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Peter Lorre (26 June 1904 – 23 March 1964) was an Austrian-American actor frequently typecast as a sinister foreigner.

He made an international sensation in 1931 with his portrayal of a serial killer who preys on little girls in the Germanmarker film M. Later he became a popular featured player in Hollywood crime films and mysteries, notably alongside Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet, and as the star of the successful Mr. Moto detective series.


Lorre was born as László Löwenstein into a Jewish family in Rózsahegy (Hungarian)/Rosenberg (German), Kingdom of Hungary, part of Austria-Hungary, now Ružomberokmarker, Slovakiamarker. His parents were Alois and Elvira. When he was a child his family moved to Viennamarker where Lorre attended school. During his youth, Lorre was a student of Sigmund Freud. He began acting on stage in Vienna at the age of 17, where he worked with Richard Teschner, then moved to Breslaumarker, and Zürichmarker. In the late 1920s, the young actor moved to Berlinmarker where he worked with German playwright Bertolt Brecht, most notably in his Mann ist Mann. He also appeared as Dr. Nakamura in the infamous musical Happy End by Brecht and composer Kurt Weill, alongside Brecht's wife Helene Weigel and other impressive co-stars such as Carola Neher, Oskar Homolka and Kurt Gerron. The German-speaking actor became famous when Fritz Lang cast him as a child killer in his 1931 film M.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, Lorre took refuge first in Parismarker and then Londonmarker where he was noticed by Ivor Mantagu, Alfred Hitchcock's associate producer for The Man Who Knew Too Much ( ), who reminded the director about Lorre's performance in M. They first considered him to play the assassin in the film, but wanted to use him in a larger role, despite his limited command of English, which Lorre overcame by learning much of his part phonetically.

Eventually, Lorre went to Hollywoodmarker where he specialized in playing wicked or wily foreigners, beginning with Mad Love (1935), directed by Karl Freund. He starred in a series of Mr. Moto movies, a parallel to the better known Charlie Chan series, in which he played a Japanese detective and spy created by John P. Marquand. He did not much enjoy these films—and twisted his shoulder during a stunt in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation -- but they were lucrative for the studio and gained Lorre many new fans.In 1939, Peter was picked to play the role that would eventually go to Basil Rathbone in Son of Frankenstein. Lorre had to decline the part due to illness.

In 1940, Lorre co-starred with fellow horror actors Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in the Kay Kyser movie You'll Find Out. Lorre enjoyed considerable popularity as a featured player in Warner Bros. suspense and adventure films. Lorre played the role of Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon (1941) and portrayed the character Ugarte in the film classic Casablanca (1942).

Lorre demonstrated a gift for comedy in the role of Dr. Einstein in Arsenic and Old Lace (filmed in 1941, released 1944). In 1946 he starred with Sydney Greenstreet and Geraldine Fitzgerald in Three Strangers, a suspense film about three people who are joint partners on a winning lottery ticket.

In 1941, Peter Lorre became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

After World War II, Lorre's acting career in Hollywood experienced a downturn, whereupon he concentrated on radio and stage work. In Germany he co-wrote, directed and starred in Der Verlorene (The Lost One) (1951), a critically acclaimed art film in the film noir style. He then returned to the United States where he appeared as a character actor in television and feature films, often spoofing his former "creepy" image. In 1954, he had the distinction of becoming the first actor to play a James Bond villain when he portrayed Le Chiffre in a television adaptation of Casino Royale, opposite Barry Nelson as an American James Bond. (In the spoof-film version of Casino Royale, Ronnie Corbett comments that SMERSH includes among its agents not only Le Chiffre, but also "Peter Lorre and Bela Lugosi.") Also in 1954, Lorre starred alongside Kirk Douglas and James Mason in the hit-classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In the early 1960s he worked with Roger Corman on several low-budgeted, tongue-in-cheek, and very popular films.

In 1956, both Lorre and Vincent Price attended Bela Lugosi's funeral. According to Price, Lorre asked him "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?"

In 1959, Lorre appeared in the episode "Thin Ice" of NBC's espionage drama Five Fingers, starring David Hedison. In 1961, he was interviewed on the NBC program Here's Hollywood.

Marriages and family

He was married three times: Celia Lovsky (1934 – 13 March 1945, divorced); Kaaren Verne (25 May 1945 – 1950, divorced) and Annemarie Brenning (21 July 1953 – 23 March 1964, his death). In 1953, Annemarie bore his only child, Catharine. His daughter Catharine made headlines after Hillside Strangler serial killer Kenneth Bianchi confessed to police investigators after his arrest that he and his cousin and partner in crime Angelo Buono had stopped Catharine Lorre disguised as police officers with the intent of abducting and murdering her in 1977, but after learning that she was the daughter of Peter Lorre, the pair let her go. It was only after Bianchi was arrested that Catharine Lorre realized whom she had met.

In 1963 an actor named Eugene Weingand, who was unrelated to Lorre, attempted to trade on his slight resemblance to the actor by changing his name to "Peter Lorie", but his petition was rejected by the courts. After Lorre's death, however, he referred to himself as Lorre's son.

Health and death

Peter Lorre's crypt at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Lorre had suffered for years from chronic gallbladder troubles, for which doctors had prescribed morphine. Lorre became trapped between the constant pain and addiction to morphine to ease the problem. It was during the period of the Moto films that Lorre struggled and overcame this problem.

Overweight and never fully recovered from his addiction to morphine, Lorre suffered many personal and career disappointments in his later years. He died in 1964 of a stroke. Lorre's body was cremated and his ashes interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemeterymarker in Hollywood. Vincent Price read the eulogy at his funeral.


