"Howard Koch, Julius Epstein, Frank Miller Interview" May, 1995
By Eliot Stein of "STEIN ONLINE" on COMPUSERVE
(C) COPYRIGHT 1995 ELIOT STEIN/HOLLYWOOD HOTLINE INC.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST Good Evening. Welcome to this very special edition of the "Stein Online" TALK SHOW on CompuServe: "CASABLANCA: The Online Conference." Over the next three hours we will be talking with the original co-writers of the film, Howard Koch and Julius Epstein. We will also be joined by an expert on the film, Frank Miller, author of "CASABLANCA: As Time Goes By." We are interviewing Howard Koch, co-writer of the film, "CASABLANCA." What is it like knowing that a creative work you did over 50 years ago still brings incredible joy to millions of people?
HOWARD KOCH: I'm so happy to know that people still enjoy what I've done and I hope they continue!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: What did you think of the unpublished play, "Everybody Comes to Rick's" when you were first handed to you?
HOWARD KOCH: I enjoyed both the stage and movie field back then... I hoped that it could be transferred from the play into a movie. I knew it would reach more people as a movie.
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: What did you like the best about the play?
HOWARD KOCH: The characterizations of Bogart and Bergman had incredible potential of making a great movie...When we began we didn't have a finished script...Ingrid Bergman came to me and said, "Which man should I love more...?"I said to her, "I don't know...play them both evenly....you see we didn't have an ending, so we didn't know what was going to happen!"
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: What were Bogart and Bergman like as ordinary people?
HOWARD KOCH: Bergman was more tense and nervous than the American actors she was playing opposite. She wasn't used to playing without a finished script.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: This is a show-off's question, and I hesitate to ask it. I've always been intrigued by the air of conspiracy which permeates CASABLANCA. Three lines of dialogue particularly caught my attention. Ugarte: "Myself. I found myself much more reasonable." Renault: "It would never do for the Chief of Police to be caught drinking after hours and have to fine himself." Ferrari: "I shall remember to pay it to myself." Do you remember if there was a conscious intention linking these three lines which show that these wheeler-dealers even negotiate with themselves?
HOWARD KOCH: There was much corruption that we dramatized in the script...it was part of the environment of the film...It was very necessary...We didn't want to have ALL good characters...we wanted characters of all shades!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Mr. Koch....I consider it a great pleasure to have this opportunity...Actually, two (very quick) questions...1st, when you were doing the film in the script writing of CASABLANCA...had the war started yet? If so, then did you have any problems with the blatantly pro-allied point of view from the various isolationist groups then in existence? 2nd, what was Claude Rains like? I've always admired him.
HOWARD KOCH: The war was on....CASABLANCA was something that fitted in with the time it was made. Claude Raines was very sure of himself....never worried...the same with Bogart. They both had been through the making of many pictures beforehand...and they were hardened to all of the problems that arose during shooting. Bergman was not that experienced...and not having the finished script really bothered her.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Why and when did charm disappear from action and suspense movies? Mr. Koch, in your career, which actor was the best at putting what you wrote on the screen? Which director?
HOWARD KOCH: Yes...I think the pictures that are made today have certain virtues...but they lack elements that made people go to the movies once a week!...In CASABLANCA, I would say I had very little complaints...If I could have chosen the performers that made the film...I wouldn't have changed ANY of them. That's what made the film so great!...The performers were so tremendous at what they did in this film! They were born for the roles!!! Could you imagine anybody else playing those parts?
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hello Mr Koch. First of all I'd like to say that CASABLANCA is my favorite movie of all time. My question is: Were any other endings considered, and if there were, what were they?
HOWARD KOCH: The ending of the film was in the air until the very end...I was working every day on the set....I think we never really had the ending for sure...we thought of many possibilities and finally decided on the one that was in the film. That has proven to be the ending that the audience accepts!!!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: OK Mr. Koch, Do you have any stories about my grandfather, Sydney Greenstreet?
HOWARD KOCH: I'd like to be able to answer that...but I actually don't remember...other than he was exactly right for the part and fitted in extremely well...I can't remember any stories. Sorry!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hi Mr. Koch. I was just wondering if any of the film actors are still living?
HOWARD KOCH: Joy Paige --who played the young Bulgarian woman whose husband "won" with number 22, is the only one remaining. She is a recluse. Won't talk to anybody.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Koch. In the colorized version of the movie : Are the colors of the actors' clothes the same as they actually were?
