Casablanca: The city and the movie 70 years ago

To the Academy Awards: The film turns 70, so Photo: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the climatic airport scene

WASHINGTON, February 5, 2013 — Casablanca, The City

Most Americans may not have heard of Casablanca before World War II. However, awareness of this city shot to a pinnacle when, 70 years ago this week, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt flew across a dangerous ocean to hold a meeting in this largest city of Morocco.  

In making this one trip to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other Allied leaders, FDR set five presidential precedents:   

Winston Church and FDR met in Casablanca

1. No president since Lincoln had visited a battle theater in time of war

2. No president had left the United States in wartime.

3. No president had ever traveled in an airplane.

4. No president had ever been to Africa.

5. No president had ever held a press conference under a protective umbrella of fighter planes.

FDR landed in Casablanca just a few hours after Prime Minister Churchill. The two leaders talked war plans and goals from 7 that night until 3 in the morning in a Casablanca hotel surrounded by barbed wire and military security guards. On the tenth day, the leaders met with the press. Roosevelt and Churchill  announced that they had reached “complete agreement” on their 1943 war plans and on the goal for nothing short of  “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers.

The Movie  

The Warner Bros. motion picture studio benefited greatly from the meeting taking place in Morocco. On the previous Thanksgiving, the studio had released a movie titled “Casablanca” for a special showing at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. Interest in the film burgeoned for American moviegoers as they read about this mysterious city on the front pages of their daily newspapers.

Set in WWII Casablanca, this motion picture would go on to win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1943. Humphrey Bogart, cast in his first romantic role, played the cynical nightclub owner Rick Blaine opposite the tender and beautiful Ingrid Bergman. With Claude Rains, Sidney Greenstreet, Paul Henreid, and Peter Lorre, this cast offered a not to be forgotten assemblage of characters in a film with the greatest collection of notable, quotable lines.  

Despite the fact that its script was running just a day or two ahead of shooting, everything about the film seemed to come together with an amazing coherence. Not the least of which was the selection of its theme song, “As Time Goes By.”  

The Song

“You must remember this,” begins the song, and yet it was all but forgotten. Having been written in 1931, and sung in the stage play, “Everybody’s Welcome,” the song was recorded by a popular crooner and sold only a few thousand copies.

Its composer, Herman “Dodo” Hupfield, had thought his career to be over after that. But Warner Bros., needing a love theme for Bogart and Bergman, fished the ten-year-old sheet music out of its files,  

This love song was to be sung in the picture by Arthur “Dooley” Wilson. Mr. Wilson had taken the Irish sounding nickname, “Dooley,” because he enjoyed a minor career singing, in white face, Irish songs.  

Max Steiner, famous for composing such soundtracks as “Gone With the Wind,” wanted the studio to ditch the song. He was fresh off having written the love theme for “Now Voyager” with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid who plays Victor Lazlo, the Resistance hero in “Casablanca.”

But by the time Mr. Steiner was free from other commitments, the song had not only been woven into the backdrop of a few scenes, but also had been specifically named: once when Ilsa requests, “Play it, Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By’” and another time when she tells Rick, “There’s nobody in the world who can play ‘As Time Goes By’ like Sam.”

Unfortunately, however, Dooley Wilson’s version, which might have sold a million copies, was never released. It is one of the sad show business stories of bad timing that in1943, the musicians’ strike from the year before was still in effect.

James C. Petrillo, president of the American Federation of Musicians, had notified record companies that  he would no longer allow them to make recordings which could be played over and over on radios and juke boxes without benefit to the artists and performers.

Consequently, the 1931 original Rudy Vallee record was reissued, and “As Time Goes By” lodged on the Hit Parade for an amazing 21 weeks, several of those in the number one slot,

One can only hope that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans some kind of  recognition of the 70-year anniversary of the release of this classic American motion picture at its 85th Academy Awards ceremony on the 24th of this month.

“Casablanca” opened 70 years ago this year and is still on more Best Picture lists than any other motion picture.

So come on, Hollywood, you must remember this.

Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as the legendary Paul Harvey, White House speechwriter/Columnist William Safire, and Shirley Povich. dean of American sportswriters.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Vance Garnett

Vance Garnett is an eclectic observer of life, politics and sports. 

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