THE FILM MAGAZINE is a bi-annual print publication that covers classic film,
radio, TV, books and stage plays – especially in the mystery, fantasy and
“SCARLET is a scholarly look at
classic mystery, horror, science-fiction and fantasy, minus the stuffiness,”
explains publisher Kevin G Shinnick. The East Coast publication covers all eras
of English-language films (foreign productions are considered in a companion
magazine – VAN HELSING’S JOURNAL).
our writers take the films seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,”
adds managing editor Harry H Long, who co-authored American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929.
SCARLET has covered a wide range of bizarre and esoteric topics:
Christian themes in the Hammer Horrors; Lilian
Gish’s horror film The Wind (1928),
previously categorized as a drama/romance; Murdered
Alive – a look at a play Bela Lugosi performed in the early 1930s,
about a man who hopes to achieve success as a sculptor by embalming victims
while still alive and turning them to stone; an interview with Beverly
Washburn, star of Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider
Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told (1964); a history of the making of Bride of the Gorilla (1951) starring
Barbara Payton, Raymond Burr and Lon Chaney, Jr.; the Creature from the Black
Lagoon's tragic inability to be a Babe Magnet; neglected horror titles
from Republic Pictures; and the last interview given by the late Robert Quarry,
star of Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Deathmaster (1972) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972).
The articles are extremely
informative, well-researched and entertaining, written by such noted genre specialists
as Frank Della Stritto, author of The Mythology and History of Classic Horror Films; John
Soister, author The Films of Conrad Veidt;
and Paul Legget, author of Terence
Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion.
Basehart in Fellini's masterpiece La Strada. (Photo: Cinema Retro archives)
Cinema Retro columnist Herbert Shadrak recently spoke to
Stephanie Kellerman, a friend of the Basehart family and webmaster of The Talented Richard Basehart shrine at www.richardbasehart.com
Retro: Was Richard Basehart an actor’s actor? Was his enormous talent only
truly appreciated by other actors?
Kellerman: Several actors commented that he was an actor's actor because they
did appreciate his talent, but you would find an argument from his fans saying
that his talent was only appreciated by other actors. As for me... I
appreciated other actors because I liked the characters they played, but I
really didn't have an interest in the actors themselves. With Richard, I
watched him because I was interested in him and how he seemed to make each role
his own. To me, when others acted, they seemed to play the same character in
all their movies, different variations of themselves. They just had different
names. Richard was one of the few actors who could make the roles he played so
believable and the different characters came to life with their own personalities.
Why was this great actor so unappreciated during his lifetime – and perhaps
even now, 25 years after his death?
I think that happened because of two reasons. One, he moved to Italy for a
decade and was out of the public's eye in the USA. And two, he accepted the
role of Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, with which he will
be forever identified. If
he had stayed in the U.S., I believe he would have become a greater star here.
He is considered a much greater star in Europe. Also, I have received several
comments over the years from people who emailed me at my Richard Basehart
tribute site that they had no idea he had such range as an actor because they
only knew him as Admiral Nelson, and were astonished when they went back and
watched some of his old movies, which by now most everyone has forgotten about.
we wouldn't have had Richard as Admiral Nelson if he hadn't needed money to pay
off Valentina Cortese after their divorce. She agreed to one last payoff
and Voyage was his chance to get out of making any more payments to
her. That means if he didn't have that expense, he wouldn't have taken the
role and the roles he would have taken otherwise would probably more closely
reflect what he had done in the past.
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM THE CINEMA RETRO ARCHIVES
Nehemiah Persoff: From Jerusalem to Hollywood – and Beyond
By Herb Shadrak
Born in Jerusalem in 1919, Nehemiah Persoff went on to
become one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood. His face is familiar
to millions of boomers across North America from his numerous guest appearances
on just about every TV series that aired from the 1950s through the 1990s.
Persoff’s name may have been unfamiliar to many of these TV viewers, but his
face was instantly recognizable. Filmspot.com describes Persoff as a
“short, dark and stocky-framed actor who specialized in playing ethnic-type
villains, although he frequently essayed sympathetic roles as well.” (Witness
his heartbreaking moments with Maria Schell in Voyage of the Damned.) Yet he excelled as gangland figures like
Johnny Torrio, mentor to Al Capone in
the 1959 biopic, or mobster Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik – a recurring role on The Untouchables.
