longford-Lyell Productions. That company's first film, Fisher's Ghost (1924) was followed by The Bushwackers (1925).
1926-1959: Devastated by Lottie Lyell's death in 1925 Longford made only three films in 1926 before effectively retiring from filmmaking. His decision to give up directing and producing was also in part due to his increasingly bitterness at the way the Australian government was continuing to legislate against the local industry while the Hollywood 'combine' system was simultaneously destroying the Australian film industry through its American powerbase. His views on this matter had been raised in 1927 when he appeared before a Royal Commission looking into the state of the local film industry. The government's continued inaction and the emergence of the 'talkies' effectively sealed Longford's fate, and he only made one more film after 1926 - The Man They Could Not Hang (1934). The film initiated some controversy within the press when it was discovered that the NSW police force had succeeded having several scenes cut from the film. The demands had been made because it was believed that they were offensive and demeaned the reputation of police (even though the film is set in England).
In 1933 Longford married Emilie Anschultz, having only obtained a divorce from his first wife following the death of Lyell. Over the next two decades his involvement in the film industry was reduced to playing character roles and as an assistant director. Among the films he was involved in were (* indicates as assistant director) : Pat Hanna's Diggers in Blighty* (1933) and Waltzing Matilda* (1933), two Beaumont Smith films, The Hayseeds* and Splendid Fellows* (1934), along with The Avenger (1937), Dad and Dave Come to Town (1938), Dad Rudd, M.P. (1940), Wings of Destiny (1940), and That Certain Something, The Power and the Glory and Racing Luck (all 1941).
During the Second World War Longford served as a clerk for the U.S. military stationed in Australia, and in the 1950s he took up a job as a night watchman on the Sydney wharves in an attempt to stay active. He emerged briefly from obscurity in the late 1950s following the discovery of a print of The Sentimental Bloke, and subsequently received belated acclaim for his pioneering contributions to Australian filmmaking and the local film industry generally. Following his death in 1959 aged 80, his second wife arranged for him to be buried in a Sydney cemetery next to Lottie Lyell.
Raymond Longford's significance as an Australian filmmaker is considerable. His films demonstrate a rich humour and provide insightful observations that reveal the emerging national character traits which have long served as a shorthand means of defining an Australian identity. Preferring an unaffected, natural style of filmmaking Longford's approach influenced not only his peers but also future generations of directors. Two of his 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 the director's anticipation of neo-realism in the way that he was able to infuse documentary-style settings and camera techniques within fictional narratives. His collaborations with Lottie Lyell were also instrumental in helping to establish the concept of Australian stars within the local industry, with the actress ranking alongside Arthur Tauchert and Snowy Baker as the country's first home grown movie stars.