Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mount TBR #60

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Lost One: The Life of Peter Lorre – Stephan D. Youngkin

This book is a long, deeply-researched, credible, and even-handed biography of the classic Hollywood star. For me, the major revelations were two. Lorre was addicted to painkillers virtually his entire adult life whereas I had thought his addiction was the result of the stress of overwork and exhaustion in Hollywood. The addiction to tobacco and drugs took such a toll on his health that he died when he was only 59, leaving his survivors in hard financial straits.

Nor did I know of his kindness and humor both on the set and in personal life. Those of us with Hungarian, Jewish, or Hungarian-Jewish  grandparents will recognize Lorre’s mordant sense of humor and capacity for love and good feelings. He often helped young actors to hone their craft. He was very open-handed with money, much to his own financial detriment.

Youngkin builds a strong case for Lorre’s vast talents as an actor; thus, we can add Loree to the lengthy list of European actors Hollywood hired out of the yen for a little class in the stable, but had little idea of what kind of parts they should play.

The author’s plodding style at least keeps his subject front and center. The few judgments he puts up seem fair-minded. I admire that he interviewed just anybody living who knew or worked with Lorre – such as Frankie Avalon and Roger Corman. The book slows down when he describes projects that never got produced. This is balanced by some excellent production stories, especially of Beat the Devil, with quirky John Huston, star of Lillian Ross’ classic long journalism Picture.

Given length of this bio, I can recommend it to only hardcore buffs of classic movies. It appears to be one of the very few biographies of Lorre out there. I can’t imagine those books to be more heavily researched than this one.

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