“Here’s Looking At You, Kid.”

How many of you sit down at your computer to write a new book thinking that it will be a great story? Excitement powers your fingers on the keys and everything is great…until it’s not. Ideas start to sputter, finally ending in a whimpering mess and you have no clue where to go next. You wonder if you have any talent at all.

Storylines are difficult to create and even more difficult to maintain throughout the course of events unfolding on your pages. Why can’t you write a great novel? Why can’t you create a classic like Casablanca?

It had everything. Mystery, intrigue, conflict, romance, tortured souls and redemption- they are all in the movie. It’s no wonder that it took so many awards and has remained a favorite for the last 70 years. This amazing story, made into a movie, didn’t quite start out as the gem we see on our screens. In fact, it wasn’t even a complete script while they were filming!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Casablanca at the movie theatre. It was terrific! Not only was it great to see a brilliant film on the big screen, like it was meant to be seen, but I got to go with Will Graham and Melissa Ohnoutka (fellow writers and guests on Muse Tracks). It felt absolutely decadent to shirk our responsibilities in the middle of a work week and enter into the magical world of Morocco during World War II.

The movie was adapted from a screenplay called Everybody Comes To Rick’s. It was shot on a shoestring budget and the lead male was best known for playing tough mob guys, not romantic leads. They had the essence of a story but when filming began, no one knew where the story was going nor did they know how it would end. (Hmmm-sounds like me while I’m writing my books.) In fact, Ingrid Bergman complained quite loudly because she didn’t even know who she was really supposed to be in love with and that made her job more difficult.

The writers, Julius and Philip Epstein along with Howard Koch, wrote and re-wrote the story almost every day. The actors had no time to learn their lines prior to shooting because it literally changed with every hour. To keep themselves on tract, they would review the film shot the day before otherwise they found themselves following wrong plot turns.

Did they know they were filming a grand classic? No.

Did they know that the writing would be quoted and misquoted for the next seventy years? No.

Did they know they had a great idea that deserved hard work and a million rewrites? 

Writers don’t often sit down and create a masterpiece on the first take. I guarantee all the greats from Ernest Hemingway to Shakespeare threw away their fair share of wadded up paper and broke a quill or two out of frustration. I’ll bet some of them thought their best known works were nothing more than drivel slopped down on paper. Being a writer inherently means being plagued by doubt. Will anyone like what I’m writing? Does it make sense? Is it even a story? Trust me when I say I’ve asked every question that has run through your head and probably even a few more you haven’t thought of yet! The real question is whether you let it stop you from writing.

If something as wonderful as Casablanca was created through sheer resolve, then we should all have the determination to push through the road blocks- self created and others- to finish our own masterpieces. They may not all become classics made into film, but that doesn’t negate their worth and the satisfaction of doing something everyone wishes they could. Do you have that courage? What will you write today?

Fun Facts About Casablanca:

Nobody ever says, “Play it again, Sam.”

There were no “letters of transit” used during the war and there were never any uniformed German soldiers in Casablanca.

It is never revealed why Rick couldn’t return to America because the writers never could come up with a good reason so they left it as a mystery.

The twin brothers who wrote this are the only pair of twins to ever win an Oscar.

Dooley Wilson who played Sam, the piano player and Rick’s confidante, couldn’t play the piano in real life.

There really is a Rick’s Café in Casablanca today. It was opened by an American diplomat and the piano player plays As Time Goes By every night. The musician’s name is Isam. (Pronounced I Sam) Now that’s something you couldn’t make up!



18 Responses to “Here’s Looking At You, Kid.”

  1. Ruth Kenjura says:

    Ahh Stacey you were sooooo lucky to see it in the theater. Wish I could have skipped obligations and gone, but alas, it was not to be. I do love the movie and everything you said about plots, doubts, etc– were you in my head recently? Great post and I hope it pushed you forward on your project.


  2. I hope it will push me forward as well. I think the thoughts I posted about today are in every single writer out there- it’s what we do with those thoughts that make the difference. Wish you could have come too!


  3. jbrayweber says:

    Sorry I missed it. But I was there in spirit.
    Great post, Stacey. I love Casablanca. Love the tension and the heartbreak looming just below the surface. I also love the play on light and shadows throughout. Masterpiece, indeed!



