Peter Lorre

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Peter Lorre (1946)

Peter Lorre (born June 26, 1904 as László Loewenstein in Rosenberg , Hungary , Austria-Hungary , today Slovakia ; † March 23, 1964 in Los Angeles ) was a film actor , screenwriter and film director . He went down in film history in 1931 with his portrayal of the scary child killer in Fritz Lang's classic M. After his emigration he worked as a successful character actor of often shady characters in Hollywood, including in The Trail of the Falcon , Casablanca and Arsenic and Lace Cap .


In Europe

Peter Lorre grew up as a child of a Jewish family and attended a German elementary school. After his mother's death, the family moved to Vienna in 1913 , where he later worked as a bank clerk. In 1915 the family moved to Mödling , where he attended grammar school as an external student. Ludwig-Höfler-Gasse 20 is the home address.

He got into acting in 1922 through Jacob Levy Moreno . Under the direction of Moreno, Lorre took part in a group that presented current events on the streets of Vienna in the form of street theater , a special form of impromptu theater . An attempt was made to include passers-by who happened to be passing by. Lorre played a. a. the role of a murderer who was up to mischief in Vienna at the time. The joy and success he had in it contributed significantly to his decision to become an actor. In 1923 Lorre made his stage debut (still under his original name). In 1925 he adopted the pseudonym "Peter Lorre".

In the following years he played at the United Breslauer Bühnen, the Hamburg Thalia Theater and the Zurich Schauspielhaus . One of his first public successes was the title role in the play The Brave Little Tailor , which he had partly written himself. After a dispute with the director, Lorre stood on stage at the side of Hans Moser , Paul Verhoeven and Marlene Dietrich in Vienna .

In 1929 Lorre made his screen debut in the Ufa film The Disappeared Woman . In the same year he was seen at the Volksbühne in Berlin in the plays Pioneers in Ingolstadt (director: Bertolt Brecht ), Dantons Tod and Spring Awakening . During one of these engagements he met his future wife, the actress Cäcilie Lvovsky , with whom he lived from 1930. In 1931 he played the role of Alfred in the world premiere of Stories from the Vienna Woods .

Depiction of Peter Lorre in the role of "M" on a mural in a discotheque in Bavaria, 1994

Lorre's big international breakthrough came in 1931 when he was cast by Fritz Lang for the leading role in M. His impressive and intense portrayal of the child killer Hans Beckert contributed significantly to the great success of the film.

When in 1933 the Nazis under Adolf Hitler came to power, Lorre went back to Vienna; allegedly the escape was suggested to him personally by Joseph Goebbels . He played his last film role in a German-language film in Invisible Opponents (1933). A planned Kaspar Hauser project no longer came about.

In the USA

Towards the end of 1933 Lorre first settled in Paris with his fiancée Cäcilie. There he kept himself doing small odd jobs, including a. at the radio, over water. In 1934 Hollywood producer Harry Cohn noticed him and he got a contract with his studio, Columbia Pictures . After completing the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much in London , Lorre moved to the United States in 1935.

There he met numerous former colleagues who were also in exile (including Fritz Lang , Bertolt Brecht , Marlene Dietrich and Billy Wilder , with whom he shared a room). However , Lorre could not persuade his friend, the Jewish actor Kurt Gerron , to leave the Netherlands, where he had fled. Gerron was murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 .

In the beginning, Lorre had a hard time gaining a foothold in Hollywood, mainly due to his poor knowledge of English. He did not want to accept minor roles in insignificant B-movies ; numerous other projects (for example a joint film with Charlie Chaplin ) failed due to funding. It was more than a year before Lorre was back on screen in the MGM production Mad Love . At that time he made only one film with Columbia: Guilt and Atonement by Josef von Sternberg , in this Dostoyevsky film he played the role of the murderer Raskolnikow.

Lorre became known to a wider audience in the United States in 1937 through the title role in Mr. Moto and the Smugglers' Gang. The film was so popular that it had seven sequels by 1939. Another great success was Lorre in 1941 with the film noir classic Die Spur des Falken (The Maltese Falcon) by John Huston , in which he starred alongside Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet . He made a total of eight films with Greenstreet, who acted as his perfect counterpart in terms of both body and personality. In addition to the massive, stoic-looking Greenstreet, the skinny Lorre usually played nervous, devious types who could not be trusted.

Also with Bogart and Greenstreet, Lorre shot the love drama Casablanca in 1942, which grossed around 4 million dollars in the US alone (with a budget of just under a million dollars) and was awarded three Oscars . In the same year he became a US citizen. By now, with an average of four films a year, he had become a busy and sought-after actor. His ascent was only overshadowed by financial problems that constantly accompanied him due to his lavish lifestyle.

