Origins: “Casablanca”

You must remember this:  Casablanca is a classic movie.  But did you know this?  Casablanca had less than auspicious beginnings.

Casablanca began as a play titled Everybody Comes to Rick’s written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison in the late 1930s.  Although the play was not produced, it caught the attention of Warner Brothers.  Renamed Casablanca, the film takes place in early December 1941 — right before the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7th that brought the United States into World War II.

Casablanca premiered in late November 1942, a couple of weeks after the Allies launched Operation Torch to prevent the Nazis from taking over North Africa.  Timeliness, after all, is next to godliness in show business.

Three musical hallmarks of Casablanca originated in Everybody Comes to Rick’s:  Victor Laszlo leading the singing of La Marseillaise (French national anthem), the song As Time Goes By, and a black piano player.

Humphrey Bogart starred as Rick Blaine in Casablanca along with Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa Lund and Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo.

Everybody Comes to Rick’s saw life nearly 50 years after Casablanca premiered.  In 1991, the Whitehall Theatre in London showcased the creation of Burnett and Alison.

On rogerebert.com, film critic extraordinaire Roger Ebert explained the low expectations for Casablanca.

“No one making Casablanca thought they were making a great movie. It was simply another Warner Bros. release. It was an ‘A list’ picture, to be sure (Bogart, Bergman and Paul Henreid were stars, and no better cast of supporting actors could have been assembled on the Warners lot than Peter Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet [sic — the actor’s name is commonly known as Sydney Greenstreet], Claude Rains and Dooley Wilson). But it was made on a tight budget and released with small expectations. Everyone involved in the film had been, and would be, in dozens of other films made under similar circumstances, and the greatness of “Casablanca” was largely the result of happy chance.

The screenplay was adapted from a play of no great consequence; memoirs tell of scraps of dialogue jotted down and rushed over to the set. What must have helped is that the characters were firmly established in the minds of the writers, and they were characters so close to the screen personas of the actors that it was hard to write dialogue in the wrong tone.”

No matter your favorite hallmark of Casablanca, it would not have happened without Everybody Comes To Rick’s.

Not Ilsa asking Sam to play As Time Goes By.

Not Rick telling Ilsa, Here’s looking at you, kid.

Not Victor Laszlo defying the Nazis by ordering the band to play La Marseillaise.

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