Check out the beauty of the “Play it Again Sam” Piano from Casablanca in color. The piano recently sold at auction at Bonhams for… $3,413,000. I bet the guy who bid $3,412000 gave a sigh of relief. Read more about Sam and the Piano’s history below…
Sam’s piano is central to both the plot and the overall mood of Casablanca. Many of the major plot machinations take place on or near the piano, and Sam’s tasteful melodies frame every scene in Rick’s.
It’s Rick’s place, but Sam (Dooley Wilson) is the star attraction (earning 10% of the profits, we later learn), and his music dominates the room. Moments after the oily Ugarte (Peter Lorre) gives Rick (Humphrey Bogart) the transit papers to hold, Sam leads the cafe in a boisterous rendition of the novelty tune, “Knock on Wood.” In the middle of this performance, Rick casually walks up to the piano, opens the lid from the rear and slides the stolen transit papers inside.
About 12 minutes later, Victor (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walk into Rick’s, and Sam again is at the piano, this time playing a solo tune; he falters just a bit as he catches sight of Ilsa. Moments later, Ilsa approaches him and asks him to play “As Time Goes By.” He does so, stopping only when Rick comes storming out to say, “Sam, I thought I told you never to play that song….”
Sam does play the song a few scenes later, at Rick’s behest (“Play it!” Rick snarls, not “Play it again, Sam,” as is often thought) as Rick drowns his sorrows and remembers his brief, passionate affair with Ilsa in Paris. – Via Bonhams.com
Here’s one of the more famous scenes with the piano…
The History of the Piano:
This piano and another were pulled from the Warner Bros. prop room for the film. George James Hopkins, the set decorator on this and many other Warner Bros. films, checked out a book from the Warner Bros. reference library, La decoration Marocaine to help him design the look of the film. Inspired by the patterns and colors illustrated in this book, Hopkins created the elaborate Moroccan designs that grace the piano.
The piano’s lid has been altered to accommodate a pivotal plot point. Even in the stage version, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, the piano was always the hiding point for Ugarte’s transit papers.
In the film, however, the writers come up with the clever “misdirect” of having Rick hide them in plain sight of the entire room by depositing the papers quickly under the lid of the upright as Sam plays. The only way this works, however, is if the lid opens from the rear: otherwise Rick would have to reach over Sam’s shoulder to hide the papers, a hardly subtle move.
The solution to this staging problem was to have the prop department completely remove the top of the piano, leaving the piece secured by a hook and eye only. – Via Bonhams.com
Play it Again Arthur
Sam was played by Arthur “Dooley” Wilson (April 3, 1886 – May 30, 1953) who was an American actor and singer.
Wilson was a drummer and singer who led his own band in the 1920s, touring nightclubs in London and Paris. In the 1930s he took up acting, playing supporting roles onstage on Broadway and in a series of modest films. His role in Casablanca was by far his most prominent, but his other films included My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope, Stormy Weather (1943) with Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers, and the western Passage West (1951).
He received the nickname “Dooley” while working in the Pekin Theatre in Chicago, circa 1908, because of his then-signature Irish song “Mr. Dooley”, which he performed in whiteface.
Wilson was a singer and drummer, but not a pianist. Sam’s piano playing in the film was performed by Elliot Carpenter, who was placed where Wilson could see and imitate his hand movements. Carpenter was the only other black person on the Casablanca set, and the two remained friends for the rest of Wilson’s life. For his role as Sam in Casablanca, Wilson was paid $350 a week for seven weeks, although other reports say that he was paid $500 a week.
Dooley, who was on the board of the Negro Actors Guild of America, died on May 30, 1953, shortly after he retired from show business. – Via Wikipedia.com