This past week marked the 75th anniversary of Casablanca, a movie ranked by The American Film Institute as the second greatest of all time (behind Citizen Kane). Casablanca endures for many reasons including its captivating screenplay, great pace, brilliant acting and outstanding one-liners including:

  • We’ll always have Paris
  • Here’s looking at you, kid
  • Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world

And so many more! To start your weekend here are some things you may not know about Casablanca’s writers, cast and its male lead, Humphrey Bogart. (I’m not focusing on the beautiful Ingrid Bergman because she never responded to any of my invitations to have coffee during my bachelor days).
Everybody Comes to Rick’s

Casablanca was based on “Everybody comes to Rick’s” a play written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. In 1938, Burnett, an American high school English teacher, traveled to Austria to assist his Jewish relatives smuggle money out of the Nazi-occupied country. On a side trip to Southern France, Burnett visited a night club that featured a black pianist who entertained a diverse crowd that included Nazis and refugees. Burnett was inspired to write an anti-Nazi play and wrote it with Ms. Allison during his 1940 summer vacation.
The rookie playwrights caught lightning in a bottle as Warner Brothers purchased their first work for a record (at the time) $20,000. Despite the windfall, Burnett was forever bitter that his play was downplayed by the Casablanca producers and never received proper recognition. Even Ingrid Bergman was unaware of the original play until being informed of it in 1974.

The Actors
Although it has always made for a great story, Ronald Reagan was never offered the lead.  A 1942 press release indicating that Reagan would be the star might be called an example of “fake news”. In reality the producers had always wanted Bogart and Reagan had already been called upon for active army duty.

Dooley Wilson who played Sam was not a pianist but a professional drummer. He faked playing the piano in Casablanca while the real player was behind a curtain.

Wilson, Bogart and Joy Page who played the Bulgarian newly-wed were the only Americans in the entire credited cast. Many of the cast members and extras were refugees who had escaped Nazi persecution.

The highest paid ($25,000) member of the cast was Conrad Veidt who played Major Strasser.  A very accomplished German actor, Veidt detested the Nazis and fled his native land to protect his Jewish wife.

Madeleine Lebeau who played Yvonne, Rick’s jilted lover, had fled Nazi-occupation in France with her Jewish husband. Lebeau is the first person to shout “Vive la France” after Rick’s house band’s stirring rendition of Le Marseilles. Like many of the cast members, Lebeau’s hatred of the Nazis was totally authentic.

On May 1, 2016, Madeleine Lebeau became the last Casablanca cast member to pass away.

Bogie and The Rat Pack
The Rat Pack did not originate with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.  Humphrey Bogart started the first Rat Pack along with Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Mickey Rooney and Jerry Lewis. The Rat Pack had several “associate” members, that included Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine. Lauren Bacall, Bogie’s beautiful and talented wife was an associate member and was sometimes called “The Den Mother”. She coined the group’s name one night when she walked in on the boys partying in her living room and declared “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”

Bogie’s unhealthy lifestyle that included a two pack- a-day Chesterfield habit, caught up to him at the age of 57. In 1956, Bogart endured a nine-hour surgery for esophageal cancer. The only lifestyle change that resulted from Bogie’s surgery was his shift to filtered cigarettes. When he died in 1957 he weighed only 80 lbs.

The stars of this classic have all passed on but just as Rick and Ilsa will “always have Paris”, we will “always have Casablanca”

Have a great weekend.

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Ted Curtin