Peter Lorre vs. Peter Lorre by Michael Butt

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 1 September 2008

Peter Lorre left a lasting impression on cinema audiences of the mid-20th century. He was never a star, but he always had meaty supporting roles. He formed a memorable double-act with Sydney Greenstreet in several Warner Brothers’ films of the 1940s, including Casablanca (1942); played the Chinese detective Mr. Moto in a series of ‘B’ Pictures; and in later life took a leading role in the Roger Corman-produced Poe portmanteau film Tales of Terror (1963).


Michael Butt’s play dramatized a bizarre episode in Lorre’s (Stephen Greif’s) life when he was involved in a court case designed to prevent someone from using his name. Eugene Weingand (Kenneth Collard), a real-estate salesperson who came to the United States from Germany in the mid-1950s, used Lorre’s name on account of his remarkable facial resemblance to that of the actor. Lorre’s agent Lester Salkow (Peter Marinker) immediately brought a court action; if Weingand had persisted, then Lorre’s future work prospects might have been put at risk. Based on original court transcripts, supplemented by material from Lorre’s biography, Butt’s play told the story of the court case, which eventually found in the actor’s favour.


At a deeper level, however, Butt focused on the consequences of role-playing. Weingand cut a rather pathetic figure as he attended dramatic courses in an attempt to overcome his crippling shyness. He was never going to make a name for himself unless he assumed Lorre’s name. Apparently Lorre himself had no need for such tactics, having been an established star for over two decades at the time of the court case. However Butt suggested that he had also been forced to play a role of ‘Peter Lorre’ as constructed for him by the Hollywood studios, even if that forced him to make a succession of trashy films. Any attempts he made to challenge that image – by starring in a remake of M, for instance, where he played a child-murderer – were summarily rejected by the studio bosses. Lorre and Weingand were two of a kind; both were forced to play the role of ‘Peter Lorre.’ It was thus not surprising that Lorre should have sympathized with Weingand, even while seeking to claim exclusive right to his name. Weingand had the last laugh, however; when Lorre died in 1964, Weingand carved out a career as a supporting actor in films under the name ‘Peter Lorre jnr.’ before his death in 1983.


Peter Lorre vs. Peter Lorre was an absorbing Afternoon Play directed by Toby Swift, with an uncannily accurate impersonation of Lorre by Stephen Greif.