Peter Lorre died of a stroke aged 59 in March 1964, without a Will. Born László Löwenstein in Hungary, Lorre moved to Vienna to begin his acting career. Moving to Germany he became a successful stage and screen actor – causing an international sensation playing a serial killer in the 1931 Fritz Lang film M.
As a Jew he left Germany when the Nazi’s came to power in 1933 and came to prominence after being cast by Alfred Hitchcock in the 1934 version of The man who knew too much. He immigrated to the United States in 1934, settling in Hollywood and being contracted to Columbia Pictures.
Peter was often cast in sinister or malevolent roles with the Hollywood reporter stating
“There is perhaps no one who can be so repulsive and so utterly wicked. No one who can smile so disarmingly and still sneer. His face is his fortune.”
Peter appeared in a series of B movies in the late 1930’s before being cast by John Huston in the 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon, the following year he played the pivotal albeit minor role of Ugarte in Casablanca. However following the war his Hollywood career diminished, he believed in part to his “gray listing” by Jack L Warner for his sympathetic attitude to the short-lived Committee for the First Amendment during the McCarthy era, and filed for bankruptcy.
Married three times, with one daughter Catharine, Peter suffered from chronic gallbladder troubles for which doctors prescribed morphine to which he became addicted. He was awarded a star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 1960.
Curiously in late 1963, Peter Lorre found himself involved in a strange legal case involving a young German immigrant Eugene Weingand who applied to change his name legally to “Peter Lorie, Jr.”, claiming (1) everyone called him “Peter Lorie” and (2) his own name was too hard to pronounce.
Peter Lorre objected to this attempt to trade on his name, as did American International Pictures, which had Lorre under contract, the Courts agreed.
Months after Peter’s death Eugene Weingand reapplied and was permitted to change his name legally to “Peter Lorre, Jr”. He was a minor actor who had roles in television series and made for TV movies often letting people believe that his father was the real Peter Lorre.
Peter’s persona has been appropriated multiple times by actors performing as animated characters, (Renn & Stimpy, the Genie in Aladdin, Warner Brother’s cartoons) and famously to sell Boo Berry breakfast cereal – a cartoon ghost looked and sounded like him – his estate objected arguing that he wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered that way. It has been reported that his estate was worth $40million in 2016.