Dooley Wilson

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Dooley Wilson
Wilson in 1945
Arthur Wilson

(1886-04-03)April 3, 1886
DiedMay 30, 1953(1953-05-30) (aged 67)
Resting placeAngelus-Rosedale Cemetery
  • Actor
  • singer
  • musician
Years active1893–1952
Spouse(s)Estelle Williams
(m. 19??; his death 1953)

Arthur "Dooley" Wilson (April 3, 1886 – May 30, 1953) was an American actor, singer and musician who is best remembered for his portrayal of Sam in the 1942 film Casablanca. In that romantic drama, he performs its theme song "As Time Goes By".

Wilson was a drummer and singer[1] who led his own band in the 1920s, touring nightclubs in London and Paris. In the 1930s he took up acting, playing supporting roles onstage on Broadway and in a series of modest films. His role in Casablanca was by far his most prominent, but his other films included My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope, Stormy Weather (1943) with Lena Horne and the Nicholas Brothers, and the Western Passage West (1951).[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Wilson starring in the Federal Theatre Project production of The Show-Off (1937)

Arthur Wilson was born in Tyler, Texas,[3] the youngest of five children. At age seven, the year of his father's death, he began to earn a living by performing in churches in Tyler. When he was eight years old he was earning $18 a week, singing and playing in tent shows. By 1908 he was in Chicago in the repertory company of the Pekin Theatre, the first legitimate black theatre in the United States. By then he had earned the nickname "Dooley", for his whiteface impersonation of an Irishman singing a song called "Mr. Dooley".[4]: 142–143 

Wilson as Fat Joe in the Federal Theatre Project revival of Eugene O'Neill's The Long Voyage Home, comprised in the production One-Act Plays of the Sea (1937)

Part of the emerging African American theatre scene, Wilson worked with the Anita Bush company in New York City in 1914 and with Charles Gilpin's stock company at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem in 1915.[4]: 143  He performed in James Reese Europe's band, and after World War I he toured Europe with his own band, The Red Devils, throughout the 1920s.[3]

Wilson as Androcles in the Federal Theatre Project production of Androcles and the Lion (1938)

Working in the U.S. again during the Great Depression, Wilson starred in Conjur' Man Dies (1936) and other plays for the Federal Theatre Project's Negro Theatre Unit, then under the direction of John Houseman. His breakthrough role came in 1940, with his portrayal of Little Joe in the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky. This won him a contract with Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. He found himself playing Pullman porters while his stage role in the MGM film adaptation of Cabin in the Sky was played by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.[4]: 143–144 


Wilson as the nightclub singer Sam in Casablanca (1942)

In May 1942, Warner Bros. was casting its production of Casablanca and borrowed Wilson from Paramount Pictures for seven weeks at $500 a week. Per the studio custom of the day, Wilson received his contract salary, $350 per week, and Paramount kept the balance.[4]: 144 

Wilson was cast in the role of Sam, a singer and pianist employed by nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart). Wilson performs the Herman Hupfeld song "As Time Goes By", a continuing musical and emotional motif throughout the film. According to Aljean Harmetz, Variety singled out Wilson for the effectiveness of the song, and The Hollywood Reporter said he created "something joyous". The phrase "Play it again, Sam", commonly believed to be a quote from the film, is never heard in Casablanca. The line was, "Play it, once, Sam." In the film, Wilson as Sam performs several other songs for the cafe audience: "It Had To Be You", "Shine", "Knock on Wood", "Avalon" and "Parlez-moi d'amour".[5]

Wilson was a singer and drummer, but not a pianist. The piano music for the film was played off-screen, either by Elliot Carpenter or Jean Plummer, and dubbed.[6]

Later life and career[edit]

Wilson was cast in the film version of Stormy Weather (1943), as Gabe Tucker, the best friend of Bill Williamson (Bill "Bojangles" Robinson). It was the second all-black cast motion picture made by a major studio in the 1940s, after Cabin in the Sky.[7]

