The Creeps By Night Radio Program
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First Creeps By Night Spot Ad from Feb. 15, 1944, San Antonio Express
Creeps by Night originated out of WJZ the Blue Network's key station
The Blue Network was growing up fast after being ripped from the bowels of the National Broadcasting Company. The growing pains manifested themselves in several ways early on. Creeps by Night was The Blue Network's attempt to air a celebrity-hosted supernatural thriller, in the vein of Inner Sanctum, Lights Out!, Dark Fantasy, Weird Circle and The Strange Dr. Weird. The celebrity was no less a horror/thriller luminary than Boris Karloff, which, under rational programming practices should have virtually ensured the project's great success.
Alternately promoted as a series of "mild psychological thrillers", a thriller series so scary that listeners with heart problems were "urged NOT to listen to Boris Karloff in Creeps By Night," or simply "mysteries of the mind," none of these descriptions accurately captured the format. The series promised the leading supernatural actors of the era; the likes of Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, Raymond Massey, Laird Cregar, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone. It also promised the very finest mystery writers, penning all new, orginal mystery scripts. The series was drawn from the best-selling mystery compilation, The World's Finest Mystery Stories, edited by Dashiell Hammett.
Snags with Creeps By Night's original build-up
There were several problems with the promotional hype, almost none of which held true for the run of the project. Karloff himself disappeared after the twelfth program, replaced by the uncredited 'Doctor X'. Karloff was busy on both the Broadway Stage and in Hollywood at the time. It appears that his schedule no longer permitted recording further Creeps By Night programs. The estimated talent cost for Creeps By Night had been pegged at about $6,000 per episode before Karloff's departure. For all the hype regarding the great actors that would headline each new installment, the early Blue Network was apparently so poorly organized that they almost never promoted either the episode titles to come--or their starring headliners. And for all the hype regarding the newest and greatest mystery scripts by the best writers, none of those writers ever appeared in the credits. To add to the inevitable failure of the project, it was relegated to airing between 10:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m. midnight in most markets.
All the above having been said, and in spite of every possible effort to derail the project, Creeps By Night resulted in a genuinely novel effort. Boris Karloff's contributions to the first twelve installments serve as one of the few Golden Age Radio programs that Karloff headlined. His contribution, though cut short, elevated both the scripts and the format to a slightly higher level from its first broadcast. Much of the writing was novel and well-paced, but alas we'll never know who to attribute it to. Indeed, even Doctor 'X', Master of Mystery proved to be a suitable replacement for Boris Karloff--eventually. Apparently the rationale for keeping mum the true identity of Doctor 'X' was the fact that the character was portrayed by at least two other performers for the last fourteen broadcasts. The production values were also better than one might have expected from such a relatively short-lived series.
Ultimately, in the great pantheon of legendary supernatural thriller dramas throughout the Golden Age of Radio, Creeps By Night remains more a footnote than a standout. Nevertheless it endures as one of the handful of ABC's attempts at a thriller format over Radio. It's also noteworthy as one of the few programs to showcase six of Drama's finest proponents of the thriller characterization--Boris Karloff, Laird Cregar, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, Raymond Massey, and Basil Rathbone. Cregar passed away in December of 1944 so Creeps by Night would have been one of his last appearances in the genre over Radio.
|AFRS Mystery Playhouse
||Anthology of Golden Age Radio Supernatural Dramas
||ABC Blue Network; CBC's Dominion network [CKRC, Manitoba]
||Audition Date(s) and Title(s):
||Premiere Date(s) and Title(s):
||44-02-15 01 The Voice of Death
||Run Dates(s)/ Time(s):
||44-02-15 to 44-08-15; Blue Network [WJZ]; Twenty-three programs, 30-minutes each; Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m., then 11:30
||Dave Drummond; Robert Maxwell [Production Supervisor]
||Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, Laird Cregar, Raymond Massey, Ed Begley, Juano Hernandez, Mary Patton, Edmund Gwenn, Everett Sloane, Basil Rathbone, Abby Lewis, Gregory Morton, Florence Reed, Everett Sloane
||Doctor 'X', Master of Mystery [from Program #13 through Program #16]
||Summer 1945 Run: Bob Shaw [adaptation]
||Albert Sack [Composer/Conductor], Paul Creston [Composer], Joseph Stopak [Conductor]
||George Gunn, Jackson Beck
||Estimated Scripts or
||Episodes in Circulation:
||Total Episodes in Collection:
||7 [includes two AFRS transcriptions]
||RadioGOLDINdex (David Goldin), Jay Hickerson Guide.
