The Lost One:
A Life of
Except where noted, all photos are from the collection
of Stephen Youngkin.
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One of Peter Lorre’s greatest dreams was to perform
on Broadway. The closest he came was a “pre-Broadway” summer
stock engagement in Edwin Justin Mayer’s thriller, A Night at
Madame Tussaud’s on the “straw-hat” summer circuit
in 1952. He is pictured here with co-stars Ralph Clanton (Marque Lomenie
de Brienne), Viola Frayne (Mdm. Tussaud) and Miriam Hopkins (Ninon).
According to Clanton, there was no love lost between Hopkins and Lorre:
“She hated him and he hated her” – and it showed. Grist
Mill Playhouse, Andover, NJ, Sept 1 to 6, 1952.
Friction came to a head during Madame
Tussaud’s curtain calls. Said actor Gerald Hiken: “It
was simply that she was overblown and he was understated and made her
look silly by his simple motions. . . He knew that he was coming out
and taking his time and being flat and real and that she was going to
come out and flutter and bow.”
During the Andover, NJ, run of A Night at Madame
Tussaud’s at the Grist Mill Playhouse, Sept. 1-6, 1952, Peter
Lorre and the other principal cast members Miriam Hopkins, Ralph Clanton,
Viola Frayne, and Rudulph Justice Watson stayed at the historic Perona
Farms (family-owned and operated since 1917) in the countryside outside
Andover. Here, he is positioned in front of the original Perona Barn
(still standing today).
In this shot taken from the bull barn, Peter tells
“Hominy Hill Conqueror,” Mr. Perona’s prize bull, to
look at the camera, early September, 1952. The foundation of the old
bull barn is now used for additional parking at Perona Farms, which
hosted the many Hollywood celebrities performing at the Grist Mill
Playhouse in Andover during the 1950s. A “thank you” to
Mark Avondoglio, Vice President of
for his assistance in identifying these photos.
Roberto Rossellini (center) visits John Huston and Peter
Lorre at the Palumbo Hotel during filming of Beat the Devil
(United Artists, 1954) in Ravello. Rossellini and wife Ingrid Berman were
just two of the many celebrities, including William Wyler, George Sanders,
and Orson Welles, who dropped by the Italian shoot.
Peter Lorre and four-legged friend. During filming in
the mountainous region of Ravello, Italy, cast and crew of Beat the
Devil (1954) often used this preferred mode of transportation.
On a John Huston picture such as Beat the Devil
(1954), Lorre enjoyed the best of all worlds. He was set free from the
studio star system but still able to revel in the sense of camaraderie
he had known at Warner Bros. Despite the tight shooting schedule (most
often seven days a week), cast and crew found time to stoke the running
poker party, persuade the town band to serenade visitors to the set, and
jaunt off to Amalfi or Positano on an available Sunday.
Backed by Bogart’s Santana Pictures, Huston
fostered an atmosphere of chaos behind-the-scenes, knowing it would feed
the on-screen fun. In other words, what the day-to-day script development
lost in letter, the cast would fill in with spirit. How well it succeeded
depends on the viewer. A box-office bomb in 1954, the picture is
considered a classic some half-century later, not only because of
screenwriter Truman Capote’s oblique sense of humor, but because,
in Associate Producer Jack Clayton’s words, “the atmosphere
of great comradeship and good humor comes through in the actual
Peter Lorre and the equally-short Arnold Stang stand next
to the six-foot five-inch Fess Parker, who achieved fame as “Davy
Crockett” on the 1950s television series Disneyland. Lorre
was co-starring with Parker in “Turn Left at Mt. Everest”
(Playhouse 90, April 3, 1958) as a Nepalese camp aide who helps
reunite a soldier and his girlfriend during the Burma-India theater of
World War II.
Peter Lorre snacking between scenes on Five Weeks in
a Balloon (1962), one of six pictures (and one television show)
written by his friend Charles Bennett. Whatever part he played, said the
screenwriter, “there was no way to stop Peter’s amiability
from coming through.” For the thirty years Bennett knew him, Lorre
remained “the nice Peter I knew . . . gentle and friendly”
and completely unsusceptible to his star status: “I sometimes
wonder if he ever believed that he had achieved it.”
Peter Lorre in a reflective mood, 1960. Said his close
friend Jonas Silverstone, “I think Peter was and remained a very
serious man, full of tragedy. I think he was very aware of it.”
Lorre sits on Basil Rathbone’s lap between takes
on The Comedy of Terrors (1964). The woman on the right is Celia
Lovsky. By this point, Lorre had trouble remembering his lines. While his
co-workers sometimes grew exasperated with the actor’s
extemporizing, he was “so charming as a person,” remembered
screenwriter Richard Matheson, “you just couldn’t get
Stuntman Harvey Parry wears a latex “Lorre
mask” while doubling Peter Lorre in the opening “cemetery”
sequence of The Comedy of Terrors. Said Parry, “The mask
was made for me and was miserable to wear.” One noteworthy
difference is the eyebrows – Parry’s own eyebrows were
thickened to match Lorre’s and help viewers readily recognize
Parry as Lorre in the speeded-up action sequences.
Vincent Price, right, gets pointers in dueling from his
double Tom Steele (center), seen here vigorously crossing blades with
Harvey Parry. Parry’s cigar? He explained it was added to make
this practice shot unsuitable for inclusion in the final print –
which could happen by accident.
During his last years, Lorre lived in a small apartment
in a large red brick building at 7655 Hollywood Boulevard. Unwell and
easily fatigued, he spent much of his time sleeping and reading. From the
Catharine Lorre Collection. Circa 1964.
Before getting its facts straight, the L.A.
Herald-Examiner ran an extra stating that Peter Lorre had succumbed
to a fatal heart attack on March 23, 1964. The actor actually died of a
On February 8, 1960, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce
broke ground on an ambitious project to recognize the contributions of
entertainers past and present – a series of coral terrazzo
“Stars” set in black terrazzo blocks along a 2-mile section
of Hollywood and Vine streets. Peter Lorre was among the first 1,558
artists of film and television, radio and stage to be honored on the
Walk of Fame. His Star is located at 6619 Hollywood Blvd, between
Cherokee and Whitley avenues, beside silent film comedian Buster Keaton.
A “thank you” goes to Jessica E. Berlin for taking and
submitting this photo.
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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