Margaret Douglass, Wilson, and Joan McCracken in the Broadway musical Bloomer Girl (1944)

Back on Broadway, Wilson played Pompey, an escaped slave, in the musical Bloomer Girl (1944–46).[8] His performance of the song "The Eagle and Me" in this show was selected by Dwight Blocker Bowers for inclusion in a Smithsonian recordings compilation, American Musical Theatre.[9] Later, Wilson played the role of Bill Jackson on the television situation comedy Beulah during its 1951–52 season.[10] Wilson was on the executive board of the Negro Actors Guild of America.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Wilson died May 30, 1953, of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He had become ill two years earlier while performing in a New York stage production of Harvey.[11][12][13][14]

In January 2017, Wilson's hometown of Tyler, Texas dedicated a memorial marker to him on its Half Mile of History.[15]


Year Title Role Sources
1939 Keep Punching Baron Skinner [3][16]
1942 My Favorite Blonde Porter [7]
Take a Letter, Darling Moses [7]
Night in New Orleans Shadrach Jones [7]
Cairo Hector [7]
Casablanca Sam [7]
1943 Two Tickets to London Accordionist [7]
Stormy Weather Gabe Tucker [7]
Higher and Higher Oscar [7]
1944 Seven Days Ashore Jason [7]
1948 Triple Threat Porter Offscreen credit[7]
Racing Luck Abe [7]
1949 Knock on Any Door Piano player Offscreen credit[7]
Come to the Stable Anthony James [7]
Free for All Aristotle [7]
Tell It to the Judge Pullman porter Offscreen credit[7]
1950 No Man of Her Own Dining car waiter Offscreen credit[7]
Father Is a Bachelor Blue Offscreen credit[7]
1951 Passage West Rainbow [7]
1951–1952 Beulah Bill Jackson TV series[10]


  1. ^ "Obituaries: Dooley Wilson". Variety. June 10, 1953. p. 83. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  2. ^ Otfinoski, Steven (May 14, 2014). African Americans in the Performing Arts. Checkmark Books. pp. 244–245. ISBN 978-0816078387. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Charles, John. "Biography for Dooley Wilson". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved November 5, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Harmetz, Aljean (November 26, 1992). Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca—Bogart, Bergman, and World War II. New York: Hyperion. p. 144. ISBN 978-1562829414.
  5. ^ "Casablanca (1942) Soundtrack and Complete List of Songs". What-song. Retrieved November 5, 2017.
  6. ^ Wallace, Robert. "Who Played It Again, Sam? The Three Pianists of 'Casablanca'". American Federation of Musicians; Local 47. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Dooley Wilson". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  8. ^ "Bloomer Girl". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  9. ^ Bowers, Dwight Blocker (ed.) American Musical Theatre: Shows, Songs, and Stars; Smithsonian Collection of Recordings, Washington, D.C., 1989.
  10. ^ a b Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (October 12, 1988). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946–Present (4th ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 77. ISBN 978-0345356109.
  11. ^ "Actor Dooley Wilson Dies at Age of 67". Yuma Sun. United Press International. June 1, 1953. p. 5.
  12. ^ Schildcrout, Jordan (September 4, 2019). In the Long Run: A Cultural History of Broadway's Hit Plays. Routledge. ISBN 978-0429560392. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  13. ^ Hardman, Peggy (June 15, 2010). "Arthur [Dooley] Wilson". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  14. ^ Rea, E. B. (April 17, 1943). "Dooley Wilson, Newest Star to Rise in Film Skies, Gets Eighth Good Role". The Afro American. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  15. ^ Harper, Faith (January 10, 2017). "Dooley Wilson, actor known as Sam in Casablanca, honored with downtown marker". Tyler Morning Telegraph. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
  16. ^ "Keep Punching". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved February 25, 2018.

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