Notes on Provenances:
All above cited provenances are in error in one form or another. The most helpful provenance was the log of the radioGOLDINdex.
There appear to have been at least sixteen original scripts for Creeps By Night--'Doctor X' announces as much in the May 30, 1944 broadcast over the Blue Network. We've identified the following twelve titles to date:
A String of Pearls
Beyond the Grave
The Final Reckoning
The Man With the Devil's Hands
The Six Who Did Not Die
The Strange Burial of Alexander Jordan
The Three Sisters
The Voice of Death
The Walking Dead
Those Who Walk in Darkness
It's possible more than twenty-three were initially planned, but with Karloff's departure from the production, it seemed there was no further point in pursuing it as a continuing series--not, at least as previously envisioned. Most of the circulating exemplars have been, predictably, monkeyed with over the years so as to remove the critical closing comments. Those who were responsonsible for that nonsense undoubtedly know more about the true program sequence. There are a few clues in the circulating recordings:
- The Final Reckoning, one of the Boris Karloff episodes, announces The Hunt as the next broadcast.
- The Hunt is a an episode starring Boris Karloff
- The Walking Dead announces itself as the thirteenth in the series.
- The Strange Burial of Alexander Jordan announces that The Walking Dead aired the previous week.
- The Three Sisters announces itself as the sixteenth broadcast.
Until some first generation recordings surface, we've little more to go on at this juncture. The three exemplars in radioGOLDINdex bear dates different than those we disclosed in our newspaper research, but they're not inconsistent with the 'as broadcast' chronology we developed below. Given some newspaper listings showing episodes airing later than the chronology in our log below, it's quite possible they held some transcriptions for later airing due to their own regional or local scheduling. Canada didn't begin airing Creeps by Night over the Dominion network until June of 1944. We're attempting to trace that broadcast run as of this update.
The pre-emptions mentioned in other logs came from refer to three, possibly four, WJZ pre-emptions:
- 44-02-29 for a special Red Cross Drama
- 44-05-30 for a Capt. Eddie Rickenbaker special
- 44-06-06 for a program referred to as 'Mystery Stories' [which may very well have been a Creeps by Night episode]
- 44-06-27 for the Repulican National Convention in Chicago
The program did continue to air as late as December 1944, but most American 'first runs' ended in August 1944. Though not publicized as a transcribed syndication, it's apparent that, given the late initial timeslot, the Blue Network had to have made transcriptions of the programs available to stations who couldn't air the program either live or late at night. Indeed, we found newspaper provenances announcing the program in various timeslots across the country--not simply adjusted for time zone. The Canadian Dominion network run was clearly via transcription.
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Creeps By Night Radio Program Biographies
|Boris Karloff [William Henry 'Billy' Pratt]
(Host - Performer)
Birthplace: Camberwell, London, England, The U.K.
1933 Hollywood On Parade
1934 Fleischmann's Yeast Hour
1935 Hollywood On the Air
1935 Shell Chateau
1936 Royal Gelatin Hour
1936 Camel Caravan
1938 Chase and Sanborn Hour
1938 Baker's Broadcast
1938 Lights Out
1939 Eddie Cantor Show
1939 Rudy Vallee Hour
1940 Kay Kyser's Kollege Of Musical Knowledge
1940 Everyman's Theater
1941 Information Please
1941 United Press Is On the Air
1941 Inner Sanctum Mysteries
1941 Hollywood News Girl
1941 Voice Of Broadway
1941 Bundles For Britain
1941 United Press Is On the Air
1941 Time To Smile
1942 Keep 'em Rolling
1943 Theatre Guild On the Air
1943 Blue Ribbon Town
1944 Charlie McCarthy Show
1944 Creeps By Night
1945 Duffy's Tavern
1945 Fred Allen Show
1945 Hildegarde's Radio Room
1945 Report To the Nation
1945 Textron Theater
1945 Raleigh Room
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 The Charlie McCarthy Show
1945 Theatre Guild On the Air
1945 The Fred Allen Show
1945 Textron Theatre
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1946 Show Stoppers
1946 Request Performance
1946 That's Life
1946 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre
1946 Show Stoppers
1947 Jack Benny Show
1947 Philco Radio Time
1947 Jimmy Durante Show
1947 Kraft Music Hall
1947 The Lucky Strike Program
1947 Duffy's Tavern
1947 Philco Radio Time
1947 The Jimmy Durante Show
1947 The Kraft Music Hall
1948 Guest Star
1948 NBC University Theater Of the Air
1948 Sealtest Variety Theater
1948 Great Scenes From Great Plays
1948 Truth Or Consequences
1948 We the People
1949 Theater USA
1949 Spike Jones Spotlight Review
1949 Starring Boris Karloff
1950 Bill Stern Colgate Sports Newsreel
1950 Boris Karloff's Treasure Chest
1951 Stars On Parade
1952 Philip Morris Playhouse On Broadway
