"heeeeh, heeeh... Yeesss, master -- yeesssss..."

Sound familiar? You know that creepy-looking short fellow with the large eyes, unnerving grin, and odd accent? That's him. Used in many "creepy little guy" character roles throughout the 40's and 50's, usually in B-grade films.

One especially notable performance is in John Huston's rendition of The Maltese Falcon.

Peter Lorre was born with the name László Löwenstein on the 26th of June 1904 in Rosenberg, Austria-Hungary, which is now called Ruzomberok, Slovakia.

He was educated in elementary and secondary schools in Vienna and ran away from home when he was 17 to join an improv theatre. In 1922 he worked as a bank clerk in Breslau. He also worked on the amateur stage with a company in Breslau before securing a part in Galsworthy's "Society". in Zurich. He then played in Vienna for two years before going to Berlin. In 1931 he appeared in the famous "M" directed by Fritz Lang playing a psychopathic child-murderer.

Scenes with Peter Lorre in "M" where "re-used" in the 1940 Nazi anti-semitic propaganda movie "Der ewige Jude" (The eternal Jew).

After several more German films, as the Nazis came to power he left for Paris, London and, in 1935, Hollywood. He played Raskolnikov in "Crime and Punishment" in 1935, and a series of Mr. Moto movies during the late 'thirties.

He began his pairing with Sydney Greenstreet as Joel Cairo in "The Maltese Falcon" in 1941, continued in "Casablanca" and seven other films during the early 'forties. In Germany he wrote, directed and starred in "Der Verlorene" (trans. "The Lost One") in 1951.

After that, somewhat heavier, he played in a string of mediocre efforts, an exception being his role as the clown in "The Big Circus" of 1959.

He died the year he made his last movie, playing a stooge in Jerry Lewis' "The Patsy". He suffered a heart attack while filming on set on the 23rd March 1964.

Two anecdotes of his early career:
While working as a bank clerk in Breslau, he complained of never having enough money. A friend suggested that he work as an usher in a local theater. Summoning all he knew as a sometime teen actor, he lined up and said the words, as smoothly as possible: "Delighted to see you, Madam. May I take your coat?" The manager, knowing talent when he saw it, replied, "Can you be here every weekday night but Monday, early on Sunday?" Nodding an emphatic "yes", he found himself in a bit part as an aged nobleman. "Soon," he explained, "I was making more money as an actor than as a clerk."

In the course of the interview in which this anecdote was elicited, he was offered a drink. Instead, he blushed, and asked for a coffee. When asked why, he explained

"Those who drink, should not take drugs.
Those who take drugs should never drink.
I have made my choice. What do you think?"

FWIW, he only sounds like "Peter Lorre" when speaking in English. Dunno why that is.

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