Persoff’s childhood was poverty-stricken, but there was constant
singing, dancing and music in his home. He was a very creative and imaginative
youngster, who always visited the circus when it came to the Holy City. “There
was a large field in Jerusalem where the circus used to set up,” Persoff
recalls. “It was a very small one-ring circus, but I loved it. Outside the circus
was an Arab with a box on a stand with peepholes in it, and he had a small
monkey on a chain with a hat. This was enough to make me stand there for hours
watching. One day, the Arab let me look through the peepholes. There I saw a
funny man with a derby and cane. He had a funny walk. It was Charlie Chaplin!
Little did I know that 20 years later I would meet that man face-to-face!”
Persoff found himself drawn to the cinema at an early age.
“Two outdoor moviehouses were opened on Zion Square: one was called Eden. It
had a circle of bulbs that would light up one after the other. I used to walk
down there barefoot and watch the cinema from a post on the street. From that
height I could see the top of the screen for free. I think the other outdoor
moviehouse was called Aviv. For its grand opening they showed Ben Hur
with Ramon Novarro. There were pennants hung all over… I guess that was our
version of a Hollywood opening.
“I find that at age 88 my mind goes back to my early
childhood more and more. Jerusalem in the late twenties was a place like no
other. I cannot imagine a 10-year-old more attached to his birthplace than I
was. I was keenly aware of the love that people had for each other, the feeling
that we were all tied to the same cause. The pioneers came with nothing but
enthusiasm and a love for life and our native land. Their attitude was ‘to hell
with worldly goods, that's not what's important in our lives.’”
And yet Persoff’s father, a silversmith and painter, felt he had no career
prospects in Palestine. So the young Persoff emigrated with his family to the
United States in 1929, just in time for the Stock Market Crash and the Great
Depression. Persoff spent several years working as an electrician on the New
York subway system, gradually taking an interest in acting in the 1940's.
“When I started acting, I was working in the subway and
there was a rule that subway workers were not allowed to have any other job,”
Persoff remembers. “So on the program of the play, I used the name Nick Perry.
My reviews were great but no one knew it was me, so I got none of the glory.
After that I always used ‘Nehemiah Persoff’.”
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Persoff started
seriously pursuing an acting career in the New York theatre. In 1947, Persoff’s
big break came along, one that would lead to steady work in films and
television for the next 52 years.
“My friend (actor) Lou Gilbert told me that if I wanted to
audition for the Actors Studio, he would arrange it. I jumped at the chance.
Elia Kazan was one of the busiest directors around, and to study with him and
be in his pool of actors was every actor's dream. I was in summer stock playing
the lead role in George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple. I knew that
Kazan was with the Group Theatre along with writer Clifford Odets. I thought of
doing something from an Odets play but then reasoned that perhaps a more
classic approach might work better for me, so I did a monologue from Shaw. Two
weeks later, I received an invitation to come to the first meeting of the
Actors Studio. I took my seat on a bench and slowly looked around. There were
John Garfield, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Montgomery Clift, Kim Hunter and
Maureen Stapleton, among others. Kazan began to speak and told us his aim was
to create a group of actors who work as he does, who speak his language, and
that the people assembled in this room were the cream of the talent available.
This was heady stuff for a nearly starving young actor. I studied with Lee
Strasberg. He was brilliant and helped me find myself as an actor… I owe him
much. Among other scenes, I did a Noel Coward piece with Kim Stanley.”
After the Actors Studio, Persoff never looked back. His film credits include Kazan’s On the
Waterfront, The Harder They Fall (Humphrey
Bogart’s last film), Alfred Hitchcock’s The
Wrong Man, Never Steal Anything Small
(with James Cagney), René Clément’s This
Angry Age (shot in Thailand), Green
Mansions (with Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins), The Hook (with
Kirk Douglas), A Global Affair (with
Bob Hope), Ray Danton’s frightfest Psychic
Killer, Barbra Streisand’s Yentl and
Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of
Persoff also guest starred on about 400 TV shows, including The Twilight
Zone (playing a Nazi U-Boat captain in the classic episode "Judgment
Night"!), Route 66, Ben Casey, Wagon
Train, Rawhide, Mr. Novak, Burke’s Law, Honey West, Dan August, The High
Chaparal, The Big Valley, The Legend of Jesse James, The Wild Wild West, Gilligan’s
Island, Hawaii Five-O, Tarzan, It Takes a Thief, Land of the Giants
and The Time Tunnel.
