Except… that never actually happened.
The idea that Lorre provided the most famous and enduring performance of Dr. Frankenstein’s hunchbacked laboratory assistant is actually nothing but a popular misconception because
(wait for it)…
Peter Lorre never actually played Igor.
Seems impossible, but it’s true! In the original FRANKENSTEIN (1931), though the good doctor (as played by Colin Clive) did indeed have an assistant (whose posture left something to be desired), the character was called Fritz, and was played by actor Dwight Frye (also Renfield in DRACULA, 1931).
What’s more… not only did Peter Lorre never actually play the infamous hunchbacked assistant, Igor isn’t even the character’s name! In fact, it wasn’t until the third film of the franchise, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) that a character called Ygor (with a Y) finally showed up. Not as an assistant, but as the freaking villain of the piece! A bitter, broken man, intent on extracting revenge from the Frankenstein family. Furthermore, this Ygor (technically the original) was played by none other than Bela Lugosi!
And just in case you’re wondering, the literary Victor Frankenstein performed his mad experiments without the aid of an assistant. Fritz, the hunchbacked yin to Dr. F’s yang, was actually a creation of director James Whale (not Mary Shelley), who felt his picture needed a bit of comic relief.
Back to the origins of the Lorre/Igor connection, some propose the notion arose due to various Bugs Bunny cartoons.
The problem with the Bugs theory is, while it’s true that certain episodes did feature a thinly veiled caricature of the then popular actor (voiced by Mel Blanc), he was more MAD SCIENTIST than SCIENTIST HELPER. Also, the character was never drawn with a hunchback, nor was he ever heard to slur the supposedly iconic phrase “YESSS MASSTER”.
So why is it then that nearly everyone everyone reading this right now, can hear Lorre’s trademark drawl forming the words in their brain? How can such an enduring reference have come into being, with no definitive point of origin?
Heck, even Hollywood seems confused. After all, in Mel Brooks’ YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974), Marty Feldman’s hunchback character was called Igor (EYE-gore) and was indeed the dutiful lab assistant to Gene Wilder’s “Dr. Fronkensteen“. Feldman’s casting, itself a likely stab at Lorre’s own infamous eyes. Also of note is the CG Cartoon feature IGOR (2008). The protagonist of which (as voiced by John Cusack) bears more than a passing resemblance to Lorre.
Despite spending some serious time researching this phenomenon, I can find nothing whatsoever that links the famous hunchback assistant and Peter Lorre. Nothing beyond what apparently can be chalked up to something called the Mandela Effect.
What is the Mandela effect, you ask?
Oh that’s just the theory that pesky memories from parallel universes sometimes bleed into our minds. That’s all. Kind of like how EVERYONE knows the most famous quote from CASABLANCA (1942) is Bogey’s somber line, “Play it again, Sam.”
Except… that never actually happened either.
Though we can all hear Humphrey Bogart saying the phrase in our heads, the actual line is: “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake.”
So hey, perhaps there is a reality where actor Peter Lorre did indeed star alongside Colin Clive–playing the hunchback assistant to his obsessed scientist. And perhaps in that universe, the character was even called Igor.
Who the heck am I to claim otherwise?
All I know for sure is this: even though Peter Lorre never played Igor–never actually uttered the phrase I spent my whole life attributing to him… in his heyday, the actor was really fantastic. Check out THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), MAD LOVE (1935), ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) and of course CASABLANCA (1942).
Happy 113th, big guy.