75th Anniversary of Casablanca, Part 1

January 04, 2017

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A couple of months ago I was looking for a movie to watch on TV and decided to check the Free On-Demand offerings that appear on Channel 508.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when Casablanca popped up. And then I said to myself, “You’ve seen this movie at least ten times – why bother?”

That thought lasted about six seconds and then, there I was, watching Casablanca again. Afterwards I did some research and found that a book (now considered a classic) had been written about the movie.

The book is titled, Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca – Bogart, Bergman and World War II, written by Aljean Harmetz, published in 1992. I found it at the New York public library.

The author has done an incredible amount of research that’s delivered with wit and style. I read this 402-page tome twice: once for an overall read, and second to record tidbits of unusual and offbeat info – much of which I had never read before. Out of respect for Harmetz I did no editing except for a “Comment” now and then. Let’s have some fun!

THE PRESENT Casablanca is still so popular it is shown during the week of final exams at Harvard University. Comment: that’s 75 years after it officially opened – unbelievable.

THE OPENING Casablanca opened at one theater in New York on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, to take advantage of the fact that American troops had landed in North Africa and the city of Casablanca was in the headlines.

THE RESPONSE In the book, Howard Koch, one of the movie’s three main screenwriters says, “A woman called me up a couple of weeks ago and said, ‘I tracked you down because I had to tell you that I’ve just seen Casablanca for the forty-sixth time, and it means more to me than anything in my life’.” Comment: now I don’t feel guilty about watching Casablanca so often.

FIRST IT WAS A PLAY – THEN A MOVIE: The movie Casablanca was based on a play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s and it was purchased for $20,000 by Irene Lee for Warner’s. “She was the one who assigned us to write it. And she has never been acknowledged,” says Julius Epstein, one of the three screenwriters who got credit for turning Everybody Comes to Rick’s into a movie.

WHAT IS A MOVIE SET LIKE? A movie set can be compared to a cruise ship, a desert island, or a long coach journey in an eighteenth century novel. The actors are marooned together and must make it through the days as well as they can. At best, a burst of emotion in front of the camera is followed by an hour of waiting. At worst, there is nothing but tedium. Alliances spring up. So do animosities. When the movie is over, the castaways usually disappear into their private lives as if they had never met.

HUMPHREY BOGART (Rick Blaine)

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

  • The beginning: Bogart was born in New York, at the turn of the century, into a genteel world that had more tennis than gangsters. His father, Belmont DeForest Bogart, was a doctor with inherited money and a Riverside Drive practice. His mother, Maud Humphrey, was a successful illustrator and artist. Humphrey Bogart died in 1957.
  • His career: After 11 years and 42 films, Bogart, at the age of 42, had become a star three months earlier with The Maltese Falcon. On the other hand, Ingrid Bergman was a star at the age of twenty.
  • A passion for chess: The solitary chess game Rick is playing when the camera first focuses on him in Casablanca was a real game Bogart was playing by mail with Irving Kovner of Brooklyn. Bogart would play chess with anyone at any time, and, when he was making Casablanca, he was also doing his patriotic duty by playing a number of mail games with sailors in the U.S. Navy.

UPDATE: The lovely China Machado passed away in late 2016 (see our blog -- http://www.myadea.com/blogs/blog/a-non-caucasian-model-breaks-through­)

Shaun Nelson-Henrick            TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK

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1 Response

James P. Healy
James P. Healy

January 23, 2017

Hello, Shaun – Well, I think I would have enjoyed the movie even more had I known these tidbits beforehand. Jim

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