Atwill was born into a wealthy family and was educated at London's prestigious Mercer School where he studied architecture before his stage debut at the Garrick Theatre, London in 1904 at the age of 20. In 1915 Atwill came to the United Stated and appeared in over 25 plays on Broadway between 1917 and 1931. During this time he made his screen debut in 1918 in the silent film Eve’s Daughter (1918).
Lionel Atwill as Inspector Krogh in Son of Frankenstein (1939) Universal Pictures.
Atwill continued to act in film and on stage, he appeared in a number of Universal horror films and had the distinction of being the only actor to appear in five of the eight Frankenstein films released by Universal, Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), and House of Dracula (1945).
Atwill’s career took a downward slide when in 1941 he was accused of throwing sex parties in his Hollywood home. The grand jury found that there was insufficient evidence and dropped the charges. However, in 1942 the grand jury reopened the investigation. Atwill refused to provide the names of his guess and as a result On October 14, 1942, Atwill was sentenced to five year’s probation for perjury stemming from his testimony the year before on a morals charge stemming from his showing pornographic movies at his home during his 1940 Christmas party. Seven months into his probation, Atwill was granted termination of his sentence and his record was expunged. The damage was done however and Atwill would spend his few remaining years acting in “Poverty Row” productions.Atwill died from lung cancer while working on the serial Lost City of the Jungle (1946) on April 22, 1946. His unfinished scenes were shot using a double.