In 1944 Lorre founded the organization Council for a Democratic Germany together with Bertolt Brecht , Lion Feuchtwanger , Heinrich Mann and other well-known Germans in exile . At the same time he shone next to Cary Grant in the black-humored theater film Arsen und Spitzenhäubchen , which had already been filmed in 1941, but was not released until 1944 because of the still running stage version on Broadway .

He divorced Cäcilie and married the actress Kaaren Verne , a native of Germany. This marriage lasted until 1950. After the bankruptcy of his own production company and several failures, Lorre came into contact with drugs and was arrested in 1947 for it. After a stay in a rehab clinic, he mainly worked for various broadcasters. His reading of the story The Treacherous Heart of Edgar Allan Poe for NBC radio received a lot of attention .

Short return to Germany and directing Der Verlorene

When Senator McCarthy began the witch hunt for potential communists in the film industry in the late 1940s , Lorre was one of the most prominent opponents of this policy. However, since he hardly got any role offers (see McCarthy era , black list ), he was on the verge of financial ruin in 1949. He then returned to Germany and made his first and only film as a director with Der Verlorene , which he directed in the style of film noir . The lost one , with Lorre in the lead role of a murderer protected by the National Socialists, was perhaps not a hit with the public in post-war Germany because of its gloomy subject and could not find a distributor in the USA. He then turned his back on Germany for good.

Last years of life

After a year-long stay in London, Lorre started playing on Broadway in 1953 , fulfilling a long-cherished dream. A short time later he got divorced again and married his third wife Annemarie Brenning, also a German.

In 1954, he starred alongside Kirk Douglas in one of his last major Hollywood productions, Disney's Jules Verne adaptation 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea . In the third episode of the television series Climax! , Casino Royale (based on Ian Fleming 's James Bond novel of the same name ), he played the villain. He is thus considered the first ever Bond villain . In 1956, he had a cameo in Around the World in 80 Days, along with numerous other celebrities (including Buster Keaton , Frank Sinatra , Marlene Dietrich ) .

After a heart attack in 1959, Lorre went into debt and had to sell his ranch. To get money, he played from 1962 at the side of Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in the B-movies Black Stories , Der Rabe - Duell der Zauberer und Ruhe Sanft GmbH . The horror comedies by directors Roger Corman and Jacques Tourneur achieved cult status in the following years. In 1962 Lorre separated from Annemarie, with whom he had a daughter named Catherine (1953-1985). In 1964 he made The Heulboje , his last film, directed by Jerry Lewis .

Peter Lorre died of a stroke on March 23, 1964 . He was buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.


  • Peter Lorre has a star on the Walk of Fame (6619 Hollywood Blvd.)
  • In the cartoons of the Warner Brothers (including Bugs Bunny ) Peter Lorre often appeared in the form of a cartoon character. He is also considered the inspiration for the cartoon characters Flat Top ( Dick Tracy ) and Ren ( Ren and Stimpy ).
  • The actor is also mentioned in the song Year of the Cat by the British singer-songwriter Al Stewart from the album of the same name from 1976 ( You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre contemplating a crime )
  • Lorre's daughter Catherine was controlled by the serial killers Hillside Stranglers in 1977 but managed to escape them.
  • The American goth punk band Antiworld paid tribute to Peter Lorre in 1997 in the song Story of Lorre .
  • In September 2007 the New York vaudeville - punk band The World / Inferno Friendship Society released a CD / LP entitled Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre's Twentieth Century . A musical was also written for this sound carrier, which deals with the life of Peter Lorre. The songs deal with content such as drug addiction ( "M" is for Morphine ), wasteful lifestyle ( With a Good Criminal Heart and Addicted to Bad Ideas ), his life in Germany ( I remember the Weimar Republic ) until his death ( Heart Attack '64 ).
  • In JD Salinger's Catcher in the Rye , a lady with whom Holden Caulfield dances in the "Lavender Room" claims to have seen Peter Lorre buying a newspaper the night before.
  • In Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano , the film "Las Manos de Orlac" (Spanish title for Mad Love ) with Peter Lorre is mentioned. In the film adaptation of the novel by the director John Huston , this film is shown in a cinema.

Filmography (selection)

Radio plays


  • 1952: Honorable recognition in the form of a certificate at the presentation of the German Film Prize for The Lost One (director and actor)
  • 1960: Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (6619 Hollywood Blvd.)


Web links

Commons : Peter Lorre  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gregor Gatscher-Riedl , "M" for Mödling. Film star Peter Lorre and his youth in the Babenbergerstadt. In: Local history supplement to the official gazette of the Mödling District Authority, 54th year, F. 2, (Mödling June 5, 2019), pp. 9–11, 9.
  2. Ulrike Ottinger: Peter Lorre, The Lost. Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion, accessed on April 7, 2013 .
  3. ^ Entry by Catherine Lorre in "Find a grave"
  4. The grave of Peter Lorre