“Play it, Sam… of all the gin joints… we’ll always have… a hill of beans…”
Michael Curtiz . 1942
When Reagan slept in The White House, an anti-Bedtime For Bonzo factoid began insisting he had been set as Rick opposite Ann Sheridan. However, there is no mention of Reagan (only Sheridan) in any Warners memos of the period. The origin of the canard would appear to be a mistaken publicity release in January 1942… and even then, it was for another of his eternal second banana roles as Victor Laszlo.
The actual truth of the matter is that Reagan was never available for Rick. He had been summoned to the US Cavalry Reserve as soon as he finished Desperate Journey.
Warner’s production chief Hal Wallis paid $20,000 in 1941 for the never produced play, Everybody Comes To Rick’s – on the say-so of his story editor Irene Lee. Wallis always felt Bogart was the ideal Rick – and refused the big boss Jack Warner’s idea of George Brent, Arthur Kennedy or Dennis Morgan. And forget George Raft! “I don’t think,” said Wallis, “he should do just what he wants to do when he wants to do it.” Raft immediately quit the studio. The brothers Warner didn’t care. They had Bogie!
When the film won Best Picture, Wallis and Warner raced top the stage. Warner won, took the Oscar – and Hal never spoke to him again.
Producer Robert Buckner called Rick:
one-part Scott Fitzgerald
and a dash of cafe Christ.”
With Rhett Butler’s philosophy “in, at least, once instance, word for word,” noted David Selznick in praising the movie. (Bogie improvised: “Here’s looking at you, kid”).
Any idea of Sheridan’s famous oomph ceased once Rick’s old American flame, Lois, became European Ilsa. Wallis thought of Hedy Lamarr; he even re-titled the play, Casablanca , due to her successfulAlgiers, 1938. “Too complex,” said Lamarrvellous, an even worse judge of writing than men (she wed six). “Had I selected Casablanca, it might have changed the direction of my career.” She only selected it – for a radio re-run. With Alan Ladd.
Wallis next fancied Paris darlings Edwige Feuillère and Michèle Morgan, until testing their Engleesh. Nor was he smitten with Tamara Toumanova (future wife of writer Casey Robinson, hired to add a romantic touch to the script). Wallis then sent co-writer Julius Epstein to sweet-talk Selznick into releasing Ingrid Bergman.
“Tell him the story!”
“What story?” yelled Epstein.
“We haven’t worked it out yet.”
“Wing it,” said Wallis.
Epstein winged, flying blind for 30 minutese for 30 minutes until saying: “Oh the hell with it. It’s gonna be a lot like Algiers, lots of cigarette smoke and guitar music.”
Selznick finally looked up from his lunch: “OK, you got Bergman.” She signed on April 14, 1942 – in an exchange arrangement for Olivia De Havilland.
“Ingrid for $25,000, me for $50,000 – that’s how I lost it,” recalled Michèle Morgan. “Jack Warner objected to RKO’s loan fee for me. For compensation, they gave me Passage to Marseille with Bogart.” Not so memorable. As Lamarr had commented: “There’s a lot of ifs and buts in being an actress.”
Victor Laszlo . Convinced that RKO’s Paul Henreid – “a bit of a ham” yet badly wanted by MGM – would never agree to be Laszlo, Wallis looked at Jean-Pierre Aumont, Joseph Cotten, Philip Dorn, Ian Hunter, Dean Jagger, Herbert Marshall. (Henreid, full name Paul George Julius Henreid Ritter von Wassel-Waldingau, died 13 days before MGM’s 50th anniversary re-issue of the film),
Major Strasser . Director Otto Preminger was first seen for the Nazi Major Strasser – but Michael Curiz felt he was far too close to the bull-necked Nazi cliché. (A year later, Otto The Ogre was directing himself as exactly that cliche in the weak adaptation of the Broadway hit, Margin For Error). Raymond Burr next tested as Strasser but Conrad Veidt won the role and became the most expensive cast member – being loaned from MGM..
And Play-it-Sam (never Play-it-again-Sam)
was nearly Play-it-Samantha…
Hal Wallis juggled awhile between New York chanteuse Hazel Scott, the jazzy Ella Fitzgerald and a newcomer on the LA club scene, a certain Elena Horn – alias Bill Cosby’s favourite chanteuse, Lena Horne. Wallis then switched to Clarence Muse before loaning Paramount’s Dooley Wilson (“he isn’t ideal but”… the drummer, couldn’t even play piano) for $500 a week for seven weeks. More money than Peter Lorre got.
Muse played Sam in the first TV series version, 1955-1956, axed after four episodes – one less than the equally painful 1983 series. First, Charles McGraw, then David Soul, were the tele-Ricks. Marcel Dalio, who was Bogie’s croupier, Emil, was Renaud (aka Claude Rains’ Renault) opposite McGraw. Two other originals, Chicagoan Dan Seymour and Austrias Ludwig Stossel, from the 34 nationalities featured in the classic, also appeared and not just in the stock footage from ’42.
Promised equal billing with Bogart and Bergman, Henreid signed on for $25,000, matching Bergman. Michael Curtiz told anyone who listened that he only directed the film for the money. He got double Bogart’s $36,667 – which covered having Bogie dub in Wallis’ re-written climactic line to the $950,000 Production 410: “Our expenses (pause ) – Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The first script – by Wally Kline (Wallis’ brother-in-law) and Aenas MacKenzie – was a mess. While Bogie went Across The Pacific, 1942, as Rick Leland, a re-run Sam Spade and model forCasablanca‘s Rick Blaine. Wallis ran for help to The Boys – Phil and Julie . The twin scenarists Philip and Julius Epstein.
“Now everyone says they wrote scenes,” Julie told me in Deauville, France, in 1984. Two did, Koch and Robinson, but only The Boys worked on it ten hours a day. For $15,208 each. (Koch, who claimed it as his script, got $4,200 for a tune-up).
“Oh, it’s such a phoney picture,” insisted Julie about the American Film Institute’s #2 film of all time. “Not one word of truth in it! There never were letters of transit. Germans never wore uniform in Casablanca, that was part of the Vichy agreement. But we didn’t know what was going in Casablanca. We didn’t even know where Casablanca was! [Only Dooley Wilson had been there].
“I can’t understand the picture’s staying power. It’s camp! It’s kitsch! [Pause]. If it was made today, line for line, with each performance just as good, it would be laughed off the screen.
“Frankly and honestly,
it’s just… slick shit!”