In the mid-1980s, Persoff began to pursue painting. Now retired from
acting, he devotes full time to this avocation he has always loved.
Cinema Retro spoke to
Persoff from his home in Cambria, California.
In part two of Herb Shadrak's tribute to actor Richard Basehart, his Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea co-star David Hedison reflects on working with Basehart on the popular Irwin Allen TV series.
By Herb Shadrak
Veteran actor David Hedisonis best known for three roles: the
ill-fated scientist Andre Delambre who switches heads with The Fly (1958), CIA
agent Felix Leiter in two James Bond films – Live and Let Die (1973) and
Licence to Kill(1989) [in which he
loses his leg to a shark] – and Captain Lee Crane, who, along with Admiral
Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart), commanded the high-tech submarine Seaview
on the hit TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), which the
Boston Globe’sTV critic said was “like
Star Trek with fish.” In this exclusive interview for Cinema Retro, Hedison
recalls his admiration for Basehart and the highlights of working with him on
the fondly remembered science-fiction action-adventure series.
Cinema Retro: Why did you want to work with
David Hedison: I had admired his film work
for years. He was always so natural on camera and he had passion. You believed
in his very human characters.
CR: Which of his film performances
particularly impressed you?
DH: La Strada was heartbreaking. Moby Dick.
Fourteen Hours. Time Limit. Richard had fabulous range and was always worth
watching in anything he did.
CR: What transpired during your very first
encounter with Richard Basehart?
DH: I had asked him to invite me up to his
house. I wanted to meet him off the set, only the two of us and talk. I had
some ideas for the series. Richard graciously agreed. I went up there. We
talked. We hit it off, he had a lot of the same ideas I had and a similar
working style. Richard didn’t take to everyone, but he liked me; my enthusiasm,
I guess. I did want to work with him. He taught me so much during those four
CR: Was Basehart aware of your admiration
for his work?
DH: Not at first, but we found we could
work together easily enough and then we did.
CR: What did you learn from Richard
Basehart in terms of acting technique?
DH: Richard had great concentration. At
first, noise, a wrong line, any background distraction would throw me off.
Nothing shook Richard. He was always camera-ready, knew his line reading.
I wanted to be able to do that and after a while, I got better at tuning out
the distractions. He made me work harder, like tennis with a much better
partner. Richard pushed me to be as good as he was and some days I almost was.
Richard Basehart may have been the greatest
American actor ever. Certainly he was
too accomplished a performer ever to be “just another movie star” – his unconventional
good looks and astonishing versatility allowed him to convincingly portray murderers,
heels and suicidal neurotics in a career that spanned 45 years, but he was
equally effective at playing gentle souls, men of action (such as the intrepid
U.S. intelligence agent in Decision
Before Dawn), cowboys and the heroic Admiral Harriman Nelson in the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea science
fiction series on ABC.
today, Richard Basehart remains one of the great, unrecognized talents of
post-war American films,” writes Mark Gross in Films in Review. “Possibly this is because he is neither
conventionally handsome nor easily identifiable as a character type. Instead,
he seems to become lost in his performances, belied by a surface calmness, with
a subtlety underlined by a sense of abandon in his quest for realism.”
After six years knocking about Broadway, Ohio-born Basehart's breakthrough came in 1945 in The Hasty Heart, in which he was cast as a proud, dying Scottish
soldier. Basehartwon the 1945 New York Drama Critics
Award for his realistic performance and was named the most promising newcomer
of the season. Hollywood came calling, and Basehart was soon signed to a movie
contract. Thus began a globe-trotting screen career that lasted until his death
followed his cinematic debut in Repeat Performance – a 1947 “déjà-vu” thriller featuringJoan Leslie - with a
supporting role in Cry Wolf(1947), an old dark house thriller
starringBarbara Stanwyck,Errol Flynn andGeraldine Brooks.Basehart played Stanwyck’s younger husband, who
As his Hollywood career took off, Basehart made every effort
to avoid being typecast, although in his early noirs he seemed to favor parts
in which he was of a villainous or conflicted nature. In preparing for his roles, Basehart spent hours by himself trying
to shape the character. He would sit on the end of the couch in his living room
and be so engrossed in the roles that he was completely oblivious to what was
going on around him.
