The Lost One:
A Life of
There is a legend in the Lorre family
that Peter married all of his wives after he had fallen out of love with
them. The “one size fits all” theory is certainly an
oversimplification of conjugal circumstances. However complicated Peter
and Karen’s relationship became after their marriage in 1945, their
first years read very much like a storybook romance. Indeed, Peter later
gave the idea that Karen had been the great love of his life.
If Celia were mother and friend, and Annemarie merely a millstone,
then Karen was the real thing. Photos bear this out. Whether horseback
riding, sunbathing at the beach, or dining out with friends, Peter and
Karen exuded the mutual feeling of contentment and closeness.
Except where noted, all photos are from the collection
of Stephen Youngkin.
For a larger image, click on the thumbnail.
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Director Vincent Sherman, Peter Lorre and Karen Verne
(billed as “Kaaren Verne” in the credits) during filming
of All Through the Night, late summer of 1941. Sherman first
knew of their affair when Lorre turned up at the studio: “Peter
was very nicely dressed. He had a convertible car and he was waiting
for Karen and they went away for the weekend to Lake
A publicity photographer catches Karen Verne and Peter
Lorre on a break during work on their first and only film together.
According to the press release, Karen (“meditating on things
unknown between scenes of Warner Bros.’ All through the
Night”) was forbidden by her parents to see any of
Peter’s movies during her childhood in Germany, because they were
“noted for their chilling horror.”
Peter and Karen stroll hand-in-hand on the Warners
backlot between scenes on All Through the Night (Warners,
1942). Studio biographies give Karen’s height at five foot, five
and one-half inches. Peter consistently claimed he was five foot, five
inches. Despite her platform shoes, the height difference in these
photos begs the question – how tall was Lorre and what shoes was
he wearing when he was measured?
Karen Verne and Peter Lorre in costume for the
“Duchess Club” sequence in All Through the Night
(1942), in which Karen sings and Peter plays piano. Estranged from
Celia Lovsky, Peter became involved with Karen during filming in late
summer of 1941. This photo, inscribed and sent to a fan, was apparently
mailed from Celia’s home address (1531 N. Crescent Heights),
which would seem to indicate it was posted after May, 1945 – when
Peter and Karen, then newly-married, lived with Celia for a brief
Peter catches some rays on the sands of Laguna Beach,
a resort town in Orange County, southern California, popular with other
Hollywood stars such as Mickey Rooney, Bette Davis, and Judy Garland.
Taken in 1942.
A popular get-away for many celebrities, who kept second
homes there, Laguna Beach was out of the reach of the Lorres. On this
visit, they were accompanied by Celia Lovsky, Peter’s first wife,
and her brother, Zdenko. Taken summer of 1942.
Peter and Karen at Lake Arrowhead, possibly over the
4th of July weekend, 1943. Living with (and later married to) a woman
thirteen years his junior might explain Lorre’s efforts to get
in shape. He led an athletic lifestyle that included swimming, riding
and tennis. That, along with dietary discretion, put him in peak form
during his days at Warner Bros.
An expert rider, Peter Lorre was very comfortable in
the saddle. After declaring bankruptcy in 1949, he was forced to give
up his Mandeville Canyon ranch home, along with his stables. When asked
what he missed most about America after returning to Europe in 1949, he
said it was his horses.
Looking every bit the “westerner” in his
cowboy regalia, Lorre polished his riding skills during his time in
Mandeville Canyon. At his ranch home, he stabled at least three horses
and kept countless other animal pets. Although photos of Karen picture
her with Nat and Lady, both brown bays, Peter’s gray quarter horse
is not identified.
Peter’s father had taught him to ride as a
youngster. However, it was many years before he sat a horse again.
After renting a three-acre ranch home in Mandeville Canyon in the
mid-1940s, he and Karen kept a small stable and often trotted off into
the Hollywood Hills together.
In the early 1940s, actor Gilbert Roland shoved a
tennis racket into Lorre’s hand and pushed him onto the tennis
court. He soon became a fixture at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, where
according to friend Burl Ives, he developed arms of steel.
Peter began playing Ping-Pong in the early 1930s,
graduated to badminton after emigrating to America in 1934, and later
took up tennis while under contract at Warner Bros. Here, Peter poses
with tennis pro Don Budge.
Peter and Karen lived together for three years before
Celia brought them to the altar – after the requisite divorces,
Lorre from Lovsky and Verne from Arthur Young. On May 25, 1945, they
tied the knot, informally, before witnesses Patricia Shay (actress, in
hat) and Paul Mantz (movie stunt pilot on The Face Behind the
Mask , with moustache) at a private ceremony in Las Vegas.
Afterward, Peter and Karen took Celia on their honeymoon.
Peter and Karen on their wedding day, May 25, 1945.
Karen’s traditional German dirndl dress begs the question: Was
this a fashion statement by someone who had never “gone
Hollywood”? Clearly, Karen looked most comfortable at home in
denim and flannel, romping with the dogs and feeding the horses. Or
was it Peter’s idea, because he wanted to keep her just as he
found her – a “clean, sweet, innocent girl”?
Peter and Karen in a relaxed moment at their home in
Mandeville Canyon, circa 1945. For a wedding present, Peter rented the
three-acre ranch, which they furnished in early American style.
In addition to horses, Peter and Karen also maintained
a menagerie of smaller animals, including a St. Bernard named Bum and a
Boston Terrier called Happy, at their home in Mandeville Canyon.
Peter Lorre, Karen Verne, and Mr. Moto? No, Bertolt
Brecht scholar Klaus Voelker thinks the man next to the car is possibly
set designer Mordecai (“Max”) Gorelik. Brecht’s
mistress/collaborator Ruth Berlau took the photo of Peter and Karen at
Lake Arrowhead in the early autumn of 1947.
Peter casts himself as cook and whips up a meal at
Lake Arrowhead in fall of 1947. Ruth Berlau, who lived with the Lorres
during their stay, snapped the shot.
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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.
U.S. Amazon – Soft-bound
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