The Lost One:
A Life of
Sitting for publicity photos was a
common enough chore for film actors. Admittedly, starring players earned
the greatest number of close-ups. As Lorre moved from featured player to
character actor, he spent less time in the stills gallery. Portraits from
the Columbia and Fox years are relatively common.
However, those from the Warner Bros. period, where he played mostly
character roles (because of “lack of height and good looks,”
according to studio head Jack Warner), are much rarer. Lorre didn’t
mind being overlooked by studio publicists. In fact, he hated having his
picture taken and felt that such exposure should be reserved for the
Except where noted, all photos are from the collection
of Stephen Youngkin.
For a larger image, click on the thumbnail.
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Celia Lovsky, Peter Lorre and German screenwriter and
film director Berthold Viertel arrive in New York aboard the S.S.
Washington on April 29, 1936. Lorre had recently finished work on
Secret Agent (1936) with Alfred Hitchcock at Gaumont-British in
In April 1936, after Peter wrapped work on Alfred
Hitchcock’s Secret Agent, he and Celia returned to the
United States aboard the S.S. Washington. Several weeks later,
they found themselves pictured (along with radio singer Morton Downey,
actor Douglas Fairbanks, and Princess Helga of Lowenstein) on the
“Who’s Who on American Liners” page of The Ocean
Ferry (June 1936), published monthly by the International Mercantile
Marine Company – Roosevelt Steamship Co.
20th Century-Fox confined Lorre to featured and supporting
roles. However, at least one studio photographer explored his possibilities
as a leading man, a side destined to remain hidden.
Another in the series of 20th Century-Fox character
studies exploring other sides of the actor.
Although Peter Lorre felt he didn’t belong in movie
magazines, studio photographers often put him there in publicity stills
that captured a likeable, even debonair, portrait.
Lorre told people he thought he looked like a frog.
Little wonder, then, that he hated going to the stills gallery and
sitting for photos. However many (and creative) his excuses, he played
the publicity game, albeit reluctantly. As he explained it, he just
wasn’t the glamorous type.
After learning that Lorre was an avid wrestling fan, a
Fox publicist got out a press release stating that when “Man
Mountain” Dean wrestles, the actor is on hand in Dean’s
corner and acts as his “unofficial second.” Here, Dean,
with his wife, visits the set of Nancy Steele is Missing! (1937)
to act as Lorre’s second when he sees action against Victor
McLaglen. Said Lorre to Dean: “I go to the wrestling matches to
learn about acting. I hope you didn’t come to the studio for the
At odds in Nancy Steele is Missing! (1937),
Peter Lorre and Victor McLaglen share a friendly moment off-camera.
After cancellation of the stage play Napoleon the First, in
which Lorre was set to star, the actor suffered a ruptured eardrum
during his flight from New York to Los Angeles and reportedly had to
depend on lip-reading to get his cues the first several days of
In make-up and costume as “Major Sigfried
Gruning” behind the cameras for Lancer Spy (20th Century-Fox,
1937), Peter Lorre consults with Aaron Rosenberg, Assistant Director on
the film. A “thank you” goes out to Janet Fuentes for
identifying Mr. Rosenberg for us.
Behind-the-scenes on Lancer Spy (1937) with
Peter Lorre, Dolores Del Rio, and George Sanders in costume on the
“hotel suite” set.
Lorre’s thumbs-up nicely captures his attitude
toward the popular Japanese sleuth early in the Mr. Moto series.
For the pursued to become the pursuer, he told the press, was just the
kind of role reversal he was looking for. However, growing disenchantment
with typecasting turned to outright hostility over the years – so
much so that anyone who brought up Mr. Moto soon regretted it.
If the Swedish-born Warner Oland could convincingly
portray the Chinese Charlie Chan, why not a Hungarian actor in the role
of Japanese detective Mr. Moto? What mattered less to producer Sol
Wurtzel than the country cross-over was the fact that Lorre’s
mysterious screen image tallied nicely with the cryptic nature of the
Moto character. The publicity department quickly fell in line, capturing
a side of the movie-made persona that hinted at things better left
Peter Lorre and his stand-in, Delmar Costello, take a
break while working on Thank You, Mr. Moto (Fox, 1937), the third
Moto film for both men. According to a press release, the diminutive
Costello, who was of Mexican descent and born in New Mexico, was
“exactly” Lorre’s height – five feet, five inches
– but three pounds lighter than Lorre's 139.
Norman Foster (sitting beside the Director’s chair)
supervises Thomas Beck tending to the unconscious Mr. Moto (Peter Lorre) on
the “Tchernov mansion” set, in a scene from Thank You, Mr.
Moto (Fox, 1937), filmed as the third entry in the detective series
but released second.
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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