Silent Star of July 1996

Lottie Lyell

Widely acknowledged as Australia's first film star, little is remembered of Lottie Lyell beyond her close association with Raymond Longford.

She was born Lottie Edith Cox on 23 February 1890 in Sydney, Australia, to Joseph Charles Cox and Charlotte Louise Hancock, growing up with two sisters in Balmain. In 1907 she took the bold step of joining the theatre as female lead in the Edwin Geach Company's An Englishman's Home. During her time in the theatre, she adopted the stage name of "Lottie Lyell" and began her close association with Raymond Longford which was to last until her death.

In 1911 Lottie Lyell and Raymond Longford made the transition to films with their supporting role in Captain Midnight, The Bush King. Longford was soon directing his own films, with Lottie Lyell taking the female lead roles. Lyell quickly adapted to the new medium and Wright notes in "Brilliant Career" that 'It is impossible to find an unfavourable review of her work as a performer.' Many of her roles featured her skills as an expert horsewoman and accomplished swimmer.

During the following years Lyell became one of Australia's most popular actresses, appearing in over 20 films from 1911 until 1919. Most of these films featured her as leading lady in addition to other mostly uncredited directing roles. Her career culminated in the classic film The Sentimental Bloke, a film which is still intact today.

Following the success of The Sentimental Bloke, Lyell was forced to reduce her acting career as she began her fight with tuberculosis, and concentrate more on writing, directing and producing. Her only acting credits in the nineteen-twenties were for Ginger Mick (1920) and Rudd's New Selection (1921). On 21 December 1925 she finally passed away, a victim of tuberculosis.

Neither Lyell nor Longford's careers can be studied without also studying the career of the other. They were partners throughout their long association from the theatre through to Lyell's death. Although not credited for much of this work, Lyell obviously contributed beyond mere acting. It was only during her later films that she received credits for these roles.

Our view of history is very kind to Longford. He is recognized as a significant figure in the early Australian film industry. From a cinema named after him to the Australian Film Industry's special award - The Raymond Longford Award, Australia generously remembers him. However, the name Lottie Lyell is unknown to most Australians. Those who have heard of her usually remember her in the context of her professional involvement with Longford.

Lyell and Longford maintained a close relationship throughout their association, but never married due to Longford's marriage from which he was unable to obtain a divorce. Following Lyell's death, Longford's career foundered. This was due both to her death and the strength of the large film companies and the control of film distribution in Australia.

With The Sentimental Bloke being the only major portion of her work which remains, we must only imagine how Lottie Lyell appeared in most of her films. However, the little that remains shows the skill with which she worked.


There is very little information available about Lottie Lyell. The following are some sources of information on Lottie Lyell.

"Don't Call Me Girlie (1985)", A Double L Films production
A survey of the role of women in the Australian cinema from the beginning to 1940 using interviews and archival footage.
"Lottie Lyell" from the TV series, "Michael Willesee's Australians", produced by Roadshow Coote & Carroll, Film Australia and Trans Media Productions
Part of a series which portrays the stories of Australia's heroes and heroines.
"Brilliant Careers" by Andrée Wright, Pan Books Australia, 1986.
This book is based on the film "Don't Call Me Girlie"
"Australian Cinema, the First Eighty Years" by Graham Shirley and Brian Adams, Angus & Robertson 1983
Although this book only mentions Lottie Lyell briefly, it follows the career of Raymond Longford when they were working together, providing insight into her career as well.
"Australian Dictionary of Biography", vol 10, General Editors Bede Nairn, Geoffrey Serle, 1988 Melbourne University Press, pp 171-172
An excellent biography.

Lottie Lyell's Filmography
Silent Movie page

Glen Pringle /
Copyright © 1996 by Glen Pringle
ISSN 1329-4431