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One of Hollywood’s strangest character actors, Peter Lorre (László Löwenstein), died at age 59 on this date in 1964. The dimunitive Lorre became famous for his role as a child killer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 film, M — a portrayal that the Nazis used in their 1940 film The Eternal Jew to castigate Jewish artists for corrupting public morals. Lorre had already fled to Austria in 1933, seeking refuge first in Paris and then in London, where Alfred Hitchcock cast him as the title character The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), a role for which Lorre had to learn much of his English-speaking part phonetically. Other plum roles were in Hitchcock’s Secret Agent (1936) and in The Maltese Falcon, in which Humphrey Bogart gives him a good thrashing. Treatment for gall bladder problems led Lorre to be a morphine addict, which destroyed his health and toppled his career. Lorre’s accented manner of speaking and large-eyed face made him into one of the most mimicked actors in Hollywood, along with Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, and Ed Sullivan. Lorre was also parodied in three Bugs Bunny cartoons. To see an excerpt from M, look below.
“All anyone needs to imitate me is two soft-boiled eggs and a bedroom voice.” -Peter Lorre