The Lost One:
An Interview with the Author
In the summer of 2005, film historian Tom Weaver sat down with Stephen Youngkin for an interview about the Peter Lorre biography, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, now available from University Press of Kentucky in bookstores and through on-line merchants everywhere.
QYou’ve been on the Lorre trail for a long time. How did you become interested?
When I was in graduate school, I attended a lot of film festivals, usually arranged around a theme or director. One series featured AIP/Poe titles, including Comedy of Terrors. I knew who Lorre was, but mostly from his later films. Two things struck me. He looked physically exhausted. Also, his performance seemed very layered, as if a thin veneer of comedy covered something tragic. Behind the fun there seemed to be a very palpable sadness. I hadn’t seen M, but had read about it. Still, I wanted to find out what happened between M and The Patsy. How do you begin with Fritz Lang and end up with Jerry Lewis?
I went to the library, but found that virtually nothing had been written about him. I had been pursuing an interest in film history, not my chosen field, and decided that I wanted to research Lorre’s life. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the material, but knew that attrition was taking its toll, so I began contacting co-workers, producers, directors, writers, actors, even a stuntman.
At some point, I used my academic connections to contact Vincent Price, who was then on the Indian Arts Board. He was a very gracious and generous man. He said he would be glad to help, gave me his phone number and said to call him any time. He was very supportive, but later said, “Why are you wasting your time with this? Indians are so much more interesting and important.” From there, the circle of informants mushroomed. Price put me in contact with the Lorre family, which led to other contacts. For years I made pilgrimages to Los Angeles, maybe two times a year, to take interviews, visit libraries, etc. Finally, I decided to begin tying everything together into a biography.
Around that time, I contacted Citadel Press to see if they were interested in doing a Lorre entry as part of their filmography series. I still have the letter. Allan Wilson said he didn’t feel there was sufficient interest in Lorre at that time to merit a book. I put the idea away, but kept researching. A few years later, Peter’s brother Andrew called to say that Jim Bigwood and Ray Cabana were pitching their own Films of Peter Lorre  to Citadel. Anyway, we wound up collaborating on the filmography.
As time and other projects permitted, I continued to work on the biography. I was also working as a historical consultant to the Sioux Tribe on a land claim litigation suit for some years and spent a lot of time at the National Archives in Washington D.C., so Lorre was put on the back burner now and again.
QAmong his own films, which were Lorre’s favorites?
I think they were the same as mine – M, The Maltese Falcon, Beat the Devil, and Silk Stockings. He talked up M a lot, also the Falcon. Though he said less about the other two films, family and friends said how much he liked making them. Later, the departure roles particularly appealed to him, especially comedy.
For my part, I would also throw in The Face Behind the Mask. It certainly wasn’t one of Lorre’s favorite films, but it’s one of mine. I first saw this film when I was very young, but didn’t realize it was Lorre. I didn’t connect this thin young man with the Lorre of the Irwin Allen films. Later, when I discovered that this very tight little budget picture starred Lorre, I was surprised but pleased, too.
QYour cover photo is stunning. Where did you find it?
I found it many years ago at Freddy Zetner’s movie shop in London. I knew it was The One. When I showed it to a couple of people at the University of California Press, before I withdrew the manuscript, they just stared at it, seemingly mesmerized. I think one of them even asked for a copy.
It just seems to be a crystallization of the Lorre image, menacing, mysterious, maybe even a little melancholy. I think it supports the idea in the book about hinting at things better left unknown. Some women found – still do – the Lorre mystique sexually appealing. I had a hard time dating this photo. It was taken by a British photographer, so I supposed it was shot during the making of Double Confession in 1949-50. But he looks heavier in that film. There again, his drug addiction tended to cause rapid weight gains and losses. It may have been taken for his Stoll Theater tour in mid-1949.
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.
Interested in Peter 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