1970, the charismatic actor Christopher Jones (then starring in David Lean’s
epic Ryan’s Daughter) turned his back on movie stardom to lead a life of almost
total anonymity. Today, Jones is a working artist who specializes in paintings
with a classical antiquity theme and in portraits of Hollywood legends such as
James Dean – to whom Jones once bore a striking resemblance.
studied at the Actors Studio and perfected his craft on episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Naked City, the extraordinarily handsome,
Tennessee-born actor moved steadily up the Hollywood ladder through the late
sixties. He starred in The Legend of
Jesse James – a TV western that lasted through the 1965-66 season – and
threeB-pictures: the love
story Chubasco (in which he
appeared with then-wife Susan Strasberg); the sex romp Three in the Attic; and the cult movie satire Wild in the Streets, in which Jones
plays Max Frost, the youngest-ever President of the United States, consigning
over-30s to psychedelic concentration camps.
Jones photographed in 2008 by Greg Bryan.
then traveled to Europe to star in three ‘A’ pictures – the rarely seen romance
Brief Season; the spy thriller The Looking Glass War; and Ryan’s Daughter, in which he delivers
a haunting performance as a shell-shocked English major posted to Ireland
during the Troubles in 1915. And then, on the cusp of superstardom, Jones
disappeared from movie screens. He didn’t make another film for 26 years. In
1996, Jones turned up in a cameo as a cool gangster wearing Ray-Bans in the
black comedy Trigger Happy
(also released as Mad Dog Time).
Jones agreed to appear in the film as a
favor to his old friend and Wild in the Streets co-star, actor-director Larry
“It was no big deal, just something to do,” according to
Jones, who – although he was quite memorable in his three-minute scene as a
stylish hit man – hasn’t appeared in a film since. Not that he could
have even if he’d wanted to, while slowly recovering from a serious health
challenge. In November 1997, Jones suffered an almost fatal attack of
perforated ulcers – similar to what killed his idol Rudolph Valentino.
what is Jones, who is now 67, up to almost 40 years after his vanishing act?
is doing great,” says his business manager Sherry Dodd. “He is not going to
have an operation (elective surgery to
correct slight complications caused by the ulcer – Ed.). His vitality
is up and he's feeling fine. He spends a lot of time with his children at
his beach house. When he's in Hollywood, he stays with me in our place near the
Sunset Strip and we are the closest of friends. He reads scripts when he's here
and he says they are of interest, but he still contends he has no desire to
return to acting. Directing maybe, if the right project comes along that he
believes in. Chris is still an artist at heart, whether it's doing portraits or
the Hollywood Legends series. We will be selling on eBay again soon or if we
decide to do a new website. Chris is constantly getting requests for interviews
and now he will only do them for money.”
Jones will always remain a fascinating footnote in Hollywood history… the actor
who effortlessly achieved success in the film industry at a young age, whose
Max Frost is the emblematic counterculture hero of the sixties – and then who opted
for obscurity instead, choosing to give up showbiz and make his living as an
artist. The reasons for his avoiding the limelight are the cause of endless
speculation, much of it rather gloomy and sordid, but it could very well be
that the man simply valued his privacy over stardom. It happens.
(Chris Jones invites comments from his fans. Write to him at ChrisJonesInc@aol.com)
face it. Many Hollywood biographies are cut-and-paste jobs, recycling (if not
actually cribbing) material from other sources – yellowing issues of Variety,
The Hollywood Reporter, vintage tabloids or previously published biographies –
and retelling the same old anecdotes. Happily,
The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre is no such hack job. It is one of
the finest biographies of an actor ever written, on a par with Patricia
Bosworth’s Montgomery Clift andCharles Winecoff’sSplit Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins.
However, the time it took to research and write the Lorre tome may well be
unprecedented. Author Stephen D. Youngkin started working on The Lost One in the early 1970s and the
book was finally published in 2005, so there are many first-hand accounts by
Lorre’s friends and colleagues (most of whom have died over the years).
