The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"

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Lot 83W
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"

Sold for US$ 3,413,000 inc. premium
Property of various owners
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
Warner Bros., 1942. A "studio" 58-key piano on wheels, with wood and plasticine keys, likely manufactured by Kohler & Campbell, 1927, serial # 252636, with label of Richardson's of Los Angeles to interior case, and with "FNP" (for First National Pictures, which merged with Warner Bros. in 1927) marking to rear of piano. With original stool. Lid of piano hinged at center as is usual with uprights, but also entirely detached from upper case and instead secured with hook and eye (altered for the production of Casablanca so that Rick can open the piano lid from the rear and hide the transit papers). One-inch notch to center left piano leg (visible onscreen) and three small holes to piano lid (also visible onscreen). Petrified chewing gum wad stuck to underside of keyboard with faint impression of a fingerprint visible under magnification. Moroccan paint restoration executed in the early 1980s under the direction of Warner Bros. studio. Together with a signed photograph of Dooley Wilson as Sam at the piano and a copy of the film.
39 x 41 x 22 in.

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. We hear the strains of "It Had to Be You" as we first enter Rick's Café Américain, following the camera past Sam (Dooley Wilson) leading the big band, and then focusing on the variously desperate European refugees who haunt the cafe. It's Rick's place, but Sam 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 ("Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine!"), and remembers his brief, passionate affair with Ilsa in Paris.

The piano also plays a role in the greater tension between occupier and occupied: late in the film, when Sam and the band are on break, a group of German soldiers commandeer the piano and sing and play "Wacht am Rhein" loudly. In a bold move, Victor Laszlo crosses to the band and demands that they play the French anthem "La Marseillaise," and soon the band, the refugees and the staff have drowned out the Germans with their patriotic song.

The history of the piano:

This piano and another were pulled from the Warner Bros. prop room for the film (our piano still has the "FNP" marking on the verso). 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 (Paris: 1925) by Joseph de La Nézière 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 owner confirmed this information via a personal interview with Hopkins in the early 1980s.)

What sets this piano apart from the other--aside from the fact that ours appears throughout the film, rather than in a single flashback--is that the 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.

The other piano from Casablanca, which appears onscreen briefly in the Parisian flashback sequence, sold most recently at auction in 2012. The present piano, Sam's piano, has never sold at auction before, though it does have a long exhibition and publication history (see below).

Selected exhibition history:

France, Paris 1991-1992: Homage a la Warner Bros. exhibit at Centre Georges Pompidou, October 16, 1991 to March 5, 1992

United States, New York City 1992-1993: Warner Brothers: Behind the Shield at the Museum of Modern Art, June 4, 1992 to March 1, 1993

Germany, Berlin 1995: Kino - Movie – Cinema: 100 Jahre Film at Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, April 7 to July 2, 1995

United States, Burbank, CA 1996-2013: continuously on exhibition loan to Warner Bros. Studio Museum since its opening in 1996

United States, Los Angeles, CA 2004: Turner Classic Movies' In the Picture, An Exhibition at The Grove, October 4 to December 31, 2004

United States, Los Angeles, CA 2006: Celebrating Max Steiner at the Hollywood Bowl

United States, Los Angeles April 11, 2013: Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences opening of fund drive for new Museum on the LA County Museum campus

Publication history:

Webb, Michael, ed. Hollywood: Legend and Reality. (Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Catalog.) Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1986, pp 125, 148, 149

Rose, Frank. The Dream Factories Reborn. Fortune Vol 173, no. 3 (February 16, 1998), pp. 107-115.

Harmetz, Aljean. The Making of Casablanca. NY: Hyperion, 2002

Broadcast history:

"The Oprah Winfrey Show," June 10, 1997

Turner Classic Movies, "There's No Place Like Hollywood" interstitial, August-November, 2014

Turner Classic Movies, Night of Programming (Casablanca), November 18, 2014


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The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
The piano from Casablanca on which Sam plays "As Time Goes By"
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