The Lost One:
An Interview with the Author
Continued from Page 2
QYou’ve devoted a lot of space to Lorre’s relationship with Bertolt Brecht.
When I began researching Lorre’s life, there was precious little written about Brecht. In recent years, however, there’s been a deluge of material, some of it very scholarly, some of it less credible. Fortunately, one of the more recent works by John Fuegi that paints a distorted picture of Brecht the writer has been largely discredited. We know, of course, that Brecht the human being was something of a mixed blessing. To this day, Fuegi has failed to refute or correct any of the numerous errors and inaccuracies.
That aside, Lorre saw Brecht as one of the two most important writers in the 20th century, the other being James Joyce. This was the pivotal relationship in his life. He not only referred to Brecht as his best friend, but as himself as one of Brecht’s actors. Without understanding Brecht, you can’t understand Lorre. Some people have found Brechtian elements in Lorre’s acting style. Well, I guess you can find anything if you look hard enough. It’s a chicken and the egg argument.
When I first interviewed Brecht scholar Eric Bentley, I naturally asked about Brecht’s influence on Lorre. He told me it was actually the other way around, that Brecht saw actors he liked, things they were doing – in Lorre’s case, the clashing of opposite characteristics, doing two things at once – and formed those aspects into a new style of acting. Lorre was just doing what he had always been doing. It was an incredibly adaptable form. The same style could easily be plugged into different holes and given a new name, a new theoretical label. So, in a sense, Lorre’s performances were Brechtian by default, before we – or he – knew the use of the word.
QBefore writing this biography, you co-wrote The Films of Peter Lorre, published in 1982. How would you compare the two books?
The filmography could stand an updating, but I think it’s still a valuable reference work. I wrote the biographical introduction and two film entries, Der Verlorene and Scent of Mystery. Jim Bigwood and Ray Cabana handled the remaining seventy-odd film titles. Sadly, their comment sections were cut by as much as one-third. Citadel Press, whose inventory has since been bought up by another publisher which has no plans to reissue the filmography, was pretty stingy about extra pages. We had created sections on Peter’s radio and broadcast work, but they said there was no room. Well, the book comes out and they had a bunch of portraits – including one that had already appeared elsewhere – and four blank pages at the end of the book!
I think the two books form a nice complement. As a reference work with casts, credits, commentary – and hundreds of photos – it’s still a great resource. The very brief biography was just that, a quick overview. Research is always on-going. Since the filmography was published, I’ve interviewed many more of Lorre’s friends and co-workers and made many new discoveries – and uncovered more and different Peter Lorres, some, like Burl Ives’ Peter Lorre, who was very quiet and spiritual, others, like Tony Martin’s Peter Lorre, who was playfully profane.
The Lost One treats Lorre’s personal and professional life in much greater depth and detail. It tries to answer most of the important questions, though you can’t offer every last detail in anyone’s life. There are many things I learned that I could not corroborate. These, of course, I left out of the book. But, for the most part, I think it’s a complete telling of an unexpected life. In many ways, he was as mysterious off screen as on, able to hide himself, the real Peter Lorre. He was truly a fascinating character and an amazingly versatile actor who has been under-appreciated.
TOM WEAVER contributes monthly to Starlog Magazine with his column “Videolog DVD.” He is also the author of numerous books on horror films, including the series It Came From Weaver, a compilation of his interviews with actors, producers, writers and others in the science fiction and horror genres. Mr. Weaver lives in New York state.
STEPHEN D. YOUNGKIN has co-authored The Films of Peter Lorre (Citadel Press, 1982) with James Bigwood and Raymond G. Cabana, and Peter Lorre: Portrait des Schauspielers auf der Flucht (Peter Lorre: Portrait of the Actor in Flight; Belleville, 1999) with Felix Hofmann. Mr. Youngkin also appeared on-screen as a Lorre expert in the documentary “Peter Lorre: The Master of Menace” (1996) for the A&E series Biography, as well as the German documentary, Das Doppelte Gesicht (The Double Face, 1984). Mr. Youngkin lives in the southwestern U.S.
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.
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University Press of Kentucky
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