Tag Archives: Dooley Wilson

Major Personalities in Minor Roles in ‘Casablanca’ — Part II

Poster:  70th Anniversary edition.

Poster: 70th Anniversary edition. Dooley Wilson is finally included.

Here’s a pop quiz: who was the highest paid actor on the set of “Casablanca”? It wasn’t Bogart, even though “The Maltese Falcon” had moved him into the front ranks of Warner Bros. leading men the year before. Nor was it Ingrid Bergman (she was under contract to David O. Selznick, who made her take a $7,000 cut in pay to do the picture). Nor was it Paul Henreid or, heaven knows, the wonderful Dooley Wilson. No, Conrad Veidt was the highest paid: $5,000 per week, much of which he, a grateful British citizen, donated to British war relief.

Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains:  'Oh, ve Germans must get used to all climates -- from Russsia to the Sahara.'

Conrad Veidt, Claude Rains: ‘Oh, ve Germans must get used to all climates — from Russsssia to the Sahara.’

Major Strasser is Veidt’s most famous role, but hardly his only claim to fame. He also played a leading role, the somnambulist murderer, Cesare, in “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” in 1920. In the 1930s, Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, used Veidt’s image as the model for The Joker in the original comic strip. Well-known in Germany as a staunch anti-Fascist, the Gestapo tried to assassinate him, but he escaped to England. He was subsequently blacklisted and none of his pictures were shown in Germany till after the war.

Veidt:  'You were not always so carefully neutral:  we have a complete dosssssier on you . . . '

Veidt: ‘You were not always so carefully neutral: we have a complete dosssssier on you . . . ‘

Connie Veidt never got through a Hollywood picture without getting his hair mussed.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play a character who survives the final reel.  Humphrey Bogart drills him in “Casablanca” . . .

Death of Strasser:  In the words of Daffy Duck, 'We lose more darn Nutzis that way!'

Death of Major Strasser: In the words of Daffy Duck (from ‘Plane Daffy’), ‘They lose more darn Nutzis that way!’ 

. . . and in another Bogart picture, “All Through the Night” (1941), Veidt dies in an explosion at sea (entirely his own fault, of course: a terrorist plot gone haywire). In “A Woman’s Face” (MGM, 1941), Joan Crawford, swaddled in mink, shoots him in the back at the end of a high-speed chase in horse-drawn sleighs (I’m not kidding), after which he plunges several hundred feet into the icy rapids below. Conrad Veidt’s actual death came suddenly and too soon, but under far less violent circumstances than the ignominious departures he was wont to suffer in pictures: he died of a heart attack in 1943, the year after “Casablanca” was released, at the eighth hole of the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. He was only fifty years old. He left the bulk of his estate to British charities. In typical Hollywood fashion, his name was misspelled on his death certificate.

Curt Bois does a deft turn as the reptilian pickpocket. I have great admiration for actors like Curt Bois: in a tiny role built on a single running gag, he makes a lasting impression and conveys the sense of being full of complexities. We spend less than half a minute with the little scoundrel he plays, yet those seconds are so lively, it’s hard to believe the part is as small as it actually is.

Bois was born in Berlin on April 5, 1901.  He began acting as a child and had become a popular cabaret performer in the decade before Hitler came to power.  He scored a great triumph playing the drag role in “Charley’s Aunt” in Vienna.  During the Weimar years, he toured extensively in vaudeville and cabaret throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary and Switzerland.  In Berlin, he was a popular favorite at Trude Hesterberg’s political/literary cabaret, Wilde Bühne (Wild Stage). Bois’ performing style was often compared to Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Gerald Oliver Smith, Curt Bois, Norma Varden: 'I beg of you, monsieur: watch yourself! Be on guard! This place is fuuuull of vultures! Vultures everywhere . . . everywhere!"

Gerald Oliver Smith, Curt Bois, Norma Varden: ‘I beg of you, monsieur: watch yourself! Be on guard! This place is fuuuull of vultures! Vultures everywhere . . . everywhere!’

