History-Making Facts About Casablanca

Casablanca is a 1942 romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid, among others. Set during World War II, the plot follows an American who must decide whether to be with the woman he loves or to help her and her husband, a Czech freedom fighter, escape the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue fighting the Germans. Upon its release, the film received three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and left behind a legacy as one of the greatest films ever made. Read on to learn what made Casablanca so impactful and get some behind-the-scenes information that few people know.

It Was Initially A Play

Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart looking out of window
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Casablanca originated from the unpublished play Everybody Come to Rick’s, which was co-written by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. In the summer of 1938, Burnett was a high school English teacher when he visited German-occupied Vienna to help his Jewish relatives smuggle out money.

He returned to the United States with his idea for an anti-Nazi play. Unfortunately, nobody on Broadway was interested in the play, which was then sold to Warner Bros. for a record-breaking $20,000. The title was then changed to Casablanca, and the rest is history.

It’s The Most-Quoted Movie Of All Time

Humphry Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

According to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Movie Quotes, Casablanca is the most quoted movie of all time. The list includes an impressive six quotes from the film which are:

“Here’s looking at you kid” (No. 5); “Louise, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship” (No. 20); “Play it Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By” (No. 28); “Round up all of the usual suspects” (No. 32); “We’ll always have Paris” (No. 43); and “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” (No. 67).

Ronald Reagan Was Rumored To Star In The Film

Young Ronald Reagan
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the first press releases about the anticipated film came out on January 5, 1942, from The Hollywood Reporter. The news platform had announced that Ann Sheridan from Angels with Dirty Faces and her Kings Row co-star, Ronald Reagan, were going to be playing the star roles of Ilsa and Rick.

Of course, this wasn’t the truth. For starters, Ronald Reagan was in the U.S. Cavalry Reserve and would be called into active duty before the film started shooting.

François Truffaut Turned Down The Chance To Remake It

Picture of François Truffaut
Georges Hernad/INA via Getty Images
Georges Hernad/INA via Getty Images

In 1973, an executive at Warner Bros. approached French New Wave director François Truffaut about spearheading a Casablanca remake. However, Truffaut turned down the offer, claiming that while Casablanca “[isn’t] my favorite Humphrey Bogart film, and I rate it much lower than The Big Sleep or To Have and Have Not … I know American students adore this film, especially the dialogue, and they know every line by heart.”

He went on to note that he would be worried about using different actors that might not be comparable to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Sam Wasn’t Actually Playing The Piano

Dooley playing Sam
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dooley Wilson, the African American actor who played the piano player Sam, was actually a drummer in real life. Although he does a convincing job making it look real, the piano in the movie is actually being played by a professional who was hidden behind a curtain. He was positioned so that Dooley could watch and copy his movements in real-time.

There was also the possibility of the role of Sam to go to a female with Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald both being considered for the character. The two pianos in the film were eventually auctioned off for $4 million, which was four times the budget for the film’s entire production.

Conrad Veidt Played An Ironic Role

Conrad Veidt as Strasser
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the film, Conrad Veidt played the evil Major Strasser, which is ironic, considering how well-known Veidt’s hatred was for Nazis. In his youth, he was forced to flee Germany with his Jewish wife because of the threat of Nazis.

It seemed a little interesting that he would play one in the movie, but Veidt had it in his contract that if he ever ended up playing a Nazi, the character had to be villainous.

Many Of The Actors Were Actual Victims Of The War

Lebeau singing
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

One of the most emotional scenes in the film is when the patrons of Rick’s Café Américain begins singing the French national anthem in defiance. One of those singing with tears in her eyes was actress Madeleine Lebeau, who played Rick Blaine’s former girlfriend, Yvonne. However, she didn’t have to look far to create those tears.

In June 1940, Lebeau and her husband Marcel Dalio, who is also in Casablanca, were forced by the German army to flee Paris. They made it to Lisbon, where they sailed to Canada before making their way to Hollywood.

‘Letters Of Transit’ Didn’t Exist

Bogart with Letters of Transit
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The film featured “letters of transit,” which were documents that would allow people to leave Casablanca. Although they play a large part in the film and seem historically accurate, they were actually just a plot device created by the screenwriters.

While people rarely mention it, it wouldn’t make any sense for the French Vichy government that controls Casablanca to recognize documents by Free French leader Charles DeGaulle. Joan Alison, one of the co-writers for Everybody Come To Rick’s, always expected people to point out the issue although few ever did.

There Were Two Television Series

David Soul in the NBC series
NBC
NBC

Considering the success that the film saw and continues to know, it’s no surprise that people were eager to try and make a television series along the same premise. In total, two different shows were aired, the first in 1955 and 1956, and the second in 1983.

The 1983 version was a prequel to the film starring Starsky & Hutch actor David Soul as a young Rick Blaine. Other supporting actors included Hector Elizondo, Scatman Crothers, and Ray Liotta. Five episodes were shot before production was shut down after the second episode aired.

There Were Rumors About Bogart And Bergman Being Intimate

Bogart and Bergman on set
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Because of Bogart’s undeniable chemistry with Bergman on screen, during filming, his wife repeatedly accused him of having an affair. Supposedly, she would confront him regularly in his dressing room between scenes, resulting in him coming on to the set in a rage for most shots.

Nevertheless, the two stars hardly spoke unless it was about work, and the one time they were friendly was during a lunch with Geraldine Fitzgerald. According to Fitzgerald, “The whole subject at lunch was how they could get out of that movie. They thought the dialogue was ridiculous and the situations were unbelievable.”

There Were Some Issues At The Beginning Of Filming

Paris flashback
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The first scene that was shot for the film was one of the flashback scenes in Paris, which proved to be an issue for stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. For Bogart, he noted, “I’m not up on this love stuff and don’t know just what to do.”

Bergman, on the other hand, had problems with the script still not being finished, leaving her unsure of how to act regarding her character’s love interest with Rick or Victor Laszlo. Director Michael Curtiz, who wasn’t clear how the script would turn out either, suggested that she “play it in between,” advice that worked out beautifully.

It Was Almost Entirely Shot In Burbank, California

Casablanca opening scene
David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG
David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG

Even though it may seem like the film was shot in the exotic location of Casablanca and in other parts of Europe, the majority of the scenes were filmed in Burbank, California.

One exception is the film’s opening scene, which shows the Nazi Heinrich Strasser flying past an airplane hanger, which was shot at Van Nuys Airport in Los Los Angeles. Even the final scene on the tarmac ended up being filmed at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

The Film’s Pacing Aligned With Real-Life Events

The Casablanca Conference
Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The release of Casablanca ended up being rushed by a significant amount of time. While it was initially set to be released in early 1943, it ended up premiering at the Hollywood Theater in New York City on November 26, 1942.

This was done to coincide with the Allied invasion of North Africa and the capture of Casablanca. Furthermore, the film was released on a full scale on January 23, 1943, to align with the Casablanca Conference, a meeting between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, which took place in Casablanca.

Censorship Was A Major Issue When Making The Film

Sharing drinks in Casablanca
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

During the era when Casablanca was being made, censorship played a significant role in Hollywood. In an interview, screenwriter Joseph Epstein commented, “The main thing that affected our work in those days was that we were so handcuffed by censorship.”

That didn’t stop them from trying to sneak a few curse words into the script. They wrote 50 moderate curse words into the film expecting to be able to use 25 but in reality, only got to use about two or three.

The Song “As Time Goes By” Almost Didn’t Make The Cut

Sam singing
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Composer Max Steiner wrote the music for the film and is also renowned for his work in other iconic films such as Gone with the Wind and King Kong. The now-classic song “As Time Goes By” was included in the original play, yet Steiner didn’t like it and suggested that it be excluded from the film.

However, Bergman had already shot the scene and cut her hair for another role, so the scene couldn’t be re-shot, and the song remained. After the film’s release, the song was an instant hit, with Steiner admitting that it “must have had something to attract so much attention.”

Bogart Was Playing A Real Game Of Chess, Sort Of

Bogart studying chess board
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

In the scene when Bogart’s character Rick is studying a chessboard, it’s actually a real game, although not what most people think. At one point, a photo still of the movie was found capturing this exact scene.

However, attached was a letter from Bogart to his friend in New York, indicating a particular chess move. At the time, Bogart was playing long-distance chess with a friend through the mail, which is known as correspondence chess. The board shown in the film was the one that Bogart and his friend were playing in real life.

“Play It Again, Sam” Is Not A Line In The Movie

Sam and Ilsa by the piano
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The line “Play it again, Sam” is one of the most iconic lines said by people in reference to Casablanca. However, it is never actually uttered in the film. In the scene when Sam plays “As Time Goes By,” Ilsa leans on the piano and says, “Play it once, Sam” and “Play it, Sam.”

Rick even once tells Sam to “Play it,” but nobody says that exact line. This is likely mistaken by people who are thinking of Woody Allen’s play, Play it Again, Sam, which was later turned into a film in 1972.

The Film Ran Into Some Problems In Ireland

Bogart in Casablanca
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On March 19, 1943, Casablanca was banned in Ireland for infringing on the Emergency Powers Order, which was established to preserve wartime neutrality. By portraying the Vichy France and Nazi Germany in a negative light, it was considered inappropriate.

It was later passed with cuts on June 15, 1945, after the EPO was lifted. Many of the cuts were made to the dialogue between Rick and Ilsa in regards to their love affair. A version with only one scene cut was finally released in 1974.

Tricks Were Used To Make Bogart Appear Taller

Bogart and Bergman looking at each other
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Although most people might not know this, Humphrey Bogart stood at 5′ 8″ tall. While this might not usually be a problem for an actor, unfortunately, his co-star Ingrid Bergman stood almost a whole two inches taller than him!

Not wanting his female lead to be taller than Bergman, director Michael Curtiz had to come up with creative ways to make Bogart taller. This usually involved him standing on blocks or sitting on extra cushions when the two shared a scene.

How Times Have Changed

Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

In the 1980s, the film’s script was sent to readers at a variety of different major studios and production companies. However, it was under its original title, Everybody Come to Rick’s. While some of the readers immediately recognized the script as Casablanca, a startling number of them did not.

Many went on to complain that the script wasn’t good enough to make a decent film, others were convinced that the plot was too dated, and some went so far to claim that there was too much dialogue and not enough intimacy.