Tim Anderson is a freelance writer/researcher with articles published in The Saturday Evening Post, Playboy magazine, TV Guide, and others.
"Casablanca"—America's Greatest Movie Ever?
When Casablanca was released in American theaters in 1942, no one had a clue that over the years, just like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, it would become one of Hollywood's most beloved and cherished films.
Costing nearly $1,000,000 to film, the Warner Brothers war-era romance ended up going $100,000 over budget. By comparison, 1939's two super hits, the aforementioned Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both by MGM, cost $3.9 million and $3.8 million respectively.
Casablanca was nominated for eight total Academy Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz, and Best Screenplay. In fact, in 2006, the Writers Guild of America named Casablanca's script the best screenplay of all time.
Casablanca started filming in late May 1942 and ended in early August. Except for a few scenes shot at the nearby Van Nuys, California airport, the seven week shoot was done entirely on the Warner Brothers lot, just down the street from Walt Disney's studios where Disney's animators were busy working on Bambi.
Casablanca premiered on November 26, 1942, just in time for Thanksgiving movie goers, and by the end of its first run, the movie had grossed nearly $4,000,000, which gave Warner Brothers a nice return on its $1,000,000 investment.
But even with this early financial success, the studio, cast, and crew had no idea this little movie would one day be heralded as one of Tinseltown's greatest.
Some "Casablanca" History
Originally written as a Broadway play, it was first set in the Portuguese city of Lisbon, and was titled Everybody Comes To Ricks.
Casablanca has six quotes from the movie that made the American Film Institute's (AFI) list of the Top 100 movie quotes, far more than any other movie. The song "As Time Goes By" was named by the AFI as the second move popular movie song, after #1 "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.
The movie has become more popular over time and it's been estimated that Casablanca has been seen more times in movie theaters and on television than any film ever made. Movie critic Roger Ebert once said Casablanca is "probably on more lists of the greatest films of all time than any other single title, including Citizen Kane." And fellow movie critic Leonard Maltin minces no words in declaring Casablanca as "the best Hollywood movie of all time."
For awhile there was considerable buzz about filming a sequel called Brazzaville, which was to have Rick (Bogart) and Louis (Claude Rains) joining the French Resistance and leaving Casablanca to fight the Germans, however it was never made.
Here are some of the fun facts and little-known trivia about the Casablanca cast and the filming of the movie.
Bogie's Valuable Autograph
There are only a few Hollywood actors and actresses who have autographs that routinely sell for $1,000 or more, and Humphrey Bogart is one of them.
A nice vintage 1940s ink signature of Bogart on a card or album page in fine condition can easily sell for $1,000 or more. In contrast, a nice ink signature of Gone With The Wind star Clark Gable sells for around $500, and John Wayne's simple signature is worth around $200.
Marilyn Monroe, Walt Disney, and Bruce Lee are among the few celebrities whose simple signatures on album pages or cards can sell for several thousand dollars.
George Raft Turned Down Role of Rick
When Casablanca's cast was being organized, studio head Jack Warner envisioned actor George Raft in the lead role. Raft, a mob-connected semi-talented actor was under contract to Warner and had been a busy actor on the Warner Brothers lot in recent years. Raft had a certain suave coolness about him, but hadn't enjoyed the box office success Bogart had with his recent hit The Maltese Falcon.
Warner offered Raft the part of Rick Blaine as the screenplay was taking shape, but after some consideration, he turned it down. Hal B. Wallis, the movie's producer, told Warner he could see Bogart playing Rick and convinced Warner Bogart was right for the part. Since Bogart was under contract to Warner Brothers, his opinion apparently wasn't asked, and he was simply told he was being assigned the role of Rick and to report to work when production started.
Raft later had a change of mind and told Warner he'd reconsidered and wanted the starring role after all. But by now it was too late: Wallis was convinced Bogart could play a credible Rick, and now with Warner agreeing, George Raft was told of the decision to go with Bogie.
Raft never achieved superstardom, but Bogart will one day be named by the AFI as the greatest actor in Hollywood history.
The role of Rick Blaine wasn't the only part in the Casablanca movie that was undecided before filming began. French actress Michele Morgan could have had the part of Ilsa, but demanded $55,000 for the seven-week shoot. Actresses Hedy Lamarr, Ann Sheridan, and Ann Sheridan were also considered.
Wallis said no to Morgan, dismissed the other actresses, and ended up signing rising star Ingrid Bergman for just $25,000.
