By the time the United States entered World War II, Hollywood had already become home to a significant number of European actors and directors who had fled the Nazi’s. While many were Jews facing arrest, or worse, others were involved in anti-Nazi activities which placed them at great personal risk.
As Hollywood became increasingly concerned with events in Europe and the rest of the world, more and more movies depicting evil Germans were produced, resulting in more roles for these displaced Europeans. Ironically, many who had fled the Nazi’s found themselves cast in roles as Nazi’s or sympathizers. No other film, however, could match CASABLANCA (1942), in which at least fifteen credited cast members were displaced European actors.
Here are profiles of several of them:
Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser). Born in Berlin in January, 1883, Hans Walter Conrad Veidt was drafted into the German army in 1914, and saw action on the Eastern Front. Dismissed from the army in 1916 due to illness, he found work in the theater, and within a few years was one of Germany’s leading silent films stars. A staunch supporter of human rights, he had a Jewish wife, had made several films with Jewish themes and even appeared in a film promoting what would now be called Gay Rights. When the Nazi’s came to power, Veidt was detained for questioning by the Gestapo. Refusing to denounce the woman he loved, he declared himself a Jew and, together with his wife, fled to England and finally to the U.S. His daughter, unable to follow them, fled to Switzerland. Once in Hollywood, he worked with British actors and directors on films aimed at persuading the American public to take sides against the Nazi’s. Despite his pro-human rights background and anti-Nazi sympathies, most of his Hollywood roles were as Nazi’s or Nazi spies. When he died suddenly in 1943, his daughter could not be reached with the news. She heard it on the radio.
Peter Lorre (Ugarte). Born in Hungary in June, 1904, Laszlo Lowenstein’s mother died when he was just four years old. His childhood memories were colored by his stepmother, with whom he didn’t get along. Young Laszlo made his first stage appearance in Vienna at age 17. In 1930, several years after moving to Berlin, he was cast as depraved child killer, Hans Beckert in Fritz Lang’s classic film M (1930). When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany, Lorre moved first to Paris then London, and finally to the U.S. Unfortunately, the Nazi’s used Lorre’s images from M in their anti-Semitic propaganda, portraying him as the typical Jew. Although he was already an American citizen in 1947, Lorre returned toGermany to make several films, “addressing questions of guilt and responsibility, of accountability and justice”.
Marcel Dalio (Emil, the croupier). Born in Paris in November, 1899, Israel Moshe Blauschild was a well-known cabaret, stage and screen actor when the German’s invaded France in 1940. He and his wife, Madeline LeBeau (who played Yvonne, the singer, in CASABLANCA) left Paris for Lisbon, where they were able to buy visas to enter Chile. However, the ship stranded them, and 200 other passengers, in Mexico, when their visas turned out to be forgeries. Somehow, they were able to get Canadian documents, and eventually made their way to the U.S. The Vichy French government, installed by the Nazi’s, used familiar posters of Marcel Dalio in their anti-Semitic propaganda, as the evil Jew. Marcel’s parents and all other members of his family died in concentration camps.
S.Z. Sakall (Carl, the head waiter). Born in Budapest in February, 1883, Gero Jeno was writing vaudeville sketches while still a teenager in school. By the early 1910’s, he had already become an established star of stage and screen in Hungary. In the early 1920’s, he moved to Vienna, and later Berlin, where he appeared in light romantic comedies. When the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in 1933, he returned to his native Hungary, where he continued to appear in films. In 1940, however, when Hungary joined the Axis, he and his wife left for the U.S. All three of his sisters, his niece and his wife’s brother and sister all died in concentration camps.
Helmut Dantine (uncredited role of Jan Brandel). Born Helmut Guttman in Vienna in October, 1918, hewas 19 years old when the Nazi’s took over Austria. A fervent anti-Nazi, he organized student protests, and was arrested and finally sent to a concentration camp. His father, who had been head of the Austrian National Railway System, used political favors to get young Helmut released after three months in the camp. His parents immediately sent him to live with a friend in California. Once in the U.S., he joined the Pasadena Playhouse, while attending UCLA, and was soon spotted by a Warner Brothers talent scout and signed to a studio contract. Both of his parents died in a concentration camp.
Among others in the cast was Ludwig Stossel, who went on to become The Little Old Winemaker in the Italian Swiss Colony Wine television commercials.d