He left Germany for Vienna in 1933; not long afterwards, he moved to Zurich, where he performed at Trude Hesterberg’s cabaret, Corso. From here, he and his wife (singer Hedi Ury) went to Paris to stay with his sister, Ilse (also a performer). In 1934, they decided to get out of Europe altogether. After a time in New York (where Bois appeared on Broadway in two shows — the first, a drama; the second, a farce), they wound up in Hollywood, where he made his American movie debut in “Hollywood Hotel” (Warner Bros., 1937) — a terrible picture, but notable for the Dick Whiting/Johnny Mercer classic, “Hooray for Hollywood.” (Mercer also has a small acting part in it.) His final picture was Wim Wenders’ “Der Himmel über Berlin” (“Wings of Desire”). He was ninety years old when he died in Berlin on Christmas Day, 1991. His eighty-year acting career is said to be the longest in history. He appeared in 183 pictures.

Then there’s the curious case of Wolfgang Zilzer, the man in the opening scene with the expired papers. Zilzer was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but raised by his German parents in Germany. In 1933, when he applied applied for a United States visa, he was astonished to learn he was already considered a U.S. citizen.

Wolfgang Zilzer as the man with expired papers.

Wolfgang Zilzer as the man with expired papers.

Zilzer appeared in more than 100 pictures, usually in uncredited roles. When he did get a credit, he most often appeared under the name of Paul Andor. The year after he appeared in “Casablanca,” he married a German Jewish actress named Lotte Palfi. Palfi had fled from Germany in 1934 and then played only bit parts for the rest of her career in America. She appears in “Casablanca” as the woman selling her diamonds in Rick’s café.

Woman Selling Her Diamonds:  But can’t you make it just a little more . . .?

Moor Buying Diamonds:  Sorry, madame, but diamonds are a drag on the market: everyone sells diamonds; there are diamonds everywhere . . . Two thousand four hundred.

Woman Selling Her Diamonds:  All right . . .

Like Curt Bois, Lotte Palfi conveys a whole life in a few words. You can tell the money isn’t enough for her to buy an exit visa, and also that she has nothing more to sell. What will become of her? She gets it all across in those two short lines.

Jacques Lory (born in Paris), Lotte Palfi Andor (born in Bochum, Germany)

Jacques Lory (born in Paris), Lotte Palfi Andor (born in Bochum, Germany). Look at the tragic anxiety in her face . . . !

Does she look familiar? She should — she played a small, very famous part 34 years later, now acting under the name of Lotte Palfi Andor. Again, the scene was about diamonds: she’s the woman who recognizes the Nazi war criminal, Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier), on West 47th Street, in the middle of New York City’s Diamond District. She was still married to Wolfgang Zilzer (a/k/a Paul Andor) at the time . . . but she divorced him in 1991 (the year of her death), because he insisted on moving back to Germany and she refused to leave New York.

Major Personalities in Minor Roles in ‘Casablanca’ — Part I

Not the original poster: I chose it because I like the portraits of the supporting cast.

Not the original poster: I chose it because I like the portraits of the supporting cast. Note that Dooley Wilson is missing.

I’ve always been struck by how few American actors are in “Casablanca” (Warner Bros., 1942). Humphrey Bogart is the only American actor in a leading role. Of the actors whose names appear in the opening credits, only he, Dooley Wilson and Joy Page were born in the United States (John Qualen, who plays Berger, was born just outside of the U.S., in Vancouver, B.C.); the rest are all Europeans. The great majority of the bit players are also foreign-born actors. Many of them led lives that were fully as interesting as the plot of “Casablanca.”  I thought it’d be interesting to identify as many as possible, with a few biographical notes.  This will necessarily run into multiple posts, and will not be — alas — a complete list.

I’ve always been partial to Emil [sic], the croupier, so I’ll start with him. He’s a Parisian Jew by the name of Marcel Dalio (nee Israel Moshe Blauschild). He was a major star in French cinema before the Occupation; he appeared in “Pépé le Moko,” “Le Grand Illusion” and “Rules of the Game.” He stayed in Paris till the very last moment (like Ilsa and Rick in the picture, the day he left, he could hear the artillery outside Paris), then escaped in a borrowed car to Orleans with his beautiful young wife. From there, they caught a freight train to Bordeaux, and thence to Lisbon — a different “tortuous, roundabout refugee trail” from the one mentioned in the opening narration, but fully as difficult. In Lisbon, Dalio bribed an official for two visas to Chile. In Mexico City, however, it was discovered that the visas were forgeries, whereupon he spent the next several weeks desperately applying for visas to any country that would take them in before the Mexican government deported them. Canada finally offered them asylum, and they left for Montreal. Eventually, friends in Hollywood arranged for Dalio and his wife to work on a picture whose working title was “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.” That picture was “Casablanca.”

Marcel Dalio as Emile, the croupier.

Marcel Dalio as Emil, the croupier. Next to him is Ellinor Vanderveer — along with Bess Flowers, she was known as “queen of the dress extras.” She appeared in 154 pictures.

Meanwhile, back in France, the Nazis marched into Paris and used Dalio’s image on posters with the caption “A Typical Jew.”  A popular movie from 1938 that featured Dalio, “The Curtain Rises,” was re-edited by the Germans to remove him from the story.

Marcel Dalio as Emil. Ellinor Vanderveer, queen of the dress extras, is beside him.

Marcel Dalio as Emil. Ellinor Vanderveer, queen of the dress extras, is beside him.

And Dalio’s wife who went through this perilous trip with him? She’s the lovely Madeleine Lebeau, who plays Humphrey Bogart’s jilted girlfriend, Yvonne, who goes over to the Nazis until Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) brings her back to her senses with a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise. Many of the extras in that scene are French refugees; their tears, including Mlle. Lebeau’s, are genuine. Lebeau divorced Dalio the same year “Casablanca” was made. She remained single until 1988, when she married an Italian nobleman, Tullio Pinelli. In his youth, Pinelli had been a cavalry officer, then a lawyer; later, he changed careers and became a novelist and noted screenwriter; he wrote many Fellini’s best pictures — “Le notte di Cabiria,” “La dolce vita” among many others. Their marriage lasted till his death in 2009.

Madeleine Lebeau as Yvonne:  Vive la France!

Lebeau as Yvonne: Vive la France!

Madeleine Lebeau is likely to win the “Casablanca” tontine — or perhaps she already has done. To the best of my knowledge, she’s the last living credited actor. For a long time, it seemed that that distinction might go to Joy Page, an American actress, who was a year younger than Lebeau, but she died in 2008. Joy Page played Annina Brandel, the wife of Jan Brandel (Helmut Dantine); they were the two Romanians trying to raise funds to purchase an exit visa. Bogart lets Dantine cheat at roulette so that Page won’t have to sell her body to Claude Rains.

Joy Page, Helmut Dantine as the young Romanian couple. 'Maybe tomorrow, we'll be on that plane . . . !'

Joy Page, Helmut Dantine as the newlywed Brandels. ‘Perhaps tomorrow, we’ll be on that plane . . . !’

Joy Page was the step-daughter of Jack Warner. “Casablanca” was her first picture. Not much of a career followed — but, then, she was not much of an actress. Her husband in the picture is played Helmut Dantine, a Viennese, whose activities as the leader of an anti-Nazi youth organization while in his teens led to a three month stint in a concentration camp. When he was released, his parents sent him to stay with friends in America. They remained in Austria and died in a concentration camp. During the war years, Dantine played a succession of Nazis, including the wounded German soldier in Mrs Miniver’s kitchen. He went on to become a producer of three late Sam Peckinpah pictures, including “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.”

Joy Page, Helmut Dantine, Claude Rains: Rains: Not here. Come to my office in the morning. Dantine: We'll be there at six! Rains: I'll be there at ten.

Joy Page, Helmut Dantine, Claude Rains:
Capt. Renault: Not here. Come to my office in the morning.
Jan Brandel: We’ll be there at six!
Capt. Renault: I’ll be there at ten.