The Lost One:
A Life of
One of the comments I’ve most often
heard from fans and the actor’s own friends, family and co-workers
is how different Peter Lorre looked in each of his many pictures. From his
pubescent fleshiness in M to his spare leanness
in Stranger on the Third Floor and silkily
menacing form in The Maltese Falcon, he kept
audiences guessing: Was this indeed the same man? While he often
trademarked many of his roles with the same delicately strung balance of
humor and terror, physically he rarely repeated himself.
Close friends remembered that he was very unhappy with his appearance,
which he felt limited, not his range, but the roles offered him. In this
sense, he regretted the typecasting constraints imposed by his physical
Fans, however, feel differently. In
looking back on a rich body of work in which he was often the best thing
in a bad situation, what is most remarkable is how well he used his
physiognomy to complement his roles. Without that harmony of part and
player, what of the irony of casting a boyishly cherubic actor as a child
murderer? Or of seeing a svelt Lorre balletically skimming down a stairway?
However his appearance changed over the years, Lorre made it work for
Except where noted, all photos are from the collection
of Stephen Youngkin.
For a larger image, click on the thumbnail.
A new window will open.
Between scenes on You’re in the Army Now
(1941) at the Warners studio, Jimmy Durante seranades the cast of All
Through the Night on the set of Marty Callahan’s (Barton
MacLane) nightclub, the Duchess Club. Left to right are Kaaren Verne,
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and William Demarest.
Peter Lorre, Karen Verne and Judith Anderson take a
break while filming All Through the Night (1942). During the
making of The Maltese Falcon, Lorre used to exit Mary
Astor’s dressing room zipping up his fly. When he pulled the same
trick on Anderson, she chased him with a hairbrush.
Peter Lorre shows actress Priscilla Lane some of his
“villain moves” during her visit to the set of All
Through the Night (1942). Lorre and Lane would soon be working
together on Arsenic and Old Lace – Lane in the female
lead and Lorre as a menace. A “thank you!” to Barbara Morris
for helping us identify the actress.
George Tobias joins the principals of Arsenic and
Old Lace (1944) – Raymond Massey, director Frank Capra, Peter
Lorre, and Cary Grant – during a lunch break in the Warner Bros.
commissary, fall of 1941.
The cast of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) poses
with their director for a photo on the “cemetery” set, just
outside the infamous Brewster mansion. Left to right: John Ridgely,
Vaughan Glaser, Peter Lorre, Jean Adair, John Alexander, Josephine Hull,
Cary Grant, director Frank Capra, Priscilla Lane, Raymond Massey, James
Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Jack Carson, Edward McNamara, and Garry
Owen. Each member of the cast was given an 11x14 print of the photo.
This is Lorre’s personal copy.
Peter Lorre enthusiastically tells Paul Lukas a story
during lunch in the Warner Bros. commissary, 1943. Peter was filming
Passage to Marseille (1944), while Lukas was working on
Uncertain Glory (1944). According to the Chicago Daily
Tribune (“Prize Movie Art,” Jan. 16, 1944), this
particular still won “Best Candid Shot” at the Academy of
Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ third annual still photography
In costume and on the set of The Mask of Dimtrios
(Warners, 1944), Peter Lorre and George Tobias go over a scene later cut
from the final print. Tobias played “Fedor Muishkin”, who
translates Abdul Dhris’ murder trial testimony from Greek to
English for mystery writer Cornelius Leyden (Lorre).
Lorre and actor Victor Francen share a table at the
Warner Bros. studio commissary. Lorre and Francen appeared in five films
together: Passage to Marseille (1944), The Mask of
Dimitrios (1944), The Conspirators (1944), Confidential
Agent (1945), and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946). Peter
stressed their friendship with his antics during the making of The
Beast with Five Fingers, his last at the studio.
Lorre had a long on- and off-screen association with
cats. In the Moto movies, he kept Chungkina and Chin-chin. A
few years later he pulled a Siamese kitten out of his overcoat pocket
in The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942). Two more Siamese (not
Lorre’s own) showed up in The Mask of Dimitrios (1944).
