Dooley Wilson

Active - 1939 - 1951  |   Born - Apr 3, 1886   |   Died - May 30, 1953   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Musical, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

African-American actor/musician Dooley Wilson led a very popular band from 1919 through 1930, in which he soloed on the drums. He shied away from film work until 1942, when he was signed for a contract at Paramount Pictures. At the same time, Warner Bros. was looking for a black actor to play Sam, the philosophical pianist at Rick's Cafe Americain in their upcoming production Casablanca. Wilson won out over top contender Clarence Muse (who'd later play Sam on a '50s TV adaptation of Casablanca), but his services cost Warners dearly. Though Wilson received only $500 per week, the cost Paramount imposed on Warners' for the loanout resulted in Wilson being the most expensive of Casablanca's supporting cast. The film represented perhaps Wilson's best movie work, a role that immortalized him to filmgoers of future years--even though he was never really able to play "As Time Goes By," and had to have his keyboard worked dubbed in by Warners' staffer Elliot Carpenter. Few of Wilson's subsequent film appearances even approached the caliber of Casablanca, even though he enjoyed himself as part of a screen romantic triangle with Lena Horne and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in the all-black film musical Stormy Weather. Dooley Wilson's last major acting stint was as Bill Jackson, the erstwhile boyfriend of maid Ethel Waters (and later Louise Beavers) on the early-TV sitcom Beulah.

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