HOWARD KOCH: I haven't seen the colorized version of the film. I imagine that there are people that are purists and prefer the original version only....So I can't answer that!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hello Mr. Koch. First of all, thanks for CASABLANCA! My question deals with the relationship between Rick and Sam. Even though Sam refers to him as "Boss", they seem more as peers. i.e., "We'll get drunk...go fishing." This always struck me as unusual, given the racial stereotypes of the era.
HOWARD KOCH: I was interested in developing a relationship between the two...when we were on the set together...there was always a wonderful friendly feeling. This film was needed. The way it was conveyed to the audience was special...I didn't know Dooley before the film was made...but whoever cast him certainly picked the right man! There was such a friendly feeling on the set!!!! This shows up in the picture. In more than any picture I have ever written. A great feeling on a set is essential to the success of a picture!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Am I crazy or what?? I swear I remember viewing CASABLANCA years ago and seeing Victor actually put his hand through a glass window. Lately, however, on film, TV and video, the scene is not there. He just shows up in a bandage. Did that scene exist, or did you just imply it so well that I visualized it and still think it was real?
HOWARD KOCH: I can't remember it...so I think you must have imagined it....
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Thank you for giving the world a gift as beautiful as CASABLANCA. You mentioned that problems occurred during shooting What kinds of problems did you have on the set?
HOWARD KOCH: The biggest problem was we were making a movie and still didn't have an ending. This was very worrisome. It really disturbed Ingrid Bergman....she was used to knowing how a movie ended so she could develop her character accordingly throughout the movie!!!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Have you been surprised at how the movie has become a perennial favorite?
HOWARD KOCH: Yes I am surprised....I've accepted the fact, but at the time...all we were trying to do was make a successful movie!...
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: Everybody...stay tuned for Julius Epstein...with his brother Phillip (now deceased)...they provided the great satire and humor of the film...I am thanking Howard for appearing!!!
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: We are interviewing Julius Epstein, co-writer of the film, "CASABLANCA." To ask a question, type /QUESTION. Participants will be taken in order. Julius...how did you and your brother decide that great humor and satire...was going to making this film work? After all -- it was a very serious subject!
JULIUS EPSTEIN: It worked for us in other pictures...it doesn't matter how serious a film is....the right kinds of laughs can work in any film!
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: What was the atmosphere on the set like? Tense? Friendly? Cooperative?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: In 99% of films ever made there is a certain amount of tenseness and disagreement...things went smoothly until we encountered the problem of not having an ending...things got tense...especially with Jack Warner and other executives...
ELIOT STEIN--HOST: Were there any endings considered other than the great one we all love?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: Warner had 75 writers under contract and 75 of them tried to figure out an ending!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST) Where were you when the spark came to you for the ending?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: We were driving to the studio. It came to us while we were driving!!!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What an honor. I was wondering how you got Bergman to play the part. Wasn't she under contract to another studio?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: It was called "loaning out."...We went to Selznick and told him the story of the film...He was eating soup..never looked up at us...we were throwing him some of the details of the story...we spoke for 20 minutes....we didn't even mention the character of Ingrid Bergman...I looked at Selznick and said, "IT's going to be a lot of sh** like the film ALGIERS,....he looked up for the first time and nodded...and we had Ingrid Bergman!!!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Are you surprised at the cult classic this has become? Were there any indications at the time this would be such a huge success?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: I don't understand it. At the time...every studio made a picture a week...an assembly line...This was just one of the pictures at the Warner Bros. assembly line. It really became a cult classic when Bogart died in 1955!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Epstein. 1st, do you have a favorite scene in CASABLANCA, and if so, what is it? and second, Besides (Obviously) CASABLANCA, which movie out of those you've done is your favorite?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: The scene between Bogart/Raines: Why can't you go back to America? Why CASABLANCA? I came here for the waters? "I was misinformed"!!! 3 others...."Light in the Piazza: Olivia De Havilland"..."Pete and Tillie: Matthau/Burnett"... "Reuben-Reuben"/Tom Conti...I received Academy nominations for the screenplay for the last two!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Was CASABLANCA the most personally satisfying film you have worked on? If so, why? If not, what were the problems?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: It was not the most satisfying...CASABLANCA was really concocted...There were never any "letters of transit" ...it was made up. The other films I mentioned earlier were much more realistic.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Letters of transit were made up, but there REALLY was an escape route, run by an American, which led from Marseille through various place including CASABLANCA. Did you know about this? (I'm currently writing a movie about this real story.)
