The Lost One:
Critics Are Saying . . . . .
A selection of reviews of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (University Press of Kentucky, Sept. 2005), available in bookstores and through on-line merchants everywhere.
Starlog Magazine, "Liner Notes":
Years – sometimes you must wait years for certain books to finally get published. It may be the latest chapter in one of the science fiction, adventure or mystery series you follow, or perhaps the fifth volume in a fantasy "trilogy" (that nonetheless continues on far beyond three bestsellers). And then there are the non-fiction books and biographies by experts who have devoted large parts of their own lives to studying subjects in amazing depth.
It seems like a decade that I've been waiting for The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre by Stephen D. Youngkin (The University Press of Kentucky, Inc., $39.95). My friend Cheryl Morris – who exhaustively researched Lorre's radio and TV credits for this tome – first told me about it long ago. STARLOG film historian Tom Weaver (who himself wrote a great book on John Carradine) has mentioned it time and again. They both, by the way, know Youngkin. I don't. Anyhow, it's finally here and I've just read it, all 664 pages. Wow! What a stunning achievement! The Lost One is, well, beyond definitive regarding the life and career of beloved actor Lorre (who died in 1964).
Like most of you, I'm most interested in the movies, but Lorre's early years, phenomenal career in German theater and later American radio, TV and stage work are equally fascinating. And the films! I'm always up to read more about Casablanca, Fritz Lang's M (which put Lorre on the map while typecasting him to a degree), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Maltese Falcon, All Through the Night (a particular favorite of mine, wherein Lorre met his second wife, actress Kaaren Verne), The Beast With Five Fingers, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the AIP Edgar Allan Poe movies (Tales of Terror, The Raven, The Comedy of Terrors) and, think fast, the Mr. Moto flicks.
Reading this fabulous book, I also learned of Lorre's directorial debut (the mostly unseen The Lost One, which gives the bio its title) and the other lost chances the actor had: roles he might have played – like the villain in the Captain America serial (Lional Atwill did it instead) and Quasimodo in 1939's Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton got that part) . . . . .
It was a much shorter wait for the other bio I've also just read . . . Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong by Mark Cotta Vaz . . .
Merian C. Cooper, Peter Lorre. Two remarkable men. And the greatest thing about these two books? They were both worth the wait – and then some. If you love pop culture, do yourself a favor. Go to a bookstore or log online. Buy them now. You don't have to wait any longer. — David McDonnell, Editor (September 2005); #340, November 2005
NO DETAIL LOST IN LORRE BIO
Perhaps the best word to describe Stephen D. Youngkin's Peter Lorre bio, "The Lost One," is "exhaustive." It's deep and detailed. Barely 20 pages into the book, readers are immersed in Weimar Berlin's fertile community of artists and actors, learn of the origin of Lorre's perpetual battle with drug addiction, read of his affiliations with stage legends Bertholt Brecht and Max Reinhardt, and can glean what they may of the opinions of the actor's siblings. Genre-film fans will no doubt savor the detail surrounding the filming of "Mad Love" and "Stranger on the Third Floor," and classic movie buffs will get their fill of behind-the-scenes anecdotes concerning Bogie, "The Maltese Falcon" and "Casablanca." Fans of Lorre are acquainted with the distress he endured after portraying a child killer in Fritz Lang's classic "M," (Lorre was the recipient of the attentions of those who found his portrayal all too convincing), and many know that Lorre spoke little or no English when he appeared in Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." But how many realize that Lorre, born Lazlo Lowenstein, fled the Nazi regime on the same train with Oskar Homolka, Josef von Sternberg and Jascha Heifetz? Or that a botched appendectomy prompted his morphine addiction? Youngkin is an acknowledged authority on Lorre, having written a previous book on the actor, contributed to another and appeared on camera in documentaries including a German TV production and A&E's Biography. "The Lost One" is the capstone to years of research into the actor's life, films, family and psyche. (Who knew that Lorre's daughter came within a hair's breadth of being a victim of L.A.'s notorious Hillside Strangler?) For more info, check out:
But of course, tell 'em the B Monster sent you! — Marty Baumann; November, 2005
The Daily Yomiuri (Japan):
Underappreciated actor Peter Lorre gets posthumous applause
Typecast as a villain while his other considerable comedic and dramatic talents went criminally underused, Peter Lorre once remarked that his ambition had been to "kill" with jokes, but he had just ended up a killer.
Yet despite Lorre's own professional disappointment, movie audiences loved the moon-faced character actor's mix of vulnerability, menace and European charm. Even in supporting roles, Lorre often played scene-stealer to marquee stars.
In The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, Stephen D. Youngkin makes a strong case for Lorre as one of cinema's most underrated actors, exploring in detail his early stage work in Europe, his largely forgotten performances in radio and television, and of course his role as the child murderer in Fritz Lang's classic crime film M, which would forever define Lorre as a celluloid bogeyman . . . .
