Lang said of Lorre: He gave one of the best performances in film history and certainly the best in his life. Lorre arrived in America in expecting to shed his screen image as a villain.
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He even tried to lose his signature accent, but Hollywood repeatedly cast him as an outsider who hinted at things better left unknown. Seeking greater control over his career, Lorre established his own production company. His unofficial graylisting by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, however, left him with little work. Author Stephen D. Separating the enigmatic person from the persona long associated with one of classic Hollywoods most recognizable faces, The Lost One is the definitive account of a life triumphant and yet tragically riddled with many failed possibilities.
One theatre impresario even said he looked like a tadpole.
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Any Brecht plays in which Lorre appeared or was scheduled to appear were written before the two men got together. When Brecht saw something he liked, he studied it. In other words, theory followed practice.
The Brecht business gets a bit thick. SDY : First, I think you would have seen a much greater show of versatility in both drama and comedy, aptitudes that Lorre felt Hollywood largely neglected.
This was spectacularly visualized in the scene where a headless Lorre sits in a cemetery holding his own head under his arm. Lorre in his unforgettable stage appearance in Spring Awakening. Why did Lorre string Brecht along? Was Lorre ashamed of having been seduced by the Hollywood lifestyle? Was his increasingly poor health a factor in his decision not to work with Brecht in the late s and s? The problem is that the actor had little clout at the front office.
Turning his back on Hollywood and returning to East Germany was another matter. The short answer to this question is that Lorre was weak. And most certainly, the weight of failing Brecht and thereby himself grew heavier with the passing years. Lorre left Warner Bros.
Unfortunately, his self-management enterprise—Lorre, Inc. He still needed to prove to himself that he could rise from the Hollywood morass what Brecht described as a swamp. Brecht had mapped out a plan for Lorre that included using his American movie career to help subsidize his theater work at the Berliner Ensemble.
While Lorre was mulling this over, he went to England to earn some badly needed money, and then drifted on to Germany, where the idea of Der Verlorene The Lost One fell into his lap. Always the fatalist, he followed up on the idea of directing, starring in and co-authoring his own film. Some of his friends also suggested that the actor was too addicted to the Hollywood lifestyle and the easy access to drugs to seriously consider exchanging whatever was left of his celebrity for the sparseness of the Communist Soviet block.
There is some truth to this. The accumulative effects of chemical addiction and assorted other health issues were beginning to catch up with him. By this time, he was not up to the physical demands of the stage. No doubt this somewhat pathetic attempt to turn the clock back was conditioned by the failure of Der Verlorene, his drug use and depression. CR : You have devoted many years of your life to writing the definitive biography of an actor whose visible exhaustion in The Patsy and The Comedy of Terrors somehow resonated with you in He actually seemed more disgusted than exhausted, something that was borne out by his co-workers.
It was his performance in The Comedy of Terrors that deeply touched me. Peel away that comic veneer and you see a man who was utterly worn out. So close to the end, when he was almost too tired to go on acting, he fell back on the persona of Peter Lorre. That quiet sense of wistful humor was there, even something of his own humanity more comedic than sentimental and vulnerability.
It was a rare look at the man unmasked. At least none of their mutual friends gave me that idea. Lorre was extremely loyal to Bogart, both personally and professionally, and even referred to him as his closest friend in Hollywood. In fact, during his Warner Bros.
The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre
Once the actor left the studio and struck off on his own with Lorre Inc. It was not the kind of friendship that needed diurnal updates, rather one that picked up where it had left off. In , Lorre left the country for just over two and one-half years. By that time, both men had children and relatively settled home lives. He was always more of a loner than a joiner. Nor did he tend to fraternize with the Romanoff crowd; e. Sinatra, Luft and Garland, etc. The group got going toward the very end of and Bogart died roughly one year later.
Much of that time he spent convalescing at home. Nonetheless, the friendship survived. Hitchcock had a great talent for delegating. In fact, he actually directed only a small handful of the television shows that bear his name. Do you agree? I included only a sampling in The Lost One. Toward the end, Lorre hid behind the typecast, as if to say, if this is the Peter Lorre you want, well, okay. Would he approve of his status as a cultural icon?
No doubt. But he would also have been painfully aware that it was his screen persona and not the person that lived on, another reminder that Hollywood had used his tricks but not his talent. Was there a reason for this? SDY : My idea was to get Lorre outside the box, or more accurately, the movie frame. I would include Bertolt Brecht in this broader coverage. But let me back up a bit. Why scant mention of the German dramatist? I was told no one had heard of him. Later, when the manuscript of the Lorre biography was at the University of California Press before I withdrew it , there was a strong push to severely cut the Brecht background material.
The reason given was that most readers are familiar with the playwright, his theater and acting styles.
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This, of course, highlights the contrast between commercial and academic presses. More Bogart and less of this Bertolt. Lorre fans have their own areas of interest, their own expectations.