Birth Name: Arthur “Dooley” Wilson
Date of Birth: April 3, 1886
Date of Death: May 30, 1953
Number of Films Dooley Wilson Made With Humphrey Bogart: 2
Perhaps the most exciting thing that’s happened to me while working on the blog occurred one night while I was reading tidbits and trivia about Bogart films online and discovered that Dooley Wilson had cameoed in another Bogart film, Knock on Any Door, as a piano player. Could it be true? I owned the film, as it came with my Bogart-Columbia Pictures box set, and I had seen the film several times. How could I have missed it? Was this just another cameo myth like Bogart’s supposed appearance in In This Our Life or Ann Sheridan’s in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre?
Lo and behold, I pop in the film, fast forward to the nightclub scene, and there he is, sitting up behind the bar, playing piano and accepting a beer from the bartender. When you consider how the shot is framed, it becomes obvious that Director Nicholas Ray wanted our eyes to find Wilson. It’s as if Director Ray has built a tunnel of people that leads right to Wilson (check out the pic below). But the shot is fleeting, Bogart is commanding the moment with his performance, and I had missed it.
Born in Texas, performing in minstrel shows by twelve, and eventually touring Europe as a singer/drummer for his band “The Red Devils,” Dooley earned his famous nickname in his early twenties when he would perform the Irish song Mr. Dooley in whiteface. Wilson would eventually make his way to Broadway and then on to Hollywood where he would finally cement his legacy with what many deem to be the most famous musical moment in cinema history as he plays the theme song As Time Goes By for Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned Wilson couldn’t even play piano. His voice is so smooth and his face is so animated that I’d just never bothered looking down at his hands. Now though, it’s pretty clear that he’s just gently bobbing them up and down on the keys. Apparently, another piano player, Elliot Carpenter, was brought onto the set and placed just off-camera so that Wilson could imitate his moves while he sang.
Is it a bit of a stretch to put Wilson into ‘The Usual Suspects’ considering that his second Bogart collaboration is an uncredited cameo with no lines? Who cares? It’s Dooley Wilson! Hollywood’s greatest wingman!
Casablanca – 1942
Wilson plays Sam, Bogart’s best friend and confidant who works as the piano player/singer at Rick’s Café Américain. A huge key to the film’s overall quality and success, Wilson’s musical numbers are incredibly well done and entertaining. Even more fun than As Time Goes By is his rendition of Knock on Wood with the whole nightclub crowd helping to back him. When Rick Blaine’s ex comes looking for him, Sam’s quick to say, “I ain’t seen him all night!” despite the fact that he just saw him. Sam knows that she’s going to be trouble, and without missing a beat, he does what any best friend would – he plays interference. Then, when Blaine’s drowning his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle, Sam suggests hitting the road and going fishing. (That could have been an entertaining film in itself!) Yes, they part ways at the finish of the film when Blaine releases Sam to a rival nightclub run by Sydney Greenstreet so he can go risk his life and lose his love, but they have one of those bromance relationships where they could be apart for years and pick right up where they left off when they meet again. Oh, how I hope they met again… You can read my original write-up on the film here.
Knock on Any Door – 1949
With no lines and just a few seconds of screen time, this is nothing more than a cameo – although, what a glorious cameo it is! Bogart plays an attorney trying to track down the facts on a murder. While sitting in a nightclub during his investigation, we get a glimpse of Hollywood’s most famous piano player behind him, tickling the ivories and getting a beer. Knock on Any Door is a good enough film that you should see it on its own merits, but its brief re-teaming of these two legends makes it extra sweet! You can read my original write-up on the film here.
*’The Usual Suspects’ is an ongoing feature at The Bogie Film Blog where we highlight the actors and directors who share more than one film