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.”
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.
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 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 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.”