1952 Best Plays
1952 MGM Musical Comedy Theater Of the Air
1952 Martin and Lewis Show
1953 U.S. Steel Hour
1953 The Play Of His Choice
1958 Easy As ABC
1956 Recollections At 30
1956 Tales From the Reader's Digest
1957 Boris Karloff Presents (AFRTS)
1962 Tales From the Readers Digest
Boris Karloff ca. 1907
Boris Karloff, ca. 1923
Boris Karloff prepares to undergo three hours of makeup for Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff nears completion of makeup for Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, ca. 1931
Boris Karloff as ImHoTep in The Mummy (1934)
Boris Karloff publicity photo, ca. 1943
Boris Karloff at NBC mike, ca. 1947
Karloff and Lugosi camp it up for the cameras, ca. 1937
Karloff welcomes daughter Sara to the world, Nov. 23, 1938
Boris Karloff from his Thriller days, ca. 1960
|William Henry Pratt was born in1887, in Camberwell, London, England. He was the son of Edward John Pratt Jr., a Deputy Customs Commissioner, and his third wife, Eliza Sarah Millard. Billy Pratt was educated at London University in anticipation of a diplomatic career. Instead, he emigrated to Canada in 1909 to join a touring company based in Ontario. It was then that Billy Pratt adopted the stage name, "Boris Karloff."
Karloff toured with various companies from coast to coast across the U.S. for just over ten years before settling in Hollywood, virtually a vagrant. He supported himself on a shoestring with occasional roles during the apex of the Silent Film era. Between 1920 and 1930, Karloff appeared in fifty silent and early sound features and serials. He also supported himself as a 'lorry driver' or truck driver in the Los Angeles area.
Boris Karloff's big break finally arrived in 1931 when he was cast as the monster in the Universal Pictures ground-breaking production of Frankenstein (1931). Universal hyped the mystery surrounding the credit for the monster by listing it simply as "?" in the opening credits. Frankenstein became an overnight commercial and critical success, spawning another fifteen years of the Frankenstein franchise.
Now considered a hot property, Karloff promptly appeared in an array of other sinister roles of varying degree. He appeared in Scarface (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), as Im-Ho-Tep in The Mummy (1932) and as Professor Morlant in The Ghoul (1933). He reportedly loved his role as Sanders in John Ford's famouse The Lost Patrol (1934) but his performance was panned as "overacting".
He reprised his Frankenstein's monster in the sensational Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and then in the so-so Son of Frankenstein (1939) that followed. On loan to Fox, Boris Karloff appeared with Warner Oland in Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), then embarked on an attempt at a feature franchise with the relatively short-lived Mr. Wong detective series of five films between 1938 and 1940. This invites the obvious comparison and contrast with fellow 'Horror' genre proponent Peter Lorre and his Mr. Moto character, also filmed in the late 1930s. Ironically it was Bela Lugosi that Karloff was most often compared and contrasted with, although the two actors' careers bore no resemblance to each other at that point.
Struggling to maintain his own choice of roles and characters, the remainder of the 1940s saw him appearing in more and more of the evil scientist type of role, despite his best acting efforts to the contrary. Karloff appeared in over twenty more such exploitative features before early Television essentially saved him.
Beginning as early as 1948, Karloff began appearing in some of early Television's most prestigious drama anthologies, establishing a new level of dramatic gravity and versatility for himself. The effort paid off, ultimately resulting in a whole new career in Television that would eventually see him in over 200 television roles over the next twenty years.
Returning to Broadway, Karloff appeared as Jonathan Brewster in the long-running hit, Arsenic and Old Lace (1941-1944) and a decade later he enjoyed another two-year Stage run in Peter Pan (1950-1951), as Captain Hook.
Boris Karloff also found a very welcoming audience over Radio, beginning his Radio career in 1938 in Hollywood On The Air and running another twenty five years and an estimated 800+ appearances over Radio. Appearing as himself in both comedies and varieties, he also compiled an enviable body of straight dramatic roles in Radio. His appearances over Radio culminated with ABC Radio's Flair (1963), a fascinating, segmented program during which Karloff would take the children's or child care segments. Karloff adored children, often quoted as describing children as possibly even more perceptive than adults, when it came to watching feature films or television. Indeed in Karloff's perhaps most immortal tribute to children young and old, he voiced Chuck Jones' wonderful animated 1966 version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss' enduring Christmas message.
Best described in Karloff's own words, his observations about children and Film are fascinating:
"Perhaps the best possible audience for a “horror” film is a child audience. The vivid imagination with which a child is gifted is far more receptive to the ingredients in these pictures than the adult imagination, which merely finds them artificial. Because they have vivid imaginations we must not underestimate children, they know far more than we think they do.
When I played Frankenstein’s Monster I received sack loads of fan mail, mostly from young girls. These children had seen right through the make-up and had been deeply moved by sympathy for the poor brute.
Children choose what they want to see in an entertainment. This was brought home to me during the record run of Barrie’s Peter Pan at the Imperial Theatre in New York. I played Captain Hook and, being interested in the children’s reaction to the play, I invited a horde of them to come along to the theatre. Peter Pan, as everybody knows, is a mixture of romanticism and adventure. The somewhat frightening exploits of Captain Hook are offset by the whimsy of Tinker Bell. The frightening element would possibly, one would think, stay in a child’s mind far longer than the fairy element. After the final curtain I took them backstage and introduced them to the cast. Almost all the children would first want to meet Wendy and Tinker Bell and then they would want to put on the Captain’s hook. Their first reaction when they looked at themselves in the mirror was a grunt and scowl and make the same type of lurching gestures, as does Frankenstein’s monster.
The fascination of the “horror” film is perhaps because it is make-believe. Most people like to pretend that there is something just behind the door. It transports the audience to another world. A world of fantasy and of imagination. A world inhabited by the characters of Hans Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. The “horror” film is concocted more or less from the folk tales of every country. When I am asked if these films are harmful to children, my answer is always the same: Do Grimm’s fairy tales do any harm to children? I have never heard of fairy tale books being used in evidence in a juvenile delinquency case!"
Much like his contemporary, Peter Lorre, Karloff never took himself very seriously as an actor. He showed a charming tendency to play down his acting accomplishments. Known and respected throughout Hollywood as a refined, gentle, kind and warm hearted gentleman, Boris Karloff seemed to have preferred a pipe or cigarette and a good book to yet another Hollywood appearance somewhere. Devoted to his own child and the children of the world, Karloff championed many causes supporting child welfare.
Karloff passed away quietly and peacefully on February 2, 1969 from emphysema.
Karloff personally disliked the word “horror”, much like Peter Lorre and his preference for the term 'psychological terror' in lieu of 'horror'. In Karloff's words, the word horror:
". . . is a misnomer . . . for it means revulsion. The films I have made were made for entertainment, maybe with the object of making the audience’s hair stand on end, but never to revolt people. Perhaps terror would be a much better word to describe these films, but alas, it is too late now to change the adjective."
Boris Karloff was a fascinating man in so many ways. Truly a man of great contrasts between his professional and personal personae, Karloff spoke in an even, measured tone, irrespective of the roles he portrayed. As the various 'horror' or 'terror' film proponents emerged during the 1920s to 1940s, America seemed obsessed for a time with Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, Jr.. And yet of this illustrious list of horror luminaries, Boris Karloff seems the one to emerge with both his credentials as a horror star and a straight dramatic actor intact after all these years.
Boris Karloff, perhaps more than his other contemporaries, found a great deal more to pursue in drama, and knew when to discard the roles that threatened to typecast him. And yes, Karloff had the benefit of some twenty years of Television to temper and reinvent his Frankenstein's monster typecasting. But he did it. He fought for it and acheived it. Thankfully, many of his own generation lived to see him reinvent himself.
Adding layer upon layer over the Frankstein's monster role, with a successful Radio career of twenty-five years and a further twenty years of dramatic variety on Television, Boris Karloff finally had it both ways. As was his right.
With Film, Radio, and Television exemplars to continually remind us of his extraordinary talent, it's safe to say that Boris Karloff will continue to solidify his credentials as one of the most memorable actors of the 20th Century.
We wouldn't have it any other way.
|Peter Lorre [László 'Lazzy' Löwenstein]
Stage, Radio, Television and Film Actor
Birthplace: Rózsahegy, Austria-Hungary [now annexed to Ruzomberok, Slovakia]
1938 The Lifebuoy Show
1939 Texaco Star Theatre
1941 The Jello Program
1942 Towards the Century Of the Common Man
1943 Inner Sanctum
1943 Lady Esther Screen Guild Theatre
1943 Duffy's Tavern
1943 The Amos 'n Andy Show
1944 Nero Wolf
1944 The Abbott and Costello Show
1944 Molle Mystery Theatre
1944 The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes
1944 The Whistler
1944 G. I. Journal
1944 Mr District Attorney
1945 Mr and Mrs North
1945 The Andrews Sisters Show
1945 Radio Hall Of Fame
1945 Command Performance
1945 Mystery Theatre
1946 The Lucky Strike Program
1946 Birds Eye Open House
1947 The Pepsodent Show
1947 The Victor Borge Show
1947 Mystery In the Air
1947 Hollywood Fights Back
1947 Philco Radio Time
1949 Big Town
1949 The Martin and Lewis Show
1952 The Big Show
1963 The Hy Gardner Show
Hollywood's Open House
The Adventures Of the Thin Man
Mr and Mrs North
Mr District Attorney
Skippy Hollywood Theatre
Peter Lorre fan photo ca. 1939
Lorre in German Stage production, ca. 1931
Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's classic psychological thriller, M (1931)
M title screen
Lorre discusses a scene between takes with Alfred Hitchcock, ca. 1934
Peter Lorre stars as Mr. Moto in one of eight Mr. Moto features between 1937 and 1939
Lorre in a pensive mood circa 1938
Lorre in costume for Radio's Hollywood Hotel program, Nancy Steele is Missing, Friday, March 5, 1937
Peter Lorre performs over NBC, ca. 1945
Peter Lorre records Mystery In The Air, with Harry Morgan, Hans Conreid and Ben Wright, ca. 1947
Lorre kids around with tennis partner, the legendary Don Budge, ca. 1939
Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre enjoy a spritz together in Beverly Hills, ca. 1940
Lorre chats with Katharine Hepburn, ca. 1938
Peter Lorre life mask, ca. 1959
Four Horror greats, Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, and Vincent Price, ca. 1959
|Peter Lorre was born in 1904 in Rózsahegy, Hungary, to Alois and Elvira Löwenstein, who moved the family to Moedling, Austria, in 1912, where young László debuted in a primary school production of Snow White. He was educated in both elementary and secondary schools in Vienna, Austria. Often erroneously reported as having run away from home to become an actor, in reality after high school graduation he attended business school and eventually obtained a position as a bank teller in Vienna. A Bohemian at heart, he was quite comfortable balancing an archetypal conventional vocation by day with a very active social and night life, often performing improvisational bits at the local night clubs.
From Vienna, he moved on to the Lobe and Thalia Theaters in Breslau, Germany, in 1924. He then secured a part in John Galsworthy's Society in Zurich. While studying at Jakob Moreno's Theater of Spontaneity, László trained to emote "the lived out and unlived out dimensions of his private world." It was reputedly his mentor Jakob Moreno that in 1925 dubbed László 'Peter Lorre,' reportedly in reference to the unkempt Struwwelpeter, character from German children's literature. Further Stage experience at Zurich's Schauspielhaus and Vienna's Kammerspiele, eventually brought him to Berlin--and to the attention of legendary poet-dramatist Bertolt Brecht.
Lorre's unconventional appearance certainly fit the bill in Brecht's continuing quest for distinctive types. In 1928 Brecht cast young Lorre as the cretinous high school student in Marieluise Fleischer's lustspiel Pioniere in Ingolstadt (Engineers in Ingolstadt.) After that appearance, Lorre became, in his own words, "the hottest thing on the Berlin stage." Then in 1931 Fritz Lang cast him as the chillingly psychopathic child killer in M.
Lorre's performance had attracted the attention of German director Fritz Lang, who had cast his negative superman (e.g., an anti-superman) as a psychopathic murderer. M catapulted Peter Lorre to international infamy as much as fame, but the notoriety from that one role pretty much typecast him--in the public eye, at any rate--as a psychotic character type from that point forward in his acting career.
Fleeing Nazi Germany just two days before the Reichstag Fire of February 1933, the Jewish actor joined fellow émigrés in a Jewish conclave in Paris. M was still playing there and people recognized him as Le Maudit--The Damned One. By the end of 1933 he'd accepted Alfred Hitchcock's invitation to come to the U.K. to appear as Hitchcock's fiendish terrorist in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). After The Man Who Knew Too Much, a contract with Columbia Pictures followed, bringing both Lorre and his first wife, actress Celia Lovksy, to the United States for the first time in July of 1934.
America, he hoped, would afford Lorre the opportunity to finally shed his screen image as a psychotic villain. Lorre reportedly later observed, "Ever since I came to this country I've been trying to live down my past. That picture M has haunted me everywhere I've gone." Yet despite a concerted effort to both shed his accent and reinvent himself in American eyes, Hollywood continued to cast him as a fascinating--yet deeply troubled--psycho to varying degrees. Indeed, he was first cast as a demented doctor in Mad Love (1935), his first American film. Lorre preferred to characterize the film as "psychological terror" in lieu of a "horror" film--a genre he disliked.
Still hoping to become a more mainstream character actor, Lorre accepted Twentieth Century-Fox's invitation to play a variety of roles for their studio. Their first long-term project for Lorre cast him as the remarkably agile--both physically and mentally--Japanese detective Mr. Moto, based on J .P. Marquand's legendary secret service detective. Ironically, the eight Mr. Moto features virtually ensured an even narrower range of roles for Lorre had he stayed on at Twentieth Century-Fox.
Moving to Warner Bros., Lorre finally began hitting his stride, appearing in vehicles that popularized both his quixotic and sinister images--such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Casablanca (1943)--and introducing a more introspective, philosophic side--such as in Three Strangers (1946). And perhaps even more importantly shedding both the ethnic and pychotic characters that had more narrowly typecast him up to that point.
His acting style then reflected a major change of attitude, consciously distancing himself from the psychological probing in favor of a more natural, conventional, yet slightly off-center or ironic demeanor. He confided with friends that he was prepared to play any role--"a Martian, a cannibal, even Bugs Bunny"--to avoid a suspension in work. Warner Bros. called his bluff in 1946, casting him in The Beast with Five Fingers, ironically signalling the end of the major studio horror genre.
In an effort to secure his own fate, Lorre left the studios to form his own management company so as to produce, direct or act in his own projects. What followed were three years of relative inactivity, graylisting by the House Un-American Activities Committee--over Lorre's early relationship with Bertolt Brecht--and ultimately, bankruptcy in 1949.
Returning to Germany to direct, Lorre wrote, directed and starred in Der Verlorene (1951). Following mixed reviews, Lorre returned from Germany in 1952--somewhat more stout and disheartened in the process. After appearing in a summer stock production of A Night at Madame Tussaud's, Lorre found himself cast against type as a deliciously droll rogue in Humphrey Bogart's Beat the Devil (1954). According to a biographer, "The reunion of the 'unholy three' Huston, Bogart, and Lorre turned the clock back to happier days, when a sense of camaraderie fed the spirit of fun."
An enjoyable break, Beat The Devil was a moderate success, but such glimmers of success failed to arrest Lorre's downward spiral. Hollywood ultimately refused to capitulate to Lorre's demands to be used in more mainstream ways, continuing to cast Peter Lorre in roles that simply parodied Lorre's typecasting of the past. Lorre embarked on a string of mediocre--almost exploitative--efforts, with one possible exception: his role as a clown in The Big Circus (1959). His last feature film was Jerry Lewis' The Patsy (1964).
In a more bitter irony, as Lorre neared the end of his Acting years, his appearances in exploitative horror-comedies--teamed with Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and John Carradine--seemed to outnumber his actual Filmography of 'psychological terror' films. By age 59, now far overweight and out of shape, Peter Lorre suffered a fatal cerebral hemorrhage on March 23, 1964.
A highly contemplative, cerebral and intellectual artist and thinker his entire life, Lorre both attracted, and was attracted to, the more analytical, independent thinking, and intellectual fellow artists and celebrities of his era. When one compares Lorre's long friendship with the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Humphrey Bogart--both acutely intellectual, opinionated, independent thinkers--one is tempted to feel Lorre was at odds with himself in the company he sought. But in fact, Brecht and Bogart were more alike than different. The photos of the era continually show Lorre holding his own with intellectuals such as Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Katharine Hepburn, Fritz Lang, John Garfield, The Bogarts, Bernard Herrmann, and John Gielgud. This was not simply publicity staging.
Lorre's contemporaries found him an engaging, brilliant, widely read, intellectually challenging, and often bitingly humorous companion. Certainly all well-deserved--and hard-earned--attributes. Going further, by the time his stardom had already passed its zenith, though not particularly enthused about the direction the last ten years of his professional life had taken him, he never appeared embittered about the outcome.
He took himself seriously only when he was pushing himself and his own considerable talents. From all accounts, in his personal life he tended to minimize his celebrity in favor of privately savoring the companionship of his family and friends
From his earliest campy German Stage characterizations, through his brief but influential psychopath typecasting, the lighter Mr. Moto features, and on through portraying conniving fashion victim Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, Lorre's performances were consistent only in their unpredictability.
Just when you thought you knew every Lorre move, every signature gesture or inflection, he'd throw you another curveball and leave you in awe--yet again. That's not serendipity. That's genius. With the exception of the last 5-8 years of his exploitation films, Lorre's absolute integrity on the screen was fascinating to watch. From features as relatively trivial as the Mr. Moto's to Lorre's most angst-ridden, tortured, on-screen characterizations, he was an inveterate scene-stealer. You simply couldn't take your eyes off the man, no matter how weaselly, evil, amoral or devious his characters were.
His Radio performances were the same. When his voice aired, everyone else' just seemed to recede into the background. Was it intentional? We doubt it. We tend to feel it was simply a natural--and mutual--attraction between the audience and the performer. A very ostensibly odd performer at times, to be sure, but a mutual attraction, nonetheless.
Indeed about the only medium he seemed utterly at ease with--and even casual about--was Radio. And yet his Radio performances were as spellbinding as his Films. In fact, going even further, the vast majority of Lorre's Radio appearances were parodies of his own archetypal Film roles. He clearly delighted in camping it up over Radio--and his radio hosts and audiences loved it equally well.
Peter Lorre has become an Entertainment icon of the twentieth century, and deservedly so. No medium escaped his influence, be it Animation, Film, the Stage, Radio, Television, or Print. Whether in caricature or viewed as the gifted professional actor he truly was, Peter Lorre remains one of the last century's most easily identifiable personalities.
Nor will we easily escape his influence for decades to come--and thankfully so.
|Bela Lugosi [Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó]
Stage, Screen, Radio, and Television Actor
Birthplace: Lugos, Austria-Hungary. [now Lugoj, Romania]
1939 Texaco Star Theatre
1944 Creeps By Night
1944 Mystery House
1946 The Rudy Vallee Show
1946 Command Performance
1948 The Abbott and Costello Show
1949 Crime Does Not Pay
1950 The Candid Microphone
Bela Lugosi, ca. 1920
Bela Lugosi, ca. 1924
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, ca. 1927
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula, in Dracula (1931)
Lugosi and Karloff in publicity photo, ca. 1934
Lugosi in The Raven (1935)
Bela Lugosi, ca. 1947
Bela Lugosi celebrates the holidays with Ed Wood, ca. 1955
Lugosi's memorable last triumph in Ed Wood's cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, ca. 1956, but finally released 1959
Bela Lugosi, ca. 1956
|Born in 1882 in the former Austria-Hungary, Bela was the youngest of four children of Paula de Vojnich and István Blasko, a successful banker. Bela Lugosi's life was layered with irony, sadness, and frustration. And yet, Bela Lugosi somehow endures as one of the cultural icons of the 2oth Century. This, despite all odds against it.
A popular, successful stage actor in his native Austria-Hungary, Bela Lugosi performed the Stage classics for over five years, including Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III.
When World War I arrived on his doorstep in 1914, Lugosi volunteered and was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant for his native Austria-Hungary. Lugosi was reportedly wounded three times under enemy fire. Upon completing his commissioned service as a Captain, Lugosi married Ilona Szmik in 1917. Lugosi also attempted to form an Actor's Union upon his return. Deemed left-wing political activity, his efforts ultimately caused him to flee his native country for Germany in 1919.
Having made the transition from Stage to Film, some of Lugosi's earliest films appeared during World War I. Lugosi appeared in a total of twenty-six films in Austria-Hungary and Germany under the names Arisztid Olt, Olt Arisztid, and Bela Lugosi. Lugosi's first credit as Bela Lugosi was in 1918's famous Lulu, directed by famed Director Michael Curtiz.
Lugosi continued working on Stage and Film for another year, eventually emigrating to the United States in 1920, and making an initial living as a Stage and silent film character actor. His first stage role in the U.S. was The Red Poppy--although unable to speak English he had to learn the role by rote imitation. In spite of the language barrier, Lugosi received excellent reviews. He gained his first Film role in the U.S. as a villain in 1923's The Silent Command. Lugosi appeared in another fourteen films between 1920 and 1930.
Lugosi shot to international fame when he played the lead in Count Dracula (1927) on the Broadway Stage for a three-year run. The Stage play was subsequently interpreted as the Tod Browning film Dracula (1931) and almost instantly established Bela Lugosi as one of Film History's most memorable, romantic villains. His performance created such a sensation that he reportedly received more fan mail from admiring females than even the legendary Clark Gable up to that point.
