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.
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.
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.
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.
ORAL HISTORIES FROM 1948: PAPER TAPE TO BITS AND BYTES
“The greater portion, if not all, of our appreciation and understanding of a social or art form must depend upon the opportunity given to us to explore, from the beginning, the developmental aspects or growth of that form.”
– Howard Walls, Society of Motion Picture Engineers presentation, May 1943
Vitagraph director and producer Albert E. Smith with Howard Walls (L-R)
In 1948, Howard Walls, the first curator of the Academy’s motion picture collection, embarked on an ambitious project to record oral histories with pioneers from the earliest days of the film industry. Academy publications of the time touted this undertaking. Walls conducted interviews with silent film actress Blanche Sweet; Vitagraph co-founder and producer Albert E. Smith; Edgar Davenport, son of noted character actor Harry Davenport; and early film director J. Searle Dawley. Walls’s recordings consisted of 21 tapes: 19 paper-based and 2 acetate copies, totaling approximately nine hours of audio.
These interviews represent the Academy’s earliest efforts in recording oral histories with film industry professionals. The endeavor was formalized as the Oral History Projects in 1989 and continues today through its Visual History Program, established in 2012. Recently, as part of the Academy’s ongoing mission to preserve audiovisual materials, the Oral History Projects department, with the assistance of Chace Audio, digitized and transcribed Walls’s invaluable work.
Paper-based reels of original recordings.
Archivist Alejandra Espasande of the Academy Film Archive worked on the project as an element prep technician at Chace last year. She inspected the interview tapes for damage, splices and residue in preparation for the digital transfer process. According to Espasande, the delicate paper tapes had withstood the years exceedingly well under the care of Special Collections staff at the Margaret Herrick Library, and required little archival intervention. Paper-based tape was the earliest tape recording medium, and until the development of acetate, it represented the cutting edge of sound recording technology. It was the first tape support employed with the AC bias high-fidelity process, which was developed and used in Germany during World War II. At the end of the war, the technology was brought to the United States, where paper audiotape was mass produced and extensively used in recording.
In describing her experience working with the tapes, Espasande observes,“It’s very magical when you are in the transfer room and from these paper elements you have the voices of people that are long dead, that were born in the 19th century, telling you about working with D.W. Griffith. And telling you about so many things that you have not really heard in film classes. Film classes tell you about the most famous people, but there were so many others. So, I think that for research, it’s very important.”
Excerpts from Walls’s conversations with and about these influential personalities in American cinema can be heard above as Blanche Sweet remembers D.W. Griffith and the production of Judith of Bethulia(1914); Edgar Davenport shares his memories of his father’s work on Gone with the Wind(1939), and Albert E. Smith and J. Searle Dawley describe their innovations and adventures in early filmmaking.
Harry Davenport and the cast of Gone with the Wind celebrating the 68th anniversary of his stage debut, 1939.
J. Searle Dawley
The Howard Walls Oral History Collection is now part of the Academy’s Visual History Program. Established in 2012, the Academy’s Visual History Program records oral histories with notable figures in the motion picture industry. The collection includes 43 interviews totaling more than 170 hours of video recorded material. For access to the material, please contact the Film Archive Public Access Center at (310) 247-3016, ext. 3380, or email@example.com. For information about the initiative, contact Oral History Projects at (310) 247-3019 or firstname.lastname@example.org.