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Robert Osborne - July 2013
Remind Me

Robert Osborne on Paul Henreid

Paul Henreid, the Austrian-born actor who's our TCM Star of the Month for July, is fittingly famous primarily for his co-starring roles in two iconic movies of the 1940s: Now, Voyager (1942), in which he lit two cigarettes at the same time for Bette Davis and himself to inhale romantically as well as continuously; and Casablanca (1942), in which he played Ingrid Bergman's cuckolded husband who defiantly leads the singing of the French national anthem "La Marseillaise" in a nightclub swarming with nasty Nazis during World War II.

What many people don't realize is how extensive, beyond those two movies, his film career was. It lasted 44 years (from 1933-1977) and he not only directed films (including a later one starring that same Miss Davis), but also produced two films, wrote one, and as an actor played roles as diverse as swashbuckling pirate Jean Lafitte, composer Robert Schumann and impresario Florenz Ziegfeld.

Beyond the high-powered Davis and Bergman, he was also the leading man to such top-tier actresses as Katharine Hepburn (twice), Ida Lupino (twice), Hedy Lamarr, Maureen O'Hara, Olivia de Havilland, Joan Bennett and Merle Oberon. The males he worked with were not a shabby lot, either. You can add in Frank Sinatra, Rex Harrison, Burt Lancaster, John Garfield, Dean Martin, Sydney Greenstreet, Richard Burton and Claude Rains.

The ironic thing is that Henreid had to be talked into doing the Casablanca part, which ultimately gave him immortality in the Hollywood scheme of things. Warner Bros. originally wanted Dutch-born Philip Dorn, under contract to MGM at the time, for the Casa role, but MGM had their own plans for Dorn to be in their film Random Harvest, and said "No." MGM's Jean-Pierre Aumont was then seriously considered until the Warner bosses realized one of their own contractees was a good fit, thus assigning Henreid to play the role. Was he thrilled? Nada. In fact, he refused to do it. He'd just been Bette D.'s leading man in the Voyager movie, and he felt that next doing the second lead in a Bogart film would be a step down for him, seriously impairing his standing at Warner Bros. and his career overall. However, in those days the studio bosses ruled, actors didn't, so he did the part, grumblingly, and thus achieved his timeless fame.

Every Tuesday this month we'll give you ample opportunties to see Henreid's work by showing 27 of his films in all, including Now, Voyager (July 9) and Casablanca (July 30). What you won't be seeing is one Warner film he started making but didn't finish, that time with the blessing of his bosses. Henreid began rehearsing a jitterbug song-and-dance cameo with Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino for the all-star-cast 1943 movie Thank Your Lucky Stars, the three stars playing very different roles from those they'd soon play in a super-serious drama called Devotion (1946). After a couple of agonizing weeks trying, trying, trying to be "in the groove" as a '40s hepcat, Henreid threw up his hands in frustration and bolted. (Character actor George Tobias replaced him.) "Oh, yes, occasionally I did have the sense to make the right decision," he later said with a smile.

by Robert Osborne