This Halloween, we highlight the career of actor Peter Lorre (1904-1964), who is represented in two of our collections.
Lorre, who was born László Löwenstein in Hungary, began acting for the stage in Vienna in the early 1920s. He gained international fame for his portrayal of a child killer in the German film M (1931), directed by Fritz Lang.
Lorre left Germany in 1933 as the Nazis came to power. After appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Lorre came to America, where he became known for co-starring with actor Sydney Greenstreet in nine films, including The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1942).
Lorre also made several horror films. Early in his career, he starred in Mad Love (1935), an adaptation of the novel Les Mains d’Orlac by Maurice Renard, and The Beast with Five Fingers (1946).
Later, he appeared in three “horror comedies” produced by American International Pictures – Tales of Terror (1962) (in this trilogy of adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Lorre starred in “The Black Cat”), The Raven (1963) (inspired by Poe’s poem, the film features Lorre as a magician who transforms back and forth from man to raven), and The Comedy of Terrors (1963).
The American Heritage Center has the research files of Stephen D. Youngkin, author of The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre (2012). (The inspiration for the title of Youngkin’s book is Der Verlorene, the title of a 1951 West German film starring Lorre that he also directed and co-wrote).
Youngkin’s files contain materials on and stills from Lorre’s films, including his horror films. Among the photos is a series of pictures showing the making of a plaster mask that Lorre wore in Mad Love, as well as a picture from The Comedy of Terrors of stuntman Harvey Parry wearing a latex “Peter Lorre” mask.
Also included in the collection is a file related to Lorre’s attempt to stop actor Eugene Weingand, who vaguely resembled Lorre, from legally changing his name to “Peter Lorie Jr.”
The Center also has the papers of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of the fanzine Famous Monsters of Filmland which include stills from Lorre’s horror films.
Post contributed by AHC Archivist Roger Simon (our resident film expert).