Although Lorre had his share of personal demons, The Lost One portrays the actor as a likable and generous man, both personally and professionally. The book also provides an unparalleled evaluation and catalogue of his work, which will undoubtedly leave readers frustrated by the lack of availability of so many of his films.
Yet despite its obvious merits as a work of research – the book is the product of more than 300 interviews – The Lost One might have been more entertaining. Even with a supporting cast that includes the likes of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart, John Huston and Truman Capote, the book suffers from a curious lack of memorable anecdotes.
The Lost One offers a valuable and long overdue look into the life of a misunderstood actor, but the charm of Peter Lorre is still best experienced on the silver screen. — Brad Quinn, Staff Writer, Daily Yomiuri; Nov. 19, 2005
Six Degrees of Peter Lorre
Iconic actor Peter Lorre once was described fondly as a “rococo cherub gone slightly astray,” but as Youngkin’s 613 page opus shows, this extremely talented man strayed very far indeed from his astonishingly accomplished theatrical beginnings propelled by the rise of Nazism, a World War, fickle Hollywood, and a witch hunt, to name but a few of the distractions that his biographer enumerates . . .
His life of Lorre is a monumental piece of research and sheds new light on a career that has too long been ignored and undervalued. The Brecht connection alone makes this an extraordinary piece of scholarship. We are indebted to the author. — Warren Leming; Fall, 2005
The Hollywood Reporter:
Bottom line: A welcome life of the much-parodied but little-understood emigre actor, famed for his portrayals of underworld lowlifes.
Did Peter Lorre come into this world with a sinister sneer fully formed on his lips? Was he at heart a sniveling, treacherous, conniving creep? Not at all, though from the moment American moviegoers set eyes on him, Lorre was a favorite of directors and screenwriters looking for just the right touch of evil – and audiences believed.
Born Laszlo Lowenstein in a small but prosperous Hungarian town in 1904, Lorre moved to Vienna as soon as he could. He later said that he had studied there with Sigmund Freud, but about his early years we can only guess, as biographer Stephen Youngkin notes, because Lorre invented details of his past as he invented the characters for which he would become famous. What is certain is that he started out poor, an habitue of smoky coffeehouses who ate so seldom that, he remembered, "I am the only actor, I believe, who really had scurvy."
Still, he survived, and he rose from small parts in strange "therapeutic" dramas to become a regular player in some of the city's leading theaters. He graduated to film, earning renown for his portrayal of a serial killer in Fritz Lang's classic "M" (1931). Still young, but already a seasoned player by virtue of theatrical work with the playwright Bertolt Brecht in Berlin, Lorre so completely inhabited the part that in no time at all, he was – or so he claimed – offered "dozens of villainous roles."
Work is work, Lorre knew, but he also recognized the danger inherent in being typecast. Besides, he really wanted to do comedy. Still, he went off to London for a turn in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and then, in time, to America, having wisely escaped from Germany a step ahead of the Gestapo.
No sooner did he arrive in Hollywood than Lorre found himself in a familiar role, that of the psychopathic killer in "The Hands of Orlac." He brought a curious pride of workmanship to the grade Z part, believing that it was his job to introduce "a new kind of villainy to the cinema." Filmgoers noticed the man billed as "America's strangest sensation," and in time he was indeed bringing a new kind of villainy to the screen, now as the high-voiced, worldly, but definitely bad likes of Joel Cairo in "The Maltese Falcon" and Ugarte in "Casablanca," in which he uttered the memorable line, "You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust."
From there, alas, the road led downward. It didn't help that Lorre was addicted to various substances, or that he despised himself, or that he had few friends, or that he was politically suspect during the days of the blacklist, or that he was consistently underpaid almost everywhere he worked and was "chronically short of money and long on bad luck." From "Casablanca" to "The Patsy" is a long fall, and Lorre knew it. Being praised as one of the greatest actors in history but reduced to supporting Fabian could hardly have cheered him.
Peter Lorre died of a stroke in 1964, intestate and insolvent, not long after having pitched a remake of "M"; the studio head declined, fearing there would be no market for it, at which point, Youngkin remarks, Lorre probably wondered whether "he should have stayed in Europe and faced Hitler."
Yet Lorre he lives on in curious ways: slyly traced by Robin Williams's genie in "Aladdin," appropriated by a breakfast cereal, hijacked to serve as the voice of a demented Chihuahua in a cartoon series and as the inspiration for a particularly weasel-like species of aliens in a popular space opera. As Youngkin's lively biography makes clear, he deserves to be remembered for much more, even though "he walked away leaving only a ghostly reflection in the mirror." — Gregory McNamee, literary critic; October 13, 2005
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.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers