The Lost One:
An Interview with the Author
Continued from Page 1
QHow has the family reacted to your work?
The family has been enormously helpful at every turn. The first time I met Andrew, I was stunned. He not only sounded exactly like Peter, but looked like him, although he was in far better physical condition than Peter was at the same age. For just a brief moment, you could almost imagine that you were shaking hands with Peter Lorre – and looking into those same eyes. It was an unforgettable moment.
Andrew was a very serious man, very intelligent, and I think he wanted that same kind of seriousness in a biography. Both Andrew and Francis, Peter’s other brother, were very forthcoming and placed no restrictions on my work. The family seemed to think everyone knew about his drug addiction, so wanted the record set straight.
Cathy Lorre, Peter’s daughter, read large portions of the manuscript. Her comments were useful, but most of all, she wanted me to paint a human picture of her father. That was her only suggestion, to bring the man, her father, into focus. No whitewash, no pulled punches. I think she better understood her father and his problems and afflictions because she suffered from some of the same things. She was her father’s daughter in many ways, not only in physical appearance. Neither were strong people. Perhaps his own drug use predisposed hers. Doctors have told me this is possible.
QWhat do you think Lorre’s fans will be most surprised to learn about him?
I think there are many things that will surprise readers. First, that he made few “horror” films. Depending on the given day and quote, he claimed he made either one – The Beast with Five Fingers – or none at all. Once you peel off the public persona, there’s a whole new and interesting Peter Lorre, the real Peter Lorre, if you will.
Shedding the typecast was not easy. And as the years rolled by, he threw up his hands and said, well, if that is what you want, I’ll give it to you. But behind all of that was a man who wanted to break out, to tell people there was much more to him than what they saw on screen.
Second, I think people will be surprised to find how varied and extensive his time on the stage was. Then there are all of his attempts behind the scenes to break out. There’s the Napoleon play, which he pushed hard, to no avail. Then there were the film stories written for him by Brecht. He was also involved with other émigrés in planning film projects that better suited his talents.
And of course there’s the story behind Der Verlorene (The Lost One). Some people have translated this as The Lost Man, but Lorre himself provided the translation, which was reflected in his personal situation during the filming. The Lost Man reads far more into the title than is there. Some of the projects were not based on what he knew best, but for what he was best known. Others steered him in new directions.
QLorre is strongly stereotyped as a menace. How did you go about separating the man from his movies?
Lorre’s female co-workers were clearly my most insightful informants. Women just seemed to connect with the inner man more than most of his male friends did. One of the telling things that one of them told me was that acting was Lorre’s reality, that without it, there was nothing. Of course, this begs the question, how much of himself did he put into his roles.
One of the reasons I wanted to put the reader in touch with a more personal side of Peter Lorre – his ambitions, expectations, how they were or were not met, how he achieved his acting style and method and so on – was to enable him or her to better separate person from persona and get at the man. As a corollary, however, separating Lorre from himself was a far more delicate operation. As he grew older and lost touch with his own past, he threw up defenses that put a good public face on some of his private defeats. He not only embellished and exaggerated to tell a better story, but to reinvent himself. When you unravel some of the tales and compare the various versions he told to interviewers and friends at different times of his life, you begin to see patterns.
I think one of the most interesting and surprising things that came into focus was a man who wanted people to know, not who he really was, but who he really wanted to be. To people who didn’t know better or weren’t familiar with his real life history, he told some outrageous stories.
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.
Interested in Peter Lorre's radio and television performances? Check out Radio Showcase and Movies Unlimited. Netflix has Lorre movies for rent.
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