Monday, September 14, 2009

Bogart, Bergman, and Henreid...none wanted to be in "Casablanca"

Today, Casablanca is one of the best-loved movies of all time, so it's hard to believe that its three main stars didn't want to be in it.

Bergman, still relatively new to Hollywood, had her sights set on the role of Marie in Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.  Gary Cooper and Vera Zorina had been cast, which disappointed Bergman who had been author Hemingway's choice to play Maria. For Bergman, filming Casablanca was an ordeal to get through as quickly and pleasantly as possible. Although she had no real conflicts with Bogart, Bergman didn't sense any real camaraderie with her chain-smoking costar. Another problem for Bergman and the other actors was that the script wasn't completed when filming started. No one knew what was happening, which caused Bergman some anxiety. She didn't know which actor she would end up with in the end. She assumed it would be Bogart because he had the male lead, but we all know how that turned out.

Zorina dropped out of For Whom the Bell Tolls, so Bergman eventually got the role she wanted, the one she thought was the role of a lifetime.  For Whom the Bell Tolls was a big hit and one of the biggest productions of 1942, and Bergman received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance, but it hasn't weathered the years nearly as well as Casablanca. For years, the popularity of Casablanca alluded Bergman until she finally viewed the film objectively for herself. She realized that it really was a great film and audiences had been right to praise it as such

Henreid started out his career in America as Paul Von Henreid, appearing in Goodbye Mr. Chips and several other films under his given name. By 1940, he was being billed as Paul Henreid and earnestly pursuing a career in Hollywood as a leading man. When he was offered the role of Victor Lazlo, Henreid thought playing the second male lead would do nothing for his career, especially after all the buzz from his costarring performance opposite Bette Davis in Now Voyager. It was Davis, a close friend of Henreid's, that convinced him to take the role. Davis told him there was more to the role than what was written in the script and it would be good for his career. Henreid finally agreed with Davis, but only after the studio promised him star billing equal to that of Bogart and Bergman. Davis's advice was confirmed after the film's release and Henreid went on to play male leads opposite some of Hollywood's most popular leading ladies.

Bogart's reasons are not as clear as Bergman's and Henreid's, but from all accounts, Including Bergman's, he wasn't thrilled with the idea of playing Rick. Bogart, who was just emerging as a major star in his own right, could not have anticipated the impact Casablanca would have on his career. Almost overnight, he became a romantic lead, something that had seemed impossible with his far-from-handsome face and years spent playing second leads and gangsters killed in the second reel. It didn't hurt that he had Bergman, arguably one of the screen's great beauties, convincingly acting as if she really loved him. After Casablanca, Bogart went on to become one of the biggest movie stars of all time. He is ranked number one male movie star of all time by the American Film Institute, topping fan favorites Cary Grant, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Spencer Tracy.

Only during the golden age of Hollywood could a film, regarded as just another movie that its contract players had to endure, remain so popular over 65 years after its initial release.

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