Hostile in both the novel and the final script (“arching their
backs and spitting”), the cats in the movie are quite friendly.
Here, Lorre poses with them for a publicity photo. Only in Tales of
Terror (1962) did his on-screen relationship with his feline
friends turn sour. As Monstressor Herringbone in “The Black
Cat” segment, he drunkenly threatens to tear Pluto’s head
Peter Lorre was neither a cat nor a dog person. He
loved animals – cats, dogs, horses, ducks, and chickens. Until
he left for Europe in 1949, he kept any combination of the above.
However, after he returned to the United States in 1952, he put pets
behind him. Whether third wife Annemarie objected to housing (and
caring for) assorted creatures or their landlords said no to pets is
hard to say. What contact he did have with cats was probably limited
to those belonging to Celia.
Lorre and Bogart became friends on The Maltese
Falcon (1941) and worked together on three more movies at Warner
Bros. – All Through the Night (1942), Casablanca
(1942), and Passage to Marseille (1944). While Lorre and Sydney
Greenstreet rarely socialized away from the studio, Peter and Bogie saw
a good deal of one another off-screen. Here, they steam the toxins out
of their pores over a game of gin rummy at one of their favorite
hang-outs – Findlandia Baths on Sunset Boulevard.
Peter Lorre was one of Lauren “Betty”
Bacall’s biggest supporters. When Bogie told him that he loved
Betty, but confessed that the twenty-five year difference in their
ages bothered him, Peter dispelled his doubts, saying, “What’s
the difference? It’s better to have five good years than none
Merry Christmas from Peter and Sydney! In one of
several photos publicizing the release of Hollywood Canteen
(Warner Bros.) on December 30, 1944, “Screen menace man Peter
Lorre goes along with a gag to prove you can take men out of menace
but you just can’t take menace out of men while star Sydney
Greenstreet sits in for Santa.”
Another in a series of publicity stills with Peter
Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet (as Santa) for Hollywood Canteen
(Warners, 1944). Although released at Christmas-time, the film does
not have a holiday theme. A G.I. (Robert Hutton), on leave in Los
Angeles, visits the famed Hollywood Canteen and meets many performers
of stage and screen. In their brief scene – which they wrote
themselves – Peter and Sydney help singer Patty Andrews escape
from a determined but hopeless dance partner (Irish-American actor James
Flavin). From the collection of Cheryl Morris.
Peter Lorre, Carol Thurston, and Paul Henreid take a
walk on the Warners lot during filming of The Conspirators
(1944). In his autobiography Ladies Man, Henreid credited
Lorre with instigating one of the most famous stories in Hollywood,
that of stealing John Barrymore’s body from the mortuary. In
fact, of the many versions of this bit of Hollywood apocrypha, this
is the only one in which Lorre figures. When questioned about it
later, Henreid declined to confirm or deny it, only that he thought
it made a good story.
Lorre and actor John Garfield lunch together on the
Warner lot. According to the photo blurb, Garfield, obviously hamming
it up for the camera, shows Lorre how he’d play the villain. At
the time, Garfield was working on Pride of the Marines (1945). Lorre
had just finished Three Strangers. April, 1945.
Peter Lorre sits on director Don Siegel’s knee
during a script conference with Siegel and Sydney Greenstreet on
The Verdict (Warners, 1946). However much Lorre enjoyed
teasing his British-trained acting partner – they appeared
in nine films together – he felt that “Greenstreet was not
only one of the nicest men and gentlemen that I’ve ever known in
my life, I think he was one of the truly great, great actors of our
Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and director Don
Siegel confer on a street set in front of “Scotland Yard”
for The Verdict (Warners, 1946). To cover backlot sets that
did not fit the film’s Victorian period, dry ice fumes, burning
cans of charcoal and vaporizing mineral oil were used to create London
fog. The artificial atmosphere played havoc with Lorre’s health,
resulting in severe headaches and hay fever, and forcing him to return
to narcotic drugs to cope with his “very great pain and
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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