piano player who sang
"As Time Goes By" in Casablanca
you talk to East Texas movie buffs
about their favorite all-time films, the one everyone places near the top is Casablanca,
a seventy-year-old love story made in 1942 starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid
But few know that an East Texan, Dooley Wilson, played a significant
role in the film--not necessarily as a part of the plot, but as the piano player
who sang “As Time Goes By,” the classic theme which ranks among filmdom’s top
An African-American, Wilson was born as Arthur Wilson on
April 3, 1886, in Tyler.
He reportedly played in black clubs around Tyler
before moving to Chicago, where he earned his nickname in 1908, the result of
his signature Irish song, “Mr. Dooley” while playing at the Pekin Theater. He
performed the role in whiteface.
of his role in Casablanca, history has forever associated Wilson with the piano.
But Dooley never played one. He only sang and sometimes used the drums. Dooley
performed on Broadway in the early forties and his breakthrough appearance came
in the role of Little Joe, a stereotypic lazy rascal in the musical, “Cabin in
the Sky.” He also played an escaped slave in “Bloomer Girl” and his performance
of the song, “The Eagle and Me,” was included in a Smithsonian compilation of
American theater songs.
While Casablanca established Dooley’s reputation
on the silver screen, it wasn’t his first film. He had already played in more
than twenty motion pictures when the Casablanca film came along. For his role,
he was paid $350 a week. By comparison, Sydney Greenstreet was paid $3,750 a week.
you remember the film, Sam was a singer and pianist employed by Rick (Humphrey
Bogart). “As Time Goes By,” written by Herman Hupfield, appears as a continuing
musical and emotional motif throughout the film.
rendition of the song is remembered for itself, as well as for its cinematic associations.
About a year ago, a television show ranked the movies’ top songs--and “As Time
Goes By” was among the top three, along with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and
“Singing in the Rain.”
Dooley couldn’t play the piano, his playing in the film was actually done by Elliott
Carpenter, who was placed on the set where Wilson could see him and imitate his
hand movements. The only black people on the Casablanca set, Wilson and Carpenter
remained lifelong friends.
Dooley almost didn’t get the Casablanca role.
Ella Fitzgerald, a popular singer in the forties, was considered for the part
and Dooley’s Sam might have been Ella’s Molly.
Humphrey Bogart’s role as saloon owner Rick was originally supposed to be a young
Ronald Reagan. George Raft, another popular actor in the forties, was a second
Dooley died on May 30, 1953, in Los Angeles. He was buried in
Rosedale Cemetery, a favorite resting place for politicians, notably former mayors
of Los Angeles.
July 24, 2005 Column, updated May 6, 2012
Bowman of Lufkin is the author
of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached
Bob Bowman's East Texas >
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers
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