Everybody Comes to Rick's
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Everybody Comes to Rick's is an American play that was bought unproduced by Warner Brothers for a record figure of $20,000. It was adapted for the movie Casablanca (1942), starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Written by Americans Murray Burnett and Joan Alison in 1940, prior to the United States' entry into World War II, the play was anti-Nazi and pro-French Resistance. The film became an American classic, highly successful and ranked by many as the greatest film ever made.
Feeling they had not received full recognition for their contributions, Burnett and Alison tried to regain control of the property, but the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 1986 that they had signed away their rights in their agreement with Warner Brothers. Under their threat not to renew the agreement when the copyright reverted to them, the film company paid them each $100,000 and the right to produce the original play. It was produced in 1991 at the Whitehall Theatre in London, where it ran for six weeks.
In the summer of 1938, while on vacation from his job as English teacher at a vocational school, Murray and his wife Frances traveled to Vienna to help Jewish relatives smuggle money out of the country occupied by the Nazis since March of that year. Later, the couple visited a small town in the south of France, where they went to a nightclub overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. A black pianist played jazz for a crowd of French, Nazis, and refugees.
Burnett returned to the USA via the UK, staying a few weeks in Bournemouth. While there he started to make notes for his anti-Nazi play. In the summer of 1940, the 27-year-old teacher completed the play in six weeks with the collaboration of Joan Alison. They featured Rick, an American bar owner of the Cafe Americain in Casablanca, Morocco, whose European exiles and refugees frequent the cafe. Eventually, Rick helps an idealistic Czech resistance fighter escape with the woman Rick loves.
Soon after, Carly Wharton and Martin Gabel took an option to produce the play. But there was resistance since it might seem to some that Lois (Ilsa in the movie) "had slept with Rick in Casablanca in order to get the letters of transit."
When Burnett and Alison failed to find a Broadway producer, they sold the play to Warner Brothers for $20,000, considered a record for an unproduced play, especially by two unknown writers. A story editor, Irene Lee Diamond, had read it in manuscript in New York, and recommended it for “sophisticated hokum.”
Warner Brothers gave the script for adaptation first to screenwriter Casey Robinson, who worked on the romantic pairing of Rick and Ilse; twin-brother screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein, who worked on the overall structure and dialogue; and screenwriter Howard Koch, who worked on the politics. Only Koch was with the project during filming, when he continued to write new dialogue and scenes. The title was changed to Casablanca.
The inclusion of "As Time Goes By" came from Burnett and Alison's play. The song, from 1931, had been Burnett's favorite when he was a student at Cornell. "As Time Goes By," written by Herman Hupfeld, was first performed by Frances Williams in the musical comedy Everybody's Welcome, which had played on Broadway from October 1931 to February 1932.
Character comparison in Play v. Film
|Name in Play||Name in Film||Notes|
|Rick Blaine||Rick Blaine|
|Lois Meredith||Ilsa Lund||nationality changed (USA to Norway)|
|Luis Rinaldo||Louis Renault||nationality changed (Italian to French)|
|Victor Laszlo||Victor Laszlo|
|Señor Martinez||Signor Ferrari||nationality changed (to Italian)|
|Guillermo Ugarte||Ugarte||nationality changed (to Italian)|
The film's opening credits say 'Screen Play by ... Based on a Play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison." After the success of Casablanca, Warner Brothers and the credited screenwriters downplayed the significance of the play in relation to the movie. Koch and the Epsteins received an Academy Award for best screenplay in 1943, but little recognition was given to Burnett and Alison.
In 1973, the screenwriter Howard Koch wrote in New York magazine that Everybody Comes to Rick's "provided an exotic locale and a character named Rick who ran a cafe but little in the way of a story adaptable to the screen." Burnett unsuccessfully sued for $6.5 million in damages, contending his play had provided the heart of the film.
When the television series based on Casablanca aired in 1983, Burnett and Alison sued Warner Brothers for royalties. Burnett also said that he wanted to control his characters and intended to complete a sequel to the play. In 1986 the New York State Court of Appeals determined that the pair had signed away all rights to their work under the terms of their agreement when they sold the play. With the copyright due to revert to Burnett and Alison in 1997, they threatened not to renew their agreement with Warner Brothers. The company paid them each $100,000 and gave them the right to produce the original play.
Murray Burnett was born in New York City on 28 Dec 1910. He was a high school teacher at Central Commercial High School before becoming a playwright.
After a trip to Europe in 1938 to help their Jewish relatives smuggle money out of Nazi-occupied Austria, the Burnetts went to the Mediterranean. They saw many exiles and refugees there. Burnett was inspired by events to make notes for a play.
He completed the play about "Rick's" during the summer of 1940, with collaboration by his then wife Joan Alison. (Kabatchnik says they were married when they collaborated on two plays.) Their first play, One in a Million, an anti-Nazi spy vehicle, attracted the interest of director Otto Preminger, but no film project developed.
