Monday, March 30, 2009

'Play it again, Sam'


Every once in a while a movie will come along that matches the mood of the moment so perfectly it captures this nation’s heart. Just such a film was Casablanca. Made in 1942 while the country was still reeling from the disastrous attack on Pearl Harbor, this rare and perfect example of movie making gave a disheartened populace the powerful morale boost it needed.

The Script
Irene Lee, head of the Warner Brothers story department, discovered a play script titled "Everybody Comes to Rick's,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, languishing on a shelf in the company’s New York office. She touted it to studio head Jack L. Warner, who agreed to buy it for $20,000--the most any studio had ever paid for an unproduced theatrical work.

Nothing in the planning and shooting of the film Casablanca gave a hint of greatness to come. Seven screenwriters worked on the film script, often simultaneously. Some actors in featured roles had not been signed before shooting started. Script changes were frequent, with actors being handed new versions of the dialogue for a scene on the day it was to be shot. As a result, shooting ran 11 days over schedule.

To Casablanca’s stars, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the dialogue seemed ridiculous and the situations unbelievable. Despite the obvious on-screen chemistry between them, they hardly spoke on the set. One reason may have been the insane jealousy of Bogart’s wife, actress Mayo Methot, who repeatedly accused him of having an affair with Bergman.

The Players
Studio publicity claimed that Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan had been scheduled to appear in this film, and Dennis Morgan was named the third lead. This false story was planted merely to keep their names before the public. Producer Hal Wallis had been assigned to search for Humphrey Bogart’s next starring role. When he discovered that George Raft was angling for the part, he told Warner that he had found the perfect script and role for Bogart—that of the cynical, world-weary café owner, Rick Blaine. After that, no other actor was ever considered for the part. Bogart’s salary was $2,200 a week.

In those days, players were under contract to studios or producers who traded them back and forth almost like baseball cards. Producer David O. Selznick owned Ingrid Bergman’s contract, Wallis sent the film's principal writers, Philip and Julius Epstein, to persuade Selznick to lend her to Warner Brothers for the picture.

After 20 minutes of describing the plot to Selznick, Julius gave up and said, "Oh, it's going to be a lot of s**t like Algiers." Selznick immediately understood and agreed to the loan. French star Michèle Morgan had asked for $55,000, an amount Wallis refused to pay since he could get Ingrid Bergman for $25,000. Warner agreed to lend Olivia de Haviland to Selznick in return.

Bogart was actually about two inches shorter than Bergman. To create the illusion that the opposite was true, Bogart stood on boxes, wore platform shoes and sat on pillows in some shots, or Bergman slouched down (as when she sits on the couch in the "a franc for your thoughts" scene).

Finding an actor for the part of resistance leader Victor Laszlo was a problem. Herbert Marshall, Dean Jagger and Joseph Cotton were all under consideration until Selznick lent Warners an unhappy Paul Henreid for the role. Having just starred in Now Voyager with Bette Davis, he was worried that playing anything less than a lead character would ruin his budding career.

Dooley Wilson, who played the part of Sam, the pianist at Bogart’s café, was borrowed from Paramount at $500 a week. His name came from his act in which he sang Irish songs in white makeup. Wilson had to fake playing the piano. The songs were actually played by pianist Elliott Carpenter hidden behind a curtain, but positioned so Wilson could see and copy his hand movements. Wallis briefly considered making the character Sam a female with Hazel Scott, Lena Horne or Ella Fitzgerald in the role.

On loan from MGM, veteran actor Conrad Veidt played the role of Major Strasser. His wife, Lily Prager, was Jewish, and they had fled Germany for England. A fervent anti-Nazi, he spent the last years of his life playing Nazis. His salary, $5,000 a week for five weeks' work, made him the highest-paid actor on the set. Another competitor for the part had been Otto Preminger, under contract to 20th Century-Fox, who wanted $7,000 a week for his services.

Production had already started when Claude Rains was signed as the corrupt Vichy Captain Renault at a salary of $4,000 a week and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as Carl, Rick’s maitre d’, at $1,750 a week. Joy Page, who played the young Bulgarian wife, was the stepdaughter of studio head Jack L. Warner, but earned only $100 a week. Page, Bogart and Dooley Wilson were the only American-born actors in the credited cast.

The Songs

"As Time Goes By," the love song shared by Bogart and Bergman, was written by composer Herman Hupfeld and introduced by Frances Williams in the 1931 Broadway musical "Everybody's Welcome." It had long been a favorite of playwright Murray Burnett. Max Steiner, who composed the background music for the film, was against using the song. He wanted to compose an original song (which would qualify him for royalties). "As Time Goes By" is #2 on the American Film Institute's “100 Years/100 Songs” list.

For the “contest between the anthems" sequence, Warner Bros. had intended to use the "Horst Wessel Lied," the anthem of the Nazi party. But a German music publisher owned the copyright, so they switched to the rousing "Die Wacht am Rhein." After the emotional playing of “La Marseillaise,” many of the actors, refugees from Europe, were in tears.

Thanks to a stroke of luck, just before the film’s release Allied forces landed at Casablanca and elsewhere in North Africa. The studio moved up the release date to take advantage of this unexpected publicity.

Memorable Lines
Casablanca yielded more memorable quotes than any other film. Interestingly, nobody in the film ever says, "Play it again, Sam.” What Bergman says to pianist Dooley Wilson is, "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'" Later, a melancholy Bogart tells Wilson: "You played it for her. You can play it for me. If she can stand it, I can. Play it!"

Claude Rains as Capt. Renault had two widely quoted lines: “"I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!" and "Major Strasser has been shot! Round up the usual suspects!" When Rains, as Capt. Renault, attempts to probe Bogart about his reasons for coming to Casablanca, Bogart's response is, "My health. I came for the waters." Rains is incredulous. "The waters? What waters. We are in the desert." Bogart: "I was misinformed."

Then there are the other classic gems from Bogart: ”Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine." And the two he says to Bergman, recalling the last time they met: "We’ll always have Paris." and “I remember every detail. The Germans wore gray, you wore blue.”

Few will forget Bogart's memorable parting from Bergman, “I've got a job to do. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of, Ilsa. I'm not good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Now, here's looking at you, kid." Bogart had ad-libbed the farewell toast to Bergman earlier in the film. The line worked so well it was repeated in the airport sequence as he sends her away with Henreid.

The film concludes with Bogart’s optimistic line predictive of eventual victory over the forces of evil, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Three weeks after shooting had finished and unhappy with the film’s final scene, producer Hal Wallis decided to add that line at the end of the film, as Bogart and Rains walk across the airport tarmac together. Bogart was called back from vacation and recorded what would become one of the most famous last lines in movie history.

The Film's Impact
Warners had paid $20,000 for the play, $47,281 to six writers and $73,400 to director Michael Curtiz to pull everything together. The bill for cast salaries was $91,717. Total cost of the film was $878,000. The take from the first domestic rentals came to a cool $3.7 million, a number that made the brothers Warner very happy. It won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay awards for 1942. It was a war picture, a love story, and even had elements of a musical. Most of all, it was a riveting drama about a different kind of bravery: little people willing to take a stand against injustice in a world rapidly falling apart.

Unlike the blatantly propagandistic movies made by Hollywood during the war, Casablanca's celebration of a timeless romance, idealistic self-sacrifice to a greater cause, and the inevitable triumph of good over evil has stood the test of time. With a running time of only 102 minutes, it is a work of art that still speaks to us today. For good reason, the American Film Institute voted it #2 in the 100 best films from the first hundred years of movie making.

Out of the near chaos that attended the making of this movie has come a story of a love that gives, rather than takes, even though the giving is not without heartbreak and pain. A story of a man who loves a woman so much he cannot bear to have her live with what he knows will be vain regret. A story of a woman torn between that love and her worship of a man and the cause he is fighting for. Casablanca is a film that idealistically portrays the beauty of sacrifice for a love that will live forever. Viewers everywhere are glad that it embodies these sentiments. Otherwise, we wouldn't have come to love it so much.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

No Longer on the Map: Forgotten Place Names in Northwestern Westchester


In the beginning was the land, and it was without names. From somewhere over the horizon the first wanderers reached northwestern Westchester and found the land to be rich and good. They remained and gave names to places--descriptive names by which others could identify them. Thus, the Indian name for Ossining was "a stony place"; for Peekskill, "the mouth of a stream"; for Croton Point, "a point or ending." Indian names have had a greater persistence than is recognized. For example, 26 state names are of Indian derivation.

Next came the Dutch, doughty burghers and traders. Accustomed to sailing the inland channels of their own country, they stayed close to navigable waterways. A stream was a "kill" or "creek," a "gat" was a passage, a "hoek" was a point of land. But the Dutch were also intensely practical. They accepted the Indian place names they found, altering them slightly to sound more like their own tongue.

Then came the English. They converted many of the names applied by the Dutch: "kreek" became "creek," "bosch" (wood) became "bush," and "hoek" became "point." A lake or a pool became a "pond," a word common in eastern England. Although the English were comparative latecomers, they remained for the longest time. Rejecting many existing place names, they made them over to fit the English language, choosing the names of towns in England or notable persons. The newly minted United States continued this practice.

Soon the land became layered with names. Always lurking in the background, the old names were remembered and kept alive by old-timers. Eventually even they became only a memory. Now-forgotten names of places and people molder on old maps and documents in dusty archives or accumulate moss on old tombstones.

Although overlooked by latter-day cartographers, these intriguing old names need not be lost to us. Listed here from A to Z are a smattering of place names in northwestern Westchester that are "no longer on the map," with their modern equivalents. Maps used for verification were the appropriate topographic sheets of the 1:24,000 series prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Abram's Swimming Hole. At their home on Annsville Creek, two Negro brothers, William and Abraham Hallenback ('Uncle Abram') unselfishly taught generations of Peekskill youngsters to swim.
Auser's Flats. In Ossining; an area north of Cedar Lane, east of Route 9. It took its name from Joseph Auser, who lived on the west side of the Post Road.
Bakers Landing. An early name for Van Cortlandtville.
Bald Hill. In Peekskill; now Gallows Hill.
Barker Pond. In Cortlandt; named for Louis Barker, owner of the land around it in 1930. It is today called Cliffdale Pond.
Barlow's Hill. The hill where the Croton-Harmon High School now stands; it took its name from the Barlow house, a multifamily dwelling.
Bishop Rocks. At the Hudson River in Briarcliff Manor; named for John Bishop, who bought 83 acres south of Kemeys Cove from the Commissioners of Forfeiture after the Revolution. Now the site of a sewage treatment plant.
Boscobel. From 1857 to 1883, this was the name of the post office at Crugers. The name is from the stately home built by Staats Morris Dyckman and later dismantled to make way for the F.D.R. Veterans Hospital. One of the country's finest Federal-style homes, the house was moved to Garrison and painstakingly reconstructed. Fortunately, it had been carefully measured by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1932. Westchester's loss became Putnam County's gain.
The Bowery. The name of the temporary town along Route 129 during the building of the New Croton Dam. Emulating its New York City namesake, 11 of its 23 buildings were saloons. Boarding houses and bawdy houses made up most of the rest.
Camp of Military Instruction. Camp Smith's name from 1882 to 1926. It was renamed to honor the then Governor, Alfred Emanuel Smith, later an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency.
Canopus Creek. In Cortlandt; named for an Indian chief, it is now Sprout Brook.
Cat Hill. In Cortlandt, south of the Croton River; now Catamount Hill.
Centreville. The hamlet took its name from the Centreville Tavern, so called because it was halfway between Peekskill and Verplanck; it is now named Montrose.
Claremont. The area around the intersection of Routes 133 and 134 in Ossining took this name from the home of Robert Havell, engraver of Audubon's famous bird and animal prints.
Collabaugh Landing. Before 1818, the name of Croton-on-Hudson.
Cornell Dam. An early name for the New Croton Dam. From Aaron Cornell, who owned the land on which it was built.
Cortlandt-on-Hudson. From 1727 to 1886, the former name of the hamlet of Oscawana.
Cortlandtown. Croton-on-Hudson's name between 1818 and 1848.
Cortlandtville. An early name of Van Cortlandtville.
Creek Hill. Near Peekskill Hollow Creek (now Peekskill Hollow Brook) in Cortlandt; later Hawes Hill.
Croton Landing. The name of Croton-on-Hudson between 1848 and 1891. The name Croton is an adaptation pf the name of an Indian chief, Kenotin or Knoten, who lived near the mouth of the Croton River. Philip Verplanck’s 1732 map of Van Cortlandt Manor calls the river Groatun’s River.
Depot Square. Located to the east of the Croton North station, Croton's original railroad station. This bustling area was home to many businesses, a hotel, and a coal and lumber yard. It disappeared when the Croton Expressway (Route 9) was cut through west of Riverside Avenue.
Doverkill Island. In the Croton River; the former name of Paradise Island.
Drake's Hill. In Peekskill; named for Gilbert Drake, it is now Gallows Hill.
East Haverstraw. The name of Montrose between 1863 and 1868--because it was "east of Haverstraw," across the Hudson in Rockland County.
Enoch Point. Former name of the northwest point of land on Croton Point.
Fort Constitution. An American fort on Roa Hook, burned by the British in 1777.
Fort Independence. The fort rebuilt by the Americans on the site of the burned Fort Constitution.
Fort Lafayette. The name of the American fort constructed in 1777 on Verplanck's Point.
Fourth of July Hill. In Ossining, between Main Street and Broadway; so named because it was the site of fireworks celebrations.
Frank's Rock. On the south shore at the mouth of the Croton River. Named for Frans Beseley who lived nearby in the 18th century and fished from this rock below the former Mary Immaculate School.
Hall Hill. In Cortlandt; named for Caleb Hall; later called Hawes Hill.
Hanover. For administrative purposes, Cortlandt Manor was divided into three wards. Yorktown and Somers made up the Middle District, or Hanover, named for the reigning house of England from 1714 to 1901.
Harmon. Named for Clifford B. Harmon, who planned and sold building lots in Croton in the area between Maple Street and the Croton River beginning in 1907. It was absorbed by Croton-on-Hudson in 1932. The name has virtually disappeared, perpetuated only in the names of the Metro-North station, the village's high school and by a few stubborn residents who insist they live in Harmon, not Croton.
Haunted Hollow. An area on Croton Point near the Kitchawank Indian burial ground.
Hawes Hill. In Cortlandt; named for Peletiah Hawes who farmed near Oregon and Pumphouse Roads. Previously Hall Hill, it later became Creek Hill.
Hollman's Corners. The intersection of Hillside Avenue and Oregon Road in Van Cortlandtville; so named from the tavern kept by Gardner Hollman.
Hubble's Corner. In Ossining; at Main Street and the Albany Post Road, G. &. B. Hubble had a hardware store here.
Hunter's Landing. The original name of Ossining; from Elijah Hunter, who bought confiscated Loyalist land from the Commissioners of Forfeiture after the Revolution.
Hunt's Mountain. In Cortlandt, south of Peekskill; now Blue Mountain.
Ice Pond. A former name of the Duck Pond in Croton.
Jamawissa Creek. Furnace Brook's Indian name before 1734.
Jockeytown. The area around Maple and Lafayette Avenues in Cortlandt. So named because horse races were held there.
Jordan Spring. A small hamlet in Ossining Town near Cedar Lane and Route 9A; it took its name from a spring on property owned by the Jordan family.
Keg Mountain. Now Dickerson Mountain.
Laapawachking. The Indian name for what is now Westchester.
Larkintown/Larkinville. Also known as "Little Italy." Built on land owned by Ossining attorney Francis Larkin, this collection of temporary dwellings housed Italian workers on the New Croton Dam. Larkin charged a nominal rental of $40 a year.
Limestone Point. A small peninsula at the southern end of Verplanck's Point, north of Stinsom Cove.
Long Hill. So named for obvious reasons; the former name of Prospect Hill in Briarcliff Manor.
The Lowland Crossing. An early designation of the crossing of the Croton River at the Ferry House at Van Cortlandt Manor.
Lyell. The name of the post office at Montrose between 1860 and 1863. William Lyell was one of the members of the New York City syndicate that bought Verplanck's Point from Philip Verplanck in 1837 for $300,000.
McGregory Pond. In Cortlandt; former name of Gregory Pond.
Melvin Pond. In Ossining; named for Thomas Melvin, who cut ice here. The pond was bought by Dale Cemetery and filled in.
Money Hill. A hill on Croton Point, reputedly where treasure was buried.
Mother's Lap. The small bay to the east of the northwest point of land on Croton Point.
Mount Murray. A small hill now occupied by the Scarborough Manor Apartments. Named for Marcia Murray, a jilted young woman who committed suicide by drowning in the Hudson River in the early 19th century.
Mount Pleasant/Mount Pleasant Landing. Early names for Ossining.
Navish. An Indian name for Croton Point.
New Haverstraw. At one time, the Montrose railroad station had this name.
Nordica Hill. The high ground opposite the Croton Free Library. This was the intended site of the music festival planned by opera diva Lillian Nordica and patterned after the famous Bayreuth music festival in Bavaria.
Northwest Point. The northwest point of Croton Point, Another name for Enoch Point.
Odell's Pond. In Cortlandt; H.E. Odell operated a grist mill on Furnace Brook. The pond is now called Furnace Brook Pond.
Old Fort Hill. An artillery battery was located on the south flank of Manitou Mountain where the Oldstone Inn is located now.
Oregon. In Cortlandt; the name of a hamlet at Oregon and Trolley Roads.
Pahotasack. McGregory Brook runs through Peekskill; this was its Indian name.
Paquintuck. The Indian name for Peekskill Hollow Brook and Annsville Creek in Peekskill.
Parson's Point. Verplanck's Point, so called because the pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church had a farm at the southern end.
Peekskill Landing. This hamlet on Peekskill Bay was settled in 1764; it was also called Travis Landing for Joseph Travis, one of the first settlers.
Peggs Island. Oscawana Island's former name.
Phillips Pond. A former name of Furnace Brook Pond.
Picnic Point. A point of land on Croton Point between Squaw Point and South Point.
Pleasant Mountain. This hill to the west of Lafayette Avenue in Cortlandt lent its name to the hamlet of Pleasantside.
Pleasant Square. In Ossining; at the intersection of Croton Avenue and the Albany Post Road, then the center of the hamlet of Mount Pleasant.
Pocontico. For four months in 1881, the post office at Merritt's Corners (today's Millwood) bore this name. a variant of the more common Pocantico.
Point Comfort. Another name applied to Travis Point in Peekskill.
Requa's Hill. Named for the Requa family. It was later the site of Peekskill's first community hospital.
Sackhoes. The Indian name for Peekskill.
Sarah's Point. Now Croton Point; Sarah Teller was the widow of William Teller.
Scarboro. Scarborough took its name from an English village, but between 1864 and 1928 the official post office designation was Scarboro.
Shatemuc. Another Indian name for the Hudson River.
Sing Sing. The name of the hamlet of Mount Pleasant was changed to Sing Sing in 1813. The name comes from the Sint Sink Indians, the original inhabitants, and means "a stony place." Sing Sing became Ossining in 1901.
Soldier's Spring. In 1777, Nathan Brown, a patriot soldier retreating before British forces, stopped to drink from a spring in Peekskill when he was struck and killed by fragments from a British cannonball. The spring was located on Division Street, north of the junction with Highland Avenue.
Sope Hill. North Riverside Avenue north of Brook Street in Croton; a variant of "Soap Hill," so named because the glazed yellow bricks used as paving stones were slippery, especially in wet weather.
South Point. The southernmost point on Croton Point.
Spring Lake. Now the Duck Pond in Croton, it is still fed by a hidden spring at the head of Bungalow Road.
Squaw Point. A point of land on Croton Point between Northwest Point and Picnic Point.
Squaw Cove is to the north of Squaw Point; Indian women were reputed to have washed clothes there.
Strangtown. An area in Ossining named for the Strang family, who lived on Highland Avenue. The name comes from the French, L'Estrange.
Stormytown. An area in the town of Ossining near the intersection of Route 9A and Croton Dam Road; the name has nothing to do with the weather. The Storm family farmed here in the 18th century.
Sutton Mills. An early name for Van Cortlandtville; George Sutton operated mills at Dogwood and Pumphouse Roads.
Tamoesis Creek. The Indian name for Dickey Brook. It forms the southern boundary of Peekskill.
Teller's Point. Now Croton Point; William and Sarah Teller were early settlers on the Point.
Torbank. The area in Ossining Town west of Route 9A around Ganung Drive took its name from the former estate of Peter Donald, an early linen merchant.
Travis Landing. A hamlet north of Travis Point at Peekskill Bay. Both the point and the hamlet were named for Joseph Travis, an early settler. Travis Landing was another name for Peekskill Landing.
Travis Pond. Now Dickerson Pond in Cortlandt; it takes its name from Frederick Travis, owner of the land around the pond.
Varian's Mill. Isaac L. Varian, mayor of New York City from 1839 to 1841, operated a grist mill near Oregon Road and Root Lane in Cortlandt.
Verdrietige Hoek. The name Dutch skippers gave to Croton Point. It means "tedious or troublesome point of land" undoubtedly because it projects into the river and creates problems with currents and navigation under sail.
Washington Hill. Washington's headquarters were on this hill on Verplanck's Point, west of Buchanan.
Wenehees. The Indian name for the land between Dickey Brook and McGregory Brook in Peekskill.
Wescora. An Indian sachem's name; in 1867 it was briefly the name of the post office in Scarborough.
West Briarcliff. Citizens became agitated when the New York Central changed the name of its station from Scarboro to West Briarcliff in 1909. An objector to the new name threw the offending station sign into the Hudson, and the railroad quickly restored the original name.
Whitson. An early name for Briarcliff Manor; Charles Whitson owned 164 acres here. He was the Putnam Division station agent.
Wickapy. The name for an Indian settlement near Anthony's Nose.
Wild Cat Hill. In Cortlandt, south of the Croton River; now Catamount Hill. It was also called Wild Goat Mountain.
Willow Brook. An early name for Annsville Creek in Peekskill.
Yellow Bass Fishing Rocks. On the south shore near the mouth of the Croton River, about halfway between Crawbuckie Point and Frank's Rock. But the name makes no ichthyological sense. The yellow bass is a fish found in the Middle West. According to Croton's Ed Rondthaler, Theodore Cornu claimed old maps should have read, "Yellow Perch Fishing Rocks"; the yellow perch is a Hudson River fish.
Zion's Hill. Robert Matthews, a religious zealot, gave this name in the 1830's to the estate known as Beechwood in Ossining. It was later acquired by Frank A. Vanderlip, a wealthy New York banker. It is easily identifiable by the two buried Ionic columns at the entrance on the Albany Post Road (Route 9) from the facade of the old Merchants' Exchange on Wall Street completed in 1842. The building later served as the U.S. Customs House. The columns were removed when it was remodeled in 1907 to become the National City Bank. Only their capitals and the upper portion are visible above ground here.

With this final entry, we come to the end of our catalogue of extinct names. Although they have disappeared from maps, they are still rooted deeply in our folk memory. The face of the land may change: hills may be leveled and valleys filled, roads may be straightened, hamlets may be absorbed into larger towns and cities, but the old names will endure. From these vestigial reminders of our rich history--as from the more tangible evidences of archaeology--we are able to piece together a record of the past.


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