Given his fame and notoriety, one might conclude that Bela Lugosi could have picked his own roles from that point forward. In truth, Bela Lugosi's career was arguably one of the most mismanaged, misdirected, high profile acting careers in history. The studios that signed him were all too happy to employ him in just about any potboiler they had brewing, if only to cash in on his enduring fame from the Count Dracula role. But as one tracks his filmography, he appears to have taken only one potentially promising role for every seven exploitation features he appeared in. The exploitation films were, for the most part, such stinkers that they proved almost impossible for Lugosi to surmount once he landed another decent film role.
The 1930s and 1940s saw Lugosi appear over Radio as well, usually as himself, or in character as Count Dracula. He also got a chance to act live in early Television, performing as General Fortunato in 1949's The Cask of Amontillado for Suspense.
The remainder of his--by then--plummeting career was occupied by a string of thirty exploitation films, culminating in three infamous features for cult movie Director Ed Wood--Glen or Glenda (1953) , Bride of The Monster (1955), and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1956 -- released in 1959). Lugosi also appeared in one last major studio production, The Black Sleep (1956), but his role was that of a mute.
Reportedly due to injuries received during World War I, Lugosi had developed severe, chronic sciatica. His doctors eventually increased his treatment regimen to include opiates. His growing dependence on morphine and methadone came in direct proportion to his dwindling screen offers. By 1948, Lugosi's drug use was so notorious that propective producers weren't even sure that Lugosi was still alive, let alone capable of performing in another role.
In the final analysis, one can rightfully conclude that Lugosi's professional missteps were for the most part of his own making. That being said, it's an historical fact that the studios relentlessly exploited their more famous 'horror' film stars. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Peter Lorre, John Carradine and Bela Lugosi all had to struggle to obtain roles counter to their typecasting. Nor was it a matter of professional training or experience. With the exception of Lon Chaney, Jr., all of the above cited actors came from extensive Stage or Classical Stage backgrounds.
In Lugosi's case, it was undoubtedly the substance abuse problems that sealed his ultimate fate. As laudable as the source of his initial chronic injuries, Lugosi didn't help himself by repeatedly squandering his talent and fortunes. The combination of mismanagement of his career and the downward health spiral caused by his substance addiction resulted in predictable failure.
Was it exploitation for Ed Wood to have attempted to capitalize on Lugosi's talent a few last times? Probably not. Ed Wood was as much a fan of Bela Lugosi as Lugosi apparently was of Ed Wood's indefatigable personality. Possibly Lugosi's only true friend during the last years of his life, one might rightly describe their odd relationship as more symbiotic than affectionate. Indeed, archive footage of a brief interview of Lugosi after successfully defeating his drug addiction shows him most animated and hopeful as he describes his propective Ed Wood projects.
Perhaps it was false pride or perhaps simply grasping at straws. Whatever the survival mechanism, it gave Lugosi a bit more hope of invigorating his career for his last two years of life. Whether more self-delusion or not, he reportedly died hopeful in the end. He was reportedly found dead on his couch, August 16, 1956, the apparent victim of a heart attack in his sleep. On instructions from his son, Bela Lugosi Jr. and his fourth wife, Lillian Arch, Lugosi was buried in full Dracula costume and cape. Reportedly destitute at the time of his death, it was reported that Frank Sinatra covered the costs of Bela Lugosi's interment.
Arguably exploited even more in death than in life, Bela Lugosi's fame continues to provide a continuing stream of income for hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial enterprises cashing in on his fame and notoriety. Lugosi made himself an easy target in life and and even easier target in death.
And yet inspite of all of the sadness, injustice, turns of fate, and maladies that beset Bela Lugosi almost from the moment he became an adult, that indomitable Hungarian pride seems to have kept Lugosi looking forward. It's also instructive to remember that it was Lugosi who was one of the core group of sixteen artists that formed the first Screen Actors' Guild. We're reminded that he was forced to leave his native Hungary for attempting to organize screen and stage actors there as well.
He was also a far more amiable person than he's reputed to have been in popular culture. The myth that he had an ongoing rivalry with Boris Karloff was just that--myth and nothing more. Indeed any study of both actors would reveal how similar they were in many respects. Nor did they ever truly compete for the same roles. Lugosi did in fact have a propensity for tall tales, but by all accounts they were told--and retold--to entertain, not to mislead.
In the final analysis, Bela Lugosi, for all his faults and missteps, remains one of the major cultural icons of the 20th Century--as much for his one extraordinary role as Count Dracula, as for the caricature of himself that he apparently actively promoted for much of his life.
If ever someone was a victim of his own success it was Bela Lugosi. But one is only a victim if one accepts that perception in the first place. In sheer numbers of fans, Bela Lugosi is probably more popular now than he was at any point during his chronological lifetime.
That kind of success is hard to dispute.