on casablanca and the magic pencil (6/20)

In 1938, a Jewish man and his wife took a vacation through Central Europe – at the peak of the Nazi party, and with a price on their own head.

Yet, Murray Burnett and his wife had one goal in mind: get their family’s money out of Austria, and get the hell back to the States.

It took months, but after the two had secured their goals, the Burnetts rewarded themselves with a detour. Traveling back through the Mediterranean, the couple stopped at a much-anticipated destination: the South of France.

And there, despite the war-torn background of the era, Burnett found himself a haven – a little nightclub off the Southern coast – with an unusual cast of characters. French and German refugees alike, exiled from their own countries, dancing and serenading to the music of the swinging black pianist in the corner.

Back home from the voyage, Burnett would return to his job as a schoolteacher, yet the experiences wouldn’t get lost on him. The stories, the people, the music he heard would all culminate in the creation of his latest play – Everybody Comes To Rick’s.

A play which Warner Bros. executive Hal Wallis would develop into Casablanca – without the schoolteacher’s permission.

“He took this magic pencil, Eagle Number One,” Burnett said, “and he wrote it line by line. But every character in the film is mine. Every one. Without exception.”

And through the statement, it’s hard not to see Burnett’s proclaimed protagonist, Rick, in his own statements – “tough”, “morose”, and embodying the unapologetic spirit of his era..

It was this uncompromising spirit that Burnett channeled into his protagonist, a reflection of his own determination to persevere. The man who wasn’t scared of the Nazis. The man who put his own priorities first, over the art and the politics of his age. The man who proved “he didn’t need anybody” to do the right thing, to put his right foot forward.

And, at the end of the day, the man who composed the greatest film of all time – while on vacation.