  4. Wish you could have been there with us! It truly was wonderful seeing it on a big screen with a diet coke and a bag of popcorn…made even sweeter because we got to play hooky from our real lives!!!


  5. wmsimon says:

    I told Stacey and Melissa this one yesterday (not that I’m a CASABLANCA fanatic or anything!), but Bogart was once asked in an interview how it felt to be a sex symbol. Being Bogie, he replied, “I’m skinny, losing my hair, and I talk funny. But when Ingrid Bergman looks at you *that* way, all of a sudden you’re a sex symbol!” Always made me laugh….:)

    There were plans for a sequel titled BRAZZAVILLE (the French Garrison Rick and Captain Renault were heading for at the end of the film) but it took ‘dumb’ to a whole new level. In the proposal, it was revealed Rick was actually a U.S. Government agent undercover in Casablanca, Ilse had given birth to Rick’s son who comes looking for him (kicking the new movie off) and learns the truth about his parents. According to Hollywood legend, Jack Warner himself pronounced the synopsis ‘a load of crap!’ and shelved the project. For which, thank you, Mr. Warner.

    Back in the 1980’s, there was a proposed re-make starring Sean Penn. Warner Brothers offered him an obscene amount of money; I mean medium sized nation budget kind of money. Penn looked at the executives and asked, “Are you out of you f—-g minds????” I started to respect him as an actor over that.

    Just in case anyone is interested, an author by the name of Michael Walsh wrote a novel back in 1999 titled AS TIME GOES BY. A genuine labor of love, it answers a lot of questions: how did Rick and Sam meet and become so close? Why *couldn’t* Rick return to America? Why were Rick and Renault such friendly adversaries? What happened after the plane took off? It’s really a terrific book for those who love the movie:


    P.S. Just to show how weird Writing is, a film student at UCLA once obtained all the proper permissions and submitted the original finished screenplay under the title of the play it’s based on, EVERYBODY COMES TO RICK’S. Agents rejected him, everyone rejected it…. even Warner Brothers, who made the original. At that point in time, no one recognized it. NO ONE recognized it.

    Okay, that’s enough…. I could blow out the Blog Bandwidth today, and Jenn and Stacey would get mad at me…:)


  6. That just goes to show you how quirky and subjective this industry is!!!! Can you imagine it being passed by and not even recognized?
    Thanks for organizing the outing and giving me fresh perspective on the “stick to itness” of being a writer.


  7. ravenraye says:

    Love that movie. Although it’s not the ending I would like. Great facts about rewrites. I guess we’re all plagued with self-doubt. I know I am.

    Good inspiration to keep plodding on when we’re deep in the mire. Great post, Stacey.



  8. Thanks Raven! I’ve been fortunate enough to have read some of your work and I can say with great confidence that you have a TERRIFIC story!! Keep plodding, keep going- you have all the makings of a big hit. I know it feels like we do get mired down so deep we can’t see the forest for the trees, but look at what happened to Casablanca. It can happen to all of us.


  9. jeff salter says:

    Great article today, Stacey. I love this movie and have seen ‘some’ of the trivia. But you’ve uncovered pieces I never heard of before.
    I’m sure they borrowed the ‘letters of transit’ bit from other countries (during WW2) where it was required to have some gov’t official give you written permission to travel. It was a big deal in the black market to both sell and acquire those official documents. Can’t recall which countries, but I think Italy was one.


  10. That sounds about right. It was a great bit to have to propel the plot forward and create all sorts of tension. Gotta say, it sure was fun getting lost in the movie yesterday.


  11. So glad I got to see it with you guys! 🙂 Can’t believe I’ve somehow missed it all this years. Loved learning all the great trivia too!


  12. It was fun! I hope we can be “bad” and do something like this again! We’ll have to round up all the usual suspects. Ha!


  13. wmsimon says:

    Oh, I was waiting for someone to say that all day, Stacey!….:)


  14. It had to be said….


  15. wmsimon says:

    P.S.: ROAD TRIP! To New York!



  16. Just say when and where!!!!!


  17. […] Musetracks suggests revisits Casablanca for inspiration. […]


  18. Privat Server…

    […]“Here’s Looking At You, Kid.” « MUSETRACKS[…]…


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