Lorre has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker, at 6619 Hollywood Boulevard.

Imitating Lorre

Lorre's distinctive Viennese-meets Middle American accent and large-eyed face has been a favorite target of comedians and cartoonists.

Books and comics

In the early 1940s, the adventures of Batman and Robin appeared in daily newspapers. One story, The Two-Bit Dictator of Twin Mills, drawn by Batman co-creator Bob Kane, featured a hitman called Jojo who was, according to writer Al Schwartz, made to look like Lorre. Jojo is a highly skilled gunman who, whatever the distance or the circumstances, always hits his target. A mildly eccentric character, he refers to his hits (objects or people) as "flinks". Even Batman, who is used to taking on armed men, hesitates in dealing with this particular gunman head-on or face-to-face. A later story was The Karen Drew Mystery, written by Jack Schiff and drawn by Jack Burnley. This one featured villains drawn to resemble Lorre's occasional co-stars: Sydney Greenstreet as gang leader Mr Wright and Humphrey Bogart as his henchman Merry.

A Lorre-like character (with strong admixtures of Max Schreck) is the focus of Brock Brower's novel The Late, Great Creature.

Science-fiction writer Howard Waldrop wrote a short story entitled "The Effects of Alienation" which includes Peter Lorre as the main character.

Animated series

Most persons doing impressions of Lorre's voice are actually imitating Mel Blanc doing his Lorre impression, as Lorre was frequently caricatured by Warner Bros. Cartoons. Blanc is much broader and louder than Lorre generally was, and the cartoons are seen much more often than Lorre's actual work, the most obvious being the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Racketeer Rabbit". This can be noticed in characters such as:

Films, television, music and video games

A 1942 Warner Brothers, Merrie Melodies cartoon adaptation of Dr. Seuss' Horton Hatches the Egg includes a fish caricature of Peter Lorre who shoots himself in the head after seeing Horton on the boat (this gag has been edited out on most television channels, particularly on Turner Networks)

A 1967 episode of the sitcom Get Smart, "Maxwell Smart, Private Eye", features an extended parody of The Maltese Falcon, with actors Barry Kroeger and Phil Roth portraying two men named Mr. Sidney and Mr. Peter who strongly resemble Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Just to make things slightly more complicated, the Peter Lorre imitator (played by Roth) is the one named Mr. Sidney, and the Greenstreet imitator is Mr. Peter.

The stop motion film Mad Monster Party?, made in 1969, featured a zombie manservant called Yetch who was made to look and sound like Lorre. Yetch was voiced by Allen Swift. Lorre's fellow horror star Boris Karloff provided the voice of Baron Frankenstein.

In the 1970s television show The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, comedian Billy Van did The Oracle character in a Peter Lorre imitation.

Singer-songwriter Al Stewart immortalized the actor, and his close association with Bogart, in the opening lines of his 1976 hit, "The Year Of The Cat": "On a morning from a Bogart movie/In a country where they turned back time/You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre/Contemplating a crime..."

Musician and filker Tom Smith won a Pegasus award for Best Classic Filk Song in 2006 entitled "I Want to be Peter Lorre" which appears on his filk album "Homecoming: MarCon 2005", which includes his vocal impersonation of the actor.

In the 1987 animated film The Brave Little Toaster, a character Hanging Lamp bears a strong resemblance, both physically and audibly, to Lorre.

The title song to the 1981 Jon & Vangelis release The Friends of Mr. Cairo includes spoken dialogue that imitates the distinctive voice of Peter Lorre as well as that of his frequent costar Sidney Greenstreet.

The script for Godspell includes a line which is suggested as being done in the style of Peter Lorre. Also, Rob Schneider ably played Lorre's character in the Saturday Night Live sketch "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

The stop motion film Corpse Bride features "The Maggot", a small green worm who lives inside the title's character head. His features and voice (provided by Enn Reitel) are caricatures of Peter Lorre.

Firesign Theater's various comedy routines of Nick Danger involve a Peter Lorre-sounding villain named Rocky Rococco.

In a version of The Damned song "Grimly Fiendish", the title words are spoken during the song as a Peter Lorre impersonation, adding his stereotypical menace.

The voice of Ren Höek in the 1990s animated cartoon series The Ren & Stimpy Show is strongly based on Peter Lorre, and voiced by the show's creator John Kricfalusi.

On September 11, 2007 Brooklynmarker-based punk band The World/Inferno Friendship Society released a full-length album about Lorre called Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century, which traces Lorre's film career, drug addiction, and death. It has been performed at the Famous Spiegeltent. The album was subsequently adapted into a multi-media stage production directed by Jay Scheib, which premiered at Webster Hallmarker in New York City on January 9, 2009, and went on to play major arts festivals around the world, including Spoleto Festival USA (Charleston, SC), Luminato Festival (Toronto), Noorderzon Festival (Groningen, Holland) and Theaterformen (Hanover, Germany).

Michael Butt's play Peter Lorre v Peter Lorre, about the Eugene Weingand case, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 1, 2008.

"Weathervane Pete" from Lucky Luke vs Joss Jamon

An episode of the 50's television classic "The Honeymooners" features Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden threatening his wife Alice that if she doesn't comply with one of his demands he will "do his Peter Lorre imitation", apparently something Alice detests. When Alice does not immediately comply, Ralph launches into a bug-eyed caricature of Lorre, saying "Did you get the information, Mrs. Miller???" upon which Alice cannot stand it any longer and gives in.

Even today, films and video games show his distinct characteristics in some characters.



Further reading

External links

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