CASABLANCA: A Story of Émigrés

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A much-beloved film, Casablanca (1943) charmed moviegoers upon its release with its story of intrigue and romance involving the three main characters, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid). Yet, as this clipping from Paul Henreid’s scrapbook indicates, the film also resonated with American audiences for other reasons, including the country’s increasing involvement in a political conflict that had forced the migration of vast numbers of people across the globe.

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While the plot of Casablanca traces the movements of European refugees through Morocco, a look at the actors involved in the production also tells a story of émigrés. Hollywood was a haven for artists fleeing Europe during World War II, as well as for many foreign filmmakers desperate to pursue their craft. Together they settled comfortably into a community that had earlier welcomed émigrés like F.W. Murnau, Greta Garbo, Ernst Lubitsch, Conrad Veidt and Marlene Dietrich. Records indicate that actors of 34 different nationalities participated in the film. Among the newly arrived who performed in Casablanca were Ingrid Bergman (Sweden), Paul Henreid (Austria), Helmut Dantine (Austria) and Madeleine LeBeau (France). Pictured below is the identification card for Paul Henreid, who immigrated to the United States in 1940.  

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Mirroring his real-life voyage from war-torn Europe to a new land, in Casablanca Henreid plays an exiled Czech resistance leader, desperate to escape Nazi-occupied territory. Shown below are two pages from Henreid’s annotated script from the film. The second page shows Henreid’s notes for his encounter with Bogart, whose character holds the highly sought-after letters of transit that will allow passage out of Morocco.

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The Paul Henreid papers, which also document the actor’s political activities, are part of Special Collections at the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library. More stories of Hollywood’s émigré filmmakers can be found in Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950, an exhibition co-presented by the Academy and on view at the Skirball Cultural Center from October 23, 2014 - March 1, 2015.

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