JULIUS EPSTEIN: We didn't know about that!!! Best of luck with your film! Thanks!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: The enduring beauty of CASABLANCA has forever changed my view of film. Have you compared the richness of the work on the big screen with that on the video recorder? It is stunning to see Bogart & Bergman full screen. Also have you been able to appreciate the humor of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM with the neurotic Woody Allen mesmerized by the drama and still appreciate the greatness of the original work?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: I see very few pictures on the small screen...the full appreciation for a film has to take place on the big screen. I love Woody Allen...I'm a big fan and I love almost everything he does!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Where do you stand on the colorization of CASABLANCA?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: It has one great virtue---it made Bogart look prettier than Ingrid Bergman.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: How did Mr. Curtiz and the crew handle the "write as we go" approach? And why such a big hurry to proceed with a story.
JULIUS EPSTEIN: They had no choice!!! They saw the incredible potential in the play!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you feel that a movie like CASABLANCA could be made today? Also, what differences might there be?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: A few years ago...some prankster took the script of "CASABLANCA..." changed the names of the characters...sent it out, and every studio in Hollywood turned it down! The language would be impure...and we would actually see Bogart and Bergman in bed..if it was made today.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Have you ever been approached for a sequel?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: YES!!! I have turned them down. They asked 15--20 years ago...They have hired some people to develop a miniseries as a sequel to the film. That's Warner Bros. who has done that.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hello. First the comment: I was fortunate enough to have seen C. on the large screen in the beautiful Ohio theater in Columbus, Ohio. The serious question: Is C. a love story or a war story? And the whimsical question: Is that a Lockheed Lodestar firing up engines in the final airport scene?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: It was both....that's why people liked it so much!!! It was a mock-up of a plane. They used midgets in the background to keep it in perspective.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Mr. Epstein, I understand that there were actually 4-5 writers working on CASABLANCA at various times including your brother. Was this typical for that era and how did it feel not having complete control over the material, and finally, was there a rivalry between the writers.
JULIUS EPSTEIN: There was just one other writer--Casey Robinson... The screenwriters guild tried then and are still trying to get a writer more control over a picture. Casey came on at the end...basically editing our scenes...we never worked with Howard Koch in the same room...so there was never a rivalry!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Hi Mr. Epstein. Was Ingrid Bergman the first choice for the leading lady?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: As far as I know--YES!!!! Could you picture anybody else in that role ever? Absolutely not! that's why any sequel will be doomed to failure!
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Did you really mean to leave the impression with viewers that Rick and Ilsa made love before developing their strategy to leave CASABLANCA?
JULIUS EPSTEIN: Of course we did!!!! If we had the freedom we have today....we would have made it so clear... you would have heard the bed squeaking on the sound track!!!
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Well, that's a great way for Julius Epstein to go out and to bring in Frank Miller....author of "CASABLANCA: As Time Goes By" Welcome Frank!!!
FRANK MILLER: Good evening, everybody.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: We have had a great time so far!!!
FRANK MILLER: I've certainly enjoyed what I've seen of the chat thus far.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Let me tell people that you are the ultimate expert on this film and will be able to answer just about anything ---technical, creative, historical ...about the film!!!!
FRANK MILLER: Well, I hope I don't let you down.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: I want to thank everybody who has stayed with us so far!!! We are interviewing Frank Miller, author of the book, "CASABLANCA: As Time Goes By," from Turner Publishing.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: How do you feel about colorization?
FRANK MILLER: As a film buff, I don't particularly like it. I certainly would not seek out a colorized film for my personal enjoyment. But I recognize the importance of the process from a financial stand. The libraries can sell colorized films in syndication as if they were new product. And in the case of Turner, at least, that gives them the money for restoration projects like the work done on CASABLANCA.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Frank, is CASABLANCA loved on a worldwide basis? Or are we just obsessed in the U.S. with it?
FRANK MILLER: There was some resistance on its first release. It was not well-received in France. Nor was it allowed to show in Germany for years, and initially only showed there in a heavily cut version (they eliminated all references to the Nazis). But over the years, that has all changed. The film is now tremendously popular around the globe.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: How much did the director, Michael Curtiz, have to do with its success? Or was every shot already planned out for him by other people?
FRANK MILLER: Film was much more collaborative back then. This was all before the auteur theory. Curtiz planned a good deal of the film's visual effect, but with heavy input from cinematographer Arthur Edeson and producer Hal Wallis.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I loved the film and the excellent writing. Great cast, wonderful ending. How did they decide which ending to use?
FRANK MILLER: It was a combination of censorship and solid story sense. They originally planned for Rick to send Ilsa off, but did now have any idea how to do it. Then, after they started filming, Hal Wallis began to realize just how well Bogart was working out as a romantic star. They briefly considered other endings. The best possible ending would have had Bergman stay with him. But they couldn't have her leave her husband and hope to escape the wrath of the censors. The only other possibility ever considered was to have Victor killed at the airport. Then, they realized that the problem with having Ilsa leave with Victor was that they hadn't found a strong enough reason for Rick to send her away. When they realized (and nobody knows who arrived at this solution that he should send her off with Victor for the good of the cause, the ending literally wrote itself.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Both our guests tonight...co-writers Howard Koch and Julius Epstein.. EMPHASIZED that the lack of an ending caused the only problems on the set...