Lorre’s many wonderful performances and guest appearances on stage, screen,
radio and television… and his growing cultural icon status 45 years after his untimely death, his life was a sad one, and that of his late daughter
Catherine was even sadder. Lorre's melancholia was impossible to hide from the
camera in his final years, partly as a result of a growing awareness as
his health declined that he would leave his daughter in desperate straits,
and that her life would not be an easy one, mainly due to financial
hardship resulting from his almost complete lack of business acumen. (Lorre
entrusted a lifetime’s earnings to a shady money manager who robbed him blind;
and, although steadily employed, the actor was chronically underpaid for his
services; inexplicably, Lorre’s salary was far less than Sydney Greenstreet’s
in the six films in which they co-starred, even though Greenstreet was a
relative newcomer to films). And yet Lorre had many friends and admirers and
even went through a sexy period in the 1940s, attracting the attention of the
stunning (but troubled) starlet Kaaren Verne, who became his second wife in
1945. They were divorced in 1953. Lorre also never quite lost his mordant sense
defines the unique talent and menacingly comic persona of the diminutive,
bug-eyed actor with the purring voice, tracing Lorre’s slowly descending career
arc, from his early stage successes in Weimar Berlin with the trailblazing
dramatist Bertolt Brecht, his starring role as the baby-faced child-killer in
the German thriller M – which catapulted Lorre to international fame (if not
fortune), his escape from Nazi Germany (Lorre was a non-practicing Jew), the
botched gall bladder operation that led to his lifelong pain and addiction to
morphine, and the ongoing typecasting as a sort of comic bogeyman that saw him
end his career in junk like American International Pictures’ Muscle Beach Party
(in a cameo as “Mr. Strangdour”) and in episodes of such TV series as Five
Fingers, 77 Sunset Strip and Route 66. However, Lorre appreciated any work that
came his way.
Lorre in his brilliant, star-making performance as the child murderer in "M"
book also reveals that Lorre tried to reignite his stage career in the early
1950s in A Night at Madame Tussaud’s, a Grand Guignol story in which he
co-starred with the demanding Miriam Hopkins. Unfortunately, the two actors
detested each other on sight and the play (Lorre’s umpteenth attempt to break
out of the mold Hollywood producers had set him in) folded for this silly
of a certain age, I remember Lorre popping up on TV many times during my
childhood. He appeared in several films geared to a juvenile audience and I saw
most of them when they were first released: Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under
the Sea, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Five Weeks in a Balloon, The Comedy
of Terrors and “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. I have vivid
memories of seeing late-period Lorre in The Raven at the Centre Theatre and The
Patsyat the Capitol Theatre in
Ottawa (both twenties-era movie palaces were torn down years ago). I recall
Lorre being interviewed on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV program
called Tabloid. This would have
beeninthe late fifties. Lorre was quizzed by the show’s handsome,
jock-like host Gil Christie. I can’t remember much except that Lorre
chain-smoked and was very fat. As a child, I found him to be quite ugly and
scary. I am puzzled by the strange and unsettling impact Lorre had on me as a
youngster whenever I saw him on the silver screen or on black & white
television, and how inexplicably sad I felt when I heard that he had died. I
was 12 when Lorre passed away in March 1964. He was only 59 but looked much
portrayal of Le Chiffre in the “Casino Royale”
1954 puts him in the cinematic history books as the very first James
Bond screen villain – a full eight years before Joseph Wiseman achieved
worldwide fame as Dr. Julius No. The late Barry Nelson (the first 007) recalled that Lorre as Le
Chiffre had trouble remembering his lines, and ad-libbed a lot. This propensity
for improvisation became an unshakable habit with Lorre in his later years,
often to the consternation of his fellow performers.
In death, Lorre finally lucks
out with this splendid biography. The
in its third printing) won a Rondo Award for Best Book of 2005. It was also
nominated for CineFest's international Willy Haas-Preis 2007 (which is given
every two years). “This was a real feather in my cap,” Youngkin enthuses. “I
think there were five or six titles nominated, two in English. It's given for a
contribution to German film heritage. Considering that only about 15% of the
bio focused on German film and only Der Verlorene (Lorre’s sole directing
credit) in depth, I was surprised and pleased to garner this recognition.” (Der Verlorene
is the tale of a murderous psychopath in war-torn Germany who is better able to
conceal his crimes in the chaos of battle and aerial bombardment.)
Cinema Retro caught up with
Youngkin at his hacienda in Arizona.
Retro: What was it about Lorre that made him such a unique presence on the
Berlin stage in the 1920s? Did Lorre’s persona influence Bertolt Brecht’s
writing style and the subjects he explored in his plays?
D. Youngkin: Lorre was unique in how he looked and in what he said (and how he
said it), all qualities he translated to the stage (and later, film).
Contemporaries described him as distinctive, off-beat, unforgettable and
magnetic, characteristics that subsumed his rather odd looks. One theatre
impresario even said he looked like a tadpole. Fortunately for Lorre, a new
force in the Berlin theatre was looking for just that: “strange faces, strange
types.”Bertolt Brecht didn’t want
matinee idol good looks; rather he was drawn to faces off the street.
