Peter Lorre and Food

Peter Lorre was always what you would call a fresser. Throughout his adult life his BMI tended to be well above midrange. Stress eating had to have played a part in his weight issues, as did his proneness to addiction. Food, like prescription narcotics and cigarettes, was a needful part of the ecosystem that made Peter Lorre happen.

The only times he was ever fashionably slim was, first, during a brief period around 1940, when he was in what my friend Nancy SimPanda calls his skinny Chihuahua phase, and then around the time he was shooting his 1951 film “Der Verlorene.” He looked fabulous as a skinny Chihuahua in “You’ll Find Out” and “Island of Doomed Men,” and although he wasn’t able to maintain that level of thinness for long, he managed to stay at a BMI around the normal range during his years as a Warners contract player.

Peter’s weight loss secret during the 1940s was reportedly to alternate between fasting one day and eating steak and spinach the next. I don’t know how strict he was about that. A menu from that era for the Doll’s House restaurant in Palm Springs listed a Peter Lorre special featuring double size filet mignon, a sort of twice baked potato dish called “those potatoes,” and cinnamon buns. Spinach was of course the superfood of mid 20th century America as made famous by Popeye, but for all his years as a Californian Peter never got into vegetables. “I’m not a cow!” he said when someone tried to serve him a salad.

By the time he made “Der V.,” years of hard living, chain smoking and exposure to the Southern California sun had made him look like a miniature Bogart when he was thin, and that just wasn’t a good look for Peter. I suspect that one of the reasons he let himself go after he returned to Hollywood in the early 1950s was that he was following Colette’s advice that a person of a certain age needs to choose between his face and his figure. I think he made the right choice.

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