FRANK MILLER: There were lots of problems on the set. Arguments with Curtiz. Curtiz's bullying of lesser players. But the major issue with Ingrid Bergman was her uncertainty about how the film would end. She didn't know how to build to the ending because movies are made illogically...in end scene first/status she didn't know which man would win her. Curtiz kept telling her to play it "in-between," which is what she did. And it made the film work better than if she'd known the ending.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Mr. Miller, both previous guests talked about the ending not being done. Did the actors have a say in the writing as they often do now?
FRANK MILLER: Not really. Bogart suggested a few lines and urged the writers to give Rick a background as a freedom fighter. The first reference to the ending we know comes in a memo from another writer who worked on the script briefly: Casey Robinson. He was the first to suggest Rick's sending Ilsa off for the good of the cause. Although he may not have written the scene itself, the germ of it comes in that memo, though it's hard to tell if he's suggesting the ending or referring to something that had been brought up previously.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Where there any notable scenes filmed that ended up on the cutting room floor?
FRANK MILLER: No. There was a scene planned, after the ending, that would have shown Rick and Renault on an Allied ship just prior to the landing at CASABLANCA but plans to shoot it were scrapped when the marketing department realized they had to get the film out fast to capitalize on the liberation of North Africa.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Of all the discoveries in your research, what were some that surprised you the most?
FRANK MILLER: The biggest surprise was the one that punctured the biggest legend. Ingrid Bergman always said that she didn't know until the last day of shooting which man she went with. Well, she certainly didn't know until they shot the airport scene that finishes the film, but that was not her last day of shooting. In fact, she shot two of her most important scenes after learning that Rick would send her with Ilsa. Both the scenes at the Blue Parrot, in which she insists on staying with Victor in CASABLANCA until they can both get exit visas, and the late-night visit to Rick's apartment at the Cafe were shot after the airport scenes. All you have to do is look at the production reports.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: The lighting looks different than other films of the same time why?
FRANK MILLER It's a combination of factors. Part of it surely was Hal Wallis's vision for the film. Another part was economy. All those wonderful shadows, throwing fascinating patterns on the walls, could cover up cost-cutting. Finally, you have to look at cinematographer Arthur Edeson's earlier career. He had first made his name at Universal, shooting the classic horror films in their Frankenstein series. That's probably where he developed his sense of shadow and light, and that helps the film get its distinctive look.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I joined the conference not too long ago, and am unfamiliar with the restoration project for the film you mentioned. Can you tell us about it? Specifically, has any footage been restored to the film?
FRANK MILLER: Technicians at Turner Entertainment went back to the original negatives to create new printing elements with much more clarity than previous editions of the film. Ironically, the new negative was created to help make the colorized version possible. Colorizing requires a pristine negative. Previous prints were damaged because of the film's popularity. The printing elements had been overused. At the same time they made the new negative from which to build the colorized version, they remastered the sound for stereo. That's the version that toured the country two years ago during the film's 50th anniversary celebration.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Well, why did you write this book? Why now? What are you adding to the canon?
FRANK MILLER: I missed the third question, but I'll take on the first two. I was hired to write the book for release during the film's 50th anniversary in 1993. I got the job because I had been writing for the public relations department at Turner Broadcasting for years. One of my projects was a 50th anniversary press kit on CITIZEN KANE. That got into the hands of the book's publishers, who were looking for a writer at the time, and they decided I was the perfect choice.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: I have always been intrigued by the sub characters in the film, Karl, Ferrari ...their characters seen to evolve with time. Was this planned this way? I cannot remember other films of the era to be this way
FRANK MILLER: I think the brilliance of the writing in those roles is a product of the way the screenplay was written. The Epsteins' supplied a lot of the film's comedy, with special emphasis on the character of Renault. They loved Claude Rains, who had starred in FOUR DAUGHTERS, their first great hit at Warner Bros. The part of Renault was specially tailored to the type of sardonic wit he could play with ease. Some of the more political elements, particular the writing of Major Strasser and the shaping of Sam's character, can be credited to Howard Koch, who was brought in to strengthen that aspect of the script. The work of both sets of writers, not to mention whatever others may have been brought in to contribute a line or a scene, was put together by Curtiz and Wallis, who literally decided each morning what dialog would be shot that day. Somehow, out of this chaos came one of the screen's best and most memorable scripts.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: What did Bogart think of the movie and was the movie as popular then as it is today?