Burnett also wrote the play Hickory Street (Kabatchnik says the correct title is Hickory Stick'), together with Frederick Stephani. It featured a wounded veteran who teaches in a vocational high school in New York. It opened on Broadway in 1944 starring Steve Cochran.
Burnett wrote, produced, and directed many radio plays, including the 1952 ABC series Café Istanbul, with the renowned German actress Marlene Dietrich as Mlle. Madou. This show was adapted as Time for Love, which ran for 38 episodes on CBS Radio in 1953.
At the time of his and Alison's suit in 1985, Burnett was working for Corporation for Entertainment and Learning in Manhattan. He had the first 15 pages written for a sequel to Everybody Comes to Rick's.
He was first married to Frances, with whom he had traveled to Europe in 1938. They divorced after having a daughter, Lori.
When he and Joan Alison (née Appleton) began playwrighting, they were married, and wrote two plays together. They later divorced.
Burnett met his third wife, actress Adrienne Bayan, when she had a role in his play Hickory Street. Burnett was the uncle of documentary director Barbara Kopple. He died on September 15, 1997 in New York City.
Born Joan Appleton (3 May 1901 – 30 Mar 1992), she used Joan Alison as her pen name. She was born in New York and lived her life there. She was married to Burnett when they began playwriting. They first co-wrote One in a Million, an anti-Nazi play, in which Otto Preminger took an interest, but no film project developed. Their second effort was Everybody Comes to Rick's. In 1940, Burnett and Alison also collaborated on another play, What are Little Boys Made of?  Burnett and Alison wrote Dry Without Tears, 1942. In 1945, theatrical producer Lee Sabinson (Finian's Rainbow) bought Moment of Glory, yet another Burnett-Alison collaboration. In 1943 Alison had collaborated with lyricist Stella Unger and blind pianist Alec Templeton on an un-produced musical, Cabbages and Kings (also called Tea Tray in the Sky), described as a "modern Alice in Wonderland."  Alison lived in an apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village (60 E. 8th St). She died aged 90. Two days after her death notice appeared in the New York Times, her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends remembered her with a special screening of Casablanca at the Museum of Modern Art.
The play can now be read at Vincent's CASABLANCA HomePage (www.vincasa.com)
- Aljean Harmetz, Obituary: "Murray Burnett, 86, Writer Of Play Behind 'Casablanca'" New York Times, 29 September 1997, accessed 20 May 2013
- David Margolick, "The Creator of Rick's Cafe Seeks Rights to 'Casablanca' Characters", New York Times, 10 October 1985, accessed 20 May 2013
- David Denby, "'Everybody Comes to Rick's': 'Casablanca' on the Big Screen'", The New Yorker, accessed 20 May 2013
- David Gritten, "You Must Remember This : The 'Casablanca' Story Began as a Play--and After 50 Years, Finds a Stage", Los Angeles Times, 14 May 1991, accessed 21 May 2015
- Kabatchnik (2010), "Blood on the Stage", p. 597
- Amnon Kabatchnik, Everybody Comes to Rick's, in Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection : an Annotated Repertoire, Scarecrow Press, 2010, p. 593
- Kabatchnik (2010), "Blood on the Stage," pp. 597-598
- Kabatachnik (2010), p. 597
- Catalog of Copyright Entries. Part 1. [C] Group 3. Dramatic Composition and Motion Pictures. New Series Volume 13 for the Year 1940. Library of Congress. Copyright Office
- Catalog of Copyright Entries. Part 1. [C] Group 3. Dramatic Composition and Motion Pictures. Library of Congress. Copyright Office p 71
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Feb 13, 1945
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Nov 8, 1943
- Catalog of Copyright Entries. Library of Congress. Copyright Office - 1970 Page 170
- Alexander, Ron. Metropolitan Diary. New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) [New York, N.Y] 08 Apr 1992: C2
- Harmetz, Aljean. Round up the Usual Suspects: The Making of "Casablanca". Bogart, Bergman, and World War II, New York: Hyperion, 1992
- David Margolick, "The Creator of Rick's Cafe Seeks Rights to 'Casablanca' Characters," New York Times, 10 October 1985
- Aljean Harmetz, Obituary: "Murray Burnett, 86, Writer Of Play Behind 'Casablanca'" New York Times, 29 September 1997.
- Obituary: "Murray Burnett," The Independent, Oct 15, 1997.
- "Pay it Sam," The Weekend Australian, Jan. 31, 1998.
- Casablanca, DVD, Turner 1999 with Murray Burnett interview about Cap Ferrat
- Roy, Pinaki. “Expatriated Union: Hemingway’s Fiesta and Appleton and Burnett’s Everybody Comes to Rick’s in Literature and Film”. Journal of Higher Education and Research Society (ISSN 2349-0209), 3(2), October 2015: 408-15.