Brecht plays in which Lorre appeared (or was scheduled to appear) were written
before the two men got together. However, after the playwright came to America
in 1941, he tailored as many as eight film stories to the actor’s capabilities,
as he saw them.
is very likely, however, that Lorre’s acting influenced Brecht’s theories on
the subject. When Brecht saw something he liked, he studied it. In other words,
theory followed practice. With Lorre, the clashing of characteristics gave the
playwright the “jumps and interruptions” he felt necessary to hinder normal
meaning and underline other possibilities for human behavior. The Brecht
business gets a bit thick. Suffice to say that the double-sidedness of Lorre’s
performances helped coalesce Brecht’s developing theories about a new style of
What facets of Lorre’s acting talent were forever concealed from the American
viewing public due to his lifelong typecasting?
First, I think you would have seen a much greater show of versatility in both
drama and comedy, aptitudes that Lorre felt Hollywood largely neglected.Also, it’s possible that his “split” style of
acting would have taken different forms, not just the naïve and sophisticated
equation, but more of what audiences saw in the stage play Fruehlings Erwachen
(Spring’s Awakening, 1929), where the actor seemed to be cut off from his own
feelings. This was spectacularly visualized in the scene where a headless Lorre
sits in a cemetery holding his own head under his arm.
Lorre in his unforgettable 1929 stage appearance in Spring Awakening.
Despite his frustrations at being typecast as a smiling villain in Hollywood,
Lorre turned down Brecht’s overtures to return with him to Berlin after the
Second World War to help the controversial playwright set up a theatre company.
Why did Lorre string Brecht along? Was Lorre ashamed of having been seduced by
the Hollywood lifestyle? Was his increasingly poor health a factor in his
decision not to work with Brecht in the late 1940s and 1950s?
Lorre certainly didn’t consciously “string Brecht along.” However much the
playwright’s film stories failed to fit Hollywood norms, Lorre tried to give
them a push. The problem is that the actor had little clout at the front
office.Turning his back on Hollywood
and returning to East Germany was another matter. The short answer to this
question is that Lorre was weak. Brecht was well aware of Lorre’s commitment
issues and cut him far more slack than he would have given anyone else, partly
because of shared history, also because he saw his friend as a great actor and
one that he needed to rebuild his theatre in Germany.
don’t know to what extent Lorre was ashamed of being seduced by Hollywood, but
he was painfully aware of it. And most certainly, the weight of failing Brecht
(and thereby himself) grew heavier with the passing years. Those are the short
answers to hard questions that don’t entirely take into account the many issues
at play here. Lorre left Warner Bros. in 1946 with the idea of taking charge of
his career.Unfortunately, his
self-management enterprise—Lorre, Inc.—was an overwhelming failure. He still
needed to prove to himself that he could rise from the Hollywood morass (what
Brecht described as a swamp). If he couldn’t take that first independent step
in America, then Europe might do.Brecht
had mapped out a plan for Lorre that included using his American movie career
to help subsidize his theater work at the Berliner Ensemble.
Lorre was mulling this over, he went to England to earn some badly needed
money, and then drifted on to Germany, where the idea of Der Verlorene (The
Lost One) fell into his lap. Always the fatalist, he followed up on the idea of
directing, starring in and co-authoring his own film. In a poem, titled “To the
Actor P.L.,” Brecht invited Lorre (poor or rich, sick or healthy) to join him
in East Berlin. Lorre, convinced he was charting his own course, didn’t answer
the call. Some of his friends also suggested that the actor was too addicted to
the Hollywood lifestyle and the easy access to drugs to seriously consider
exchanging whatever was left of his celebrity for the sparseness of the Communist
Soviet block. There is some truth to this.Lorre’s drug use was certainly on the upswing during the making of Der
Verlorene. The accumulative effects of chemical addiction and assorted other
health issues were beginning to catch up with him. By this time, he was not up
to the physical demands of the stage.
when you tally all the negatives, however, Lorre muddies the picture with a
letter to writer Elisabeth Hauptmann in which he, in a veiled way, expresses
his regrets (“I don’t want to be a nobody forever.”) and timidly asks if Brecht
might find a place for him. No doubt this somewhat pathetic attempt to turn the
clock back was conditioned by the failure of Der Verlorene, his drug use and