FRANK MILLER: Bogart saw the film as a great opportunity, but nobody at the time realized they were making one of the all-time great Hollywood films. It did very well at the box office (ranking number five for 1943), but, again, that was attributed to careful timing. Its New York premiere coincided with the Allied landing in North Africa and the Battle of CASABLANCA, so the free publicity helped draw crowds. The Los Angeles and national release coincided with the summit conference in--where else?--CASABLANCA. Again, free publicity. Even when it won the Oscar for Best Picture, that was considered a surprise. Everybody expected the award to go to THE SONG OF BERNADETTE. What gave the film its classic status was television screenings over the years and revivals at repertory film houses, starting with the Brattle in Cambridge, MA, in the '60s.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Do you know what was the name of the song Sam played?
FRANK MILLER: "As Time Goes By"
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Frank...tell us about the music composer not even wanting to use that song!!!
FRANK MILLER: "As Time Goes By" had been written in the '20s and had enjoyed moderate success in a recording by Rudy Vallee. But it was the favorite song Murray Burnett, one of the co-authors of the play "Everybody Goes to Rick's." He used the song as the love them for Rick and the leading lady (in the play she's named Lois). Nobody at Warner's questioned the use of that song, since the studio owned the rights anyway. When the film had been shot and Max Steiner was ready to score it, he tried to get them to change the song, claiming that it was so musically uninteresting that he couldn't work it into the score. He also may have wanted to write a new song for the film and possibly make a hit (as he had done with "It Can't Be Wrong," the song he wrote for NOW, VOYAGER). Hal Wallis was ready to make the change, but it meant reshooting some lines for Ingrid Bergman. And she had already cut her hair short for her role in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Unable to match up the shots, they had to stick with "As Time Goes By," which became a bigger hit than ever as a result of its use in this film.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Are there currently plans for a new tour of CASABLANCA?
FRANK MILLER: No, the film did quite nicely during it's 50th anniversary year, but with no anniversary to tie it to, I don't think the people at Turner would send it out again. Of course, it can still be booked by any theatre that wants it. If you want to see it on a big screen, I'd suggest talking to a local theatre owner, particularly if you have one of those summer family film festivals.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Frank...do you know how much it costs for a local theater to rent it?
FRANK MILLER: Not off the top of my head, but I doubt if it would be very expensive.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Sociological questions: Characters seem to constantly be ordering drinks in Rick's Cafe yet never finishing them. Is this indicative of the level of wealth of people in CASABLANCA at that time?
FRANK MILLER: Well, this gets a two part answer. The unfinished drinks are probably part of an age old dramatic device that generates tension or humor (depending on the piece's genre) by interrupting rituals. How often do you see a peaceful family meal consumed on film? Rarely. Secondly, the people on whom the film concentrates are refugees fleeing Europe, usually for America. Most of them have their life's savings with them, and some may be quite wealthy. From characters like Yvette and the pickpocket you get a sense of what happens to people when they get stuck in CASABLANCA for too long. They run out of money and turn to desperate measures to survive.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Notwithstanding Max Steiner's disdain for AS TIME GOES BY...I think he did an excellent job of using it in the score...seamless...Did he arrange the piano accompaniment for the onscreen singing?
FRANK MILLER: Probably not. Those were arranged and recorded before the film was shot. Dooly Wilson did not really play the piano. And he had trouble miming to the playback because they had to cut the volume whenever anybody had a line. So they placed the pianist on the set, out of camera range, and had him play to a dummy piano. Wilson then could mirror his playing.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: There Is a musical number in the beginning of the film that always seemed out of place. Do you feel the same?
FRANK MILLER: The woman was radio-singer and guitarist Corinna Mura, and her two numbers were "Tabu" and "Tango des Roses." They included her in the film, with the two numbers, for appeal in the Latin American countries, which were the main sources of international film rentals during the war. "Knock on Wood" was an original song and was the number everybody at Warners thought would become a big hit as a result of the scene in the film where everybody joins in. They were wrong.
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: Frank... I assume that a "group" number like "Knock on Wood" was probably very hip at the time circa 1942?
FRANK MILLER: It was considered a novelty number because of the way it involved the audience. It always makes me think of the Glenn Miller hit "Pennsylvania 6-5000."
ELIOT STEIN-HOST: We thank our guests Frank Miller, Howard Koch, and Julius Epstein for coming!
(C)1995 Hollywood Hotline (tm)
Go back to Vincent's "CASABLANCA" HomePage