Wilson in Casablanca (1942)
April 3, 1886
Tyler, Texas, U.S.
|Died||May 30, 1953
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Estelle Wilson (?-1953; his death)|
Arthur "Dooley" Wilson (April 3, 1886 - May 30, 1953) was an American actor and singer, who is best remembered as the piano-player and singer Sam who sings "As Time Goes By" at the request of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca (1942).
Wilson was a drummer and singer 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).
Arthur Wilson was born in Tyler, Texas, and broke into show business at the age of 12, playing in a vaudeville minstrel show. He sang and played the drums in black clubs in the Tyler area before he moved to Chicago. He received the nickname "Dooley" while working in the Pekin Theatre in Chicago, circa 1908, because of his then-signature Irish song "Mr. Dooley", which he performed in whiteface. He worked in black theatre in Chicago and New York City for most of the period from 1908 to the 1930s, although in the 1920s he toured Europe as a drummer and singer in his own band, the Red Devils.
From the 1930s to the 1950s Wilson worked in motion pictures and Broadway, including with Orson Welles and John Houseman at the Federal Theatre. His breakthrough Broadway appearance came in the role of Little Joe in the musical Cabin in the Sky (1940-1941). This led to his signing with the Paramount studio in Hollywood.
Sam, Dooley Wilson's role, is a singer and pianist employed by nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart). The Herman Hupfeld song "As Time Goes By" appears as a continuing musical and emotional motif throughout the film. Rick and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) regard it as "their song" and associate it with the days of their love affair in Paris. According to Aljean Harmetz, Variety singled him out 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 (due to the eponymous title of the Woody Allen film), is never used. In the film, Wilson as Sam performs several other songs for the cafe audience: "It Had To Be You", "Shine (1910 song)", "Knock On Wood (1942 song)", "Avalon" and "Parlez-moi d'amour (song)".
Wilson was a singer and drummer, but not a pianist. Sam's piano playing in the film was performed by Elliot Carpenter, who was placed where Wilson could see and imitate his hand movements. Carpenter was the only other black person on the Casablanca set, and the two remained friends for the rest of Wilson's life. For his role as Sam in Casablanca, Wilson was paid $350 a week for seven weeks, although other reports say that he was paid $500 a week.
Wilson reunited with Bogart, portraying another piano player in Knock on Any Door (1949).
By the time Paramount lent him to Warner Bros. for his role as Sam in Casablanca, he had already appeared in over 20 films. He was later in the cast for the film version of Stormy Weather (1943), an all-black musical, as Gabe, the best friend of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's character.
Back in New York, Wilson played Pompey, an escaped slave, in the musical Bloomer Girl (1946-1948). 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. Later, he played the role of Bill Jackson on the television situation comedy Beulah during its final 1952-1953 season.