Neither Bogart nor Bergman had a clue at the time that they were about to achieve cinematic immortality in a movie that would one day be considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made.
And as for George Raft and Michele Morgan... both went on to enjoy long movie careers, but neither one came close to enjoying the celebrity or fame of the movie's two top stars.
Play It Again, Sam?
Everyone knows Judy Garland sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the film classic The Wizard of Oz, considered the #1 movie song of all time by the AFI. "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca checks in at the #2 spot, and yet few people can name the singer.
The part of Sam, Humphrey Bogart's loyal friend and cafe pianist was played by Texas-born Arthur "Dooley" Wilson, a professional singer, drummer and bandleader. Dooley, born in 1886 had only appeared in a few movies before playing the role of Sam, but like most of the other cast members, his part in Casablanca was the highlight of his acting career.
Once film producer Hal Wallis was convinced Dooley was right for the part, the African-American actor was signed to a seven-week contract paying him $500 a week during production. On loan to Warner Brothers from Paramount Studios, Wilson was required to give Paramount $150 from each week's check, and kept $350. Adjusted for inflation, that $350 per week would amount to around $5,600 per week today.
However, as talented as he was, Wilson could not play the piano and simply pretended to be doing so while a professional pianist played off-screen on a second piano as Wilson sang along.
Before signing the talented black actor, producer Hal Wallis considered changing the screenplay and giving the role of Sam to an actress. Black actresses and singers Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, and Hazel Scott were all considered, but Wallis wisely chose to follow the script and signed Wilson.
In the movie, we see Sam playing two different pianos: one in Paris, the second one in Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca. The Paris piano was sold at a New York City auction in 2012 for $600,000, and the piano used in Rick's Cafe sold for $3.4 million in 2014.
Curiously, the $4 million the two pianos sold for was four times the budget for the entire production of the 1942 movie.
No Oscar for Ilsa!
Casablanca was nominated in 1944 for eight Academy Awards, winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Bogart and Claude Rains were nominated in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories, but neither one took home the Oscar. Bogie lost to Paul Lukas who starred in The Watch on the Rhine, and Rains lost to Charles Coburn who was in The More The Merrier.
Director Michael Curtiz began work shortly after wrapping Yankee Doodle Dandy with James Cagney. His work garnered him the 1943 Best Director Oscar nomination, but he lost to William Wyler who'd directed Mrs. Miniver, and brought Greer Garson the Best Actress Oscar.
Curiously, Ingrid Bergman was not nominated for her role as Ilsa in Casablanca, although many film critics believe she gave the strongest performance. However, she was nominated in the Best Actress category that year, only not for Casablanca, but for her role as Maria in For Whom The Bell Tolls which she filmed immediately after completing Casablanca. The movie co-starred Gary Cooper and Bergman would have an affair with the 6 ft. 3" actor during filming, later remarking it was nice not to go barefoot during shooting.
Bergman didn't win for her role opposite Cooper as Maria, but she would win the coveted statue the following year after receiving rave reviews in Gaslight, and a second Best Actress Oscar in 1956 for Anastasia. And if those two weren't enough, she took home a third Oscar in 1974 for Best Supporting Actress in Murder on the Orient Express. In 1999 the AFI named Bergman the fourth greatest female screen legend in Hollywood.
As a bit of Casablanca-related Oscar trivia, after his death, Michael Curtiz' Best Director Oscar somehow found its way to an entertainment memorabilia auction in 2003 and sold for $231,000. The buyer was famed magician David Copperfield.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman: Secrets and Scandals
Both Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were "players" in Hollywood when the cameras weren't rolling.
While in the movie Casablanca their characters were relatively wholesome and of high moral character, the pair's off-screen private lives were anything but angelic.
If you'd like to learn more about their private lives, click here.
Casablanca And Its Memorable Quotes.
Casablanca has six quotes on the AFI's list of top 100 movie quotes, more than any other film, and Bogart says five of them, Claude Raines the sixth.
- (# 5) "Here's looking at you, kid."
- (#20) "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
- (#28) "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By."
- (#32) "Round up the usual suspects."
- (#43) "We'll always have Paris."
- (#67) "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
In case you're interested, the movie with the second highest number of quotes is Gone With The Wind which had three quotes in the top 100, including the all-time most famous movie quote ever, Clark Gable's delivery of: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
Jack Warner's War Time Blues
When Casablanca was being filmed in 1942, World War II was underway, and America was restricting building supplies which were needed for the war effort.
Furthermore, since they were operating on a relatively modest budget of $950,000, Warner Brothers chose to film the entire movie -- save for a few scenes at a nearby airport -- on the Warner Brothers lot, principally in Stage 11. Although Rick's Cafe Americain was built specifically for the movie, many other sets were recycled from earlier movies. The train station set in Paris, for example, was from Now, Voyager which had filmed in Stage 11 just a month before Casablanca's filming began. And for the exterior street shots, Wallis used a street that had earlier been built for The Desert Song, making a few adjustments to make it appear to be French for the Paris flashbacks.
Finally, prevented from filming at night at the airport for security reasons, the ending scenes at the Casablanca airport were actually filmed inside a sound stage with a fake, cardboard plane. It wasn't built to scale, so some uncredited midgets were dressed as airline personnel preparing the plane for take-off to give the illusion of a larger airplane.
Still, with all the financial and building material restrictions, Wallis was able to pull off a credible motion picture that had the magic of making viewers believe they were watching a movie actually shot on location in Morocco.
When I was researching material for this article, one of the best information sources I found was Aljean Harmetz' highly rated The Making of Casablanca: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. If you loved the movie, you may enjoy reading this. I particularly enjoyed the section with Ingrid Bergman's personal acting diary, the info on the difficulty of making this in the middle of World War II, and the trivia and background on a lot of the character actors who made the movie so realistic. I loved going behind the scenes -- the feeling I got that I was actually on the set as the cameras started rolling. Once I started reading it, it was hard to put down, and I highly recommend this for any Casablanca film buff.
Getting High on the Casablanca Set
Though you'd never know it from watching the movie, Ingrid Bergman towered over her diminutive co-star Humphrey Bogart.
Bergman stood 5' 10" in her bare feet, while Bogart checked in at 5' 8". To compensate for their difference in height, Bergman often shot her scenes with Bogie barefoot while he wore special platform shoes.
In some scenes Bogart stood on small boxes and or on pillows or cushions when filmed seated next to her. At no point in the entire movie do you see a full body shot of Bogart standing next to Bergman.
After wrapping her scenes with Bogie and moving on to her next film with 6' 3" Gary Cooper in For Whom The Bell Tolls, Bergman made the remark that it was nice to be able to go barefoot while shooting her scenes with Cooper.
Casablanca's International Cast
To give the illusion the movie was actually taking place in 1940s Morocco, producer Wallis went to great lengths to assemble a credible international cast.
As a result, every single speaking role in the movie, except for those by actors Bogart, Dooley Wilson, and Joy Page, were given to actors born outside the United States.
For example, Paul Henreid, who played Victor Lazlo was born in Austria-Hungary, as was Peter Lorre who played the part of Ugarte. Captain Louis Renault was played by Claude Rains who was British, and of course, Rick's girlfriend Ilsa Lund was played by Bergman who was born in Stockholm, Sweden.
Joy Page had a minor but important part in the film, playing the young Bulgarian wife who was willing to sleep with Captain Renault or Rick in order to acquire transit documents for her and her husband. In real life, she was the stepdaughter of studio boss Jack Warner, the daughter of his second wife, Ann Boyar.
Warners Brothers Studios—Stage 11
During the summer months of 1942, the production crew at Warner Brothers managed to transform a large sound stage—Stage 11—on the studio's back lot into a believable Moroccan city we know as Casablanca.
The set design was so believable, movie audiences had no idea the movie was shot in southern California, just up the street from Universal Studios where Lon Chaney, Jr. was busy filming The Mummy's Tomb.
Besides Casablanca, here are a few other great movies shot in the same sound stage:
- The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
- Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
- Damn Yankees (1958)
- Ocean's Eleven (1960)
- The Music Man (1962)
- My Fair Lady (1964)
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
- Batman Returns (1992)
And Stage 11 is where actor George Clooney got his career started when it was home to the long running (1994-2009) TV drama, ER.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Were there other endings for the movie "Casablanca"?
Answer: I'm not aware of any actual alternate endings being filmed, but when the production was nearing its end, the key actors still didn't know how the film would end. There was a lot of discussion by the writers about whether or not Ilsa stayed with Rick. In the end, they chose to film the ending that we saw, and it helped make the film a classic.
© 2018 Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson (author) from Utah on May 12, 2018:
Thanks back to you, Patty! I love digging into the "story-behind-the-story" with many of these old Hollywood classics and sharing what I've learned.
Patty Russell on May 12, 2018:
A very informative and enjoyable read once again Tim Anderson, thanks!