Friday, November 30, 2012

Here's looking at you, Katz

In the summer of 1938 a New York City schoolteacher, Murray Burnett, and his wife, Joan Alison, made a trip to Vienna to visit relatives.  It was just after the Anschluss and the Nazi's were now in charge. Little is known of the couple's experiences there.

On their return trip to America they stopped on the French Riviera where they frequented a bar (Cafe Americain) that featured a black American jazz pianist who played the hit tune As Time Goes By.

Out of this trip a play was produced, Everybody Comes to Rick's, which told a story of a jaded American saloonkeeper who eventually ends up helping an anti-Nazi Czech journalist escape the clutches of the Nazi's in Free French Casablanca in 1941.  The Czech, Victor Laszlo, flees with the woman Rick loves, an American named Lois.

The play was not staged until 1991, in London, and closed after a short run.  However, the playwrights sold the rights to it to Warner Bros. pictures, and Julius and Philip Epstein and Howard Koch revised it--among other things the love interest of Rick became a Norwegian named Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman--for a film released at the end of 1942.

It won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay in 1943. It also beat out another film nominated that year that featured a crusading anti-Nazi, Watch on the Rhine.  A screenplay that had been adapted by Dashiell Hammett from a Broadway play written by his love interest, Lillian Hellman.

Therein lies a most interesting non-coincidence.  One that HSIB readers will hear more of.

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