The Lost One:
Frequently Asked Questions:
Continued from Page 1 – Was Peter Lorre Jewish?
That he gave his religion as “konfessionslos” (“none”) on the Viennese Meldzettel (police registration forms that tracked the movement of citizens) spoke to a general lack of interest in the subject (TLO, pg 12). Lorre’s non-observance played a very small part in The Lost One. As a biographer, I tended to focus on events, etc. that did happen – and not those that didn’t. If Lorre had been a passionate soccer fan, for example, I would have mentioned it. However, I would not have gone so far as to list the sports that held no interest for him.
The same goes with religion.
According to his family, Peter did not have a bar mitzvah nor was given a Hebrew name. Both of his brothers were likewise non-observant Jews. None of his wives were Jewish. In fact, on their wedding certificate, both he and third wife Annemarie gave their religion as “Lutheran” (TLO, pg 373).
No doubt Annemarie made the arrangements to have her husband cremated, since Lorre died without a will or making his final wishes known (TLO, pg 450). That she had violated “Mosaic law” would have not occurred to either her or him. Like his Jewish friend said, “I’m being cremated too. Ever heard of the Neptune Society?”
On a related note, if Lorre personally suffered any form of discrimination as a Jew, he never discussed it with friends or family, which is very consistent with his closed-mouth nature. Nor did he harp on the Holocaust. Remember that the Holocaust has been far more discussed, explored and documented in these last twenty years than it was in the twenty years after it took place.
Lorre was quietly intelligent. His ideas were often off-center and his humor oblique. Whatever he said was unexpected, never obvious. If he had nothing to say, he said nothing.
Lorre did, however, seek to help several Jewish friends get out of Europe. That I can document only two cases (TLO, pgs 165 and 533) doesn’t mean there weren’t others. As he always slipped in and out of veterans’ hospitals with as little fanfare as possible, the same is true of his efforts to reach out to people who needed a helping hand.
In one case, however, his wartime radio performances backfired, putting his family in dire jeopardy. Peter’s brother Francis related that “we were not in a very good situation being right in the middle of Budapest after the Nazis took over. One fine day my grandfather and aunt were dragged off in front of the Gestapo. My father was in a forced labor camp somewhere at this stage and my poor mother was landed with the responsibility of trying to manage the family to the best of her ability. Anyway, the story goes that Peter was making some anti-Nazi speeches on the American short wave, which of course we didn’t hear because we didn’t have any of those privileges, but obviously the Nazis did. My aunt was dragged off to Auschwitz, but got sick on the long march towards the Austrian border and fell by the wayside and was too ill to continue. So that probably saved her life, for the time being, anyway. And my grandmother, who was very, very upset by the whole thing, tried to commit suicide, unsuccessfully, but at least having landed in the hospital at that stage we prevented her from being dragged in front of the Gestapo.” (TLO, pgs 234-235)
As to the reasons why Lorre returned to Germany, this is explored in depth in a full chapter, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Chapter 8 (TLO, pgs 311-359).
So was Peter Lorre Jewish? Yes – he considered himself a “non-practicing Jew.”
Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, often considered “The Little Man” and “The Fat Man” of mystery, appeared in a total of nine movies, all at Warner Brothers.
They began with The Maltese Falcon (1941), continued with Casablanca (1942), Background to Danger (1943), Passage to Marseille (1944), The Mask of Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944), Hollywood Canteen (1944), and Three Strangers (1945), and ended with The Verdict (1946).
But there is an additional movie that often ends up erroneously in their filmographies – In This Our Life (1942), starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, George Brent, and Dennis Morgan.
According to these sources, Lorre and Greenstreet, along with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, appeared in the film as a “good luck gesture” for director John Huston, who had worked with them on The Maltese Falcon. They are supposedly seen playing cards or standing at a bar in a tavern. Since the 1970s, this rumor has filtered its way into countless film reference works and recently, internet sites.
Continued on Page 3
The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (2005) by Stephen Youngkin – now in its third printing and winner of the Rondo Award for "Best Book of 2005" – is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as these on-line merchants.
The Films of Peter Lorre (1982), also by Youngkin, is out of print but copies may be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble below. Interested in Lorre's radio and television performances? Check out Radio Showcase and Movies Unlimited. Netflix has Lorre movies for rent.
Amazon U.S. – Hard-Cover
Amazon Canada – Hard-Cover
Amazon Canada – Soft-bound
Amazon U.K. – Soft-bound
Amazon U.K. – Hard-Cover
University Press of Kentucky
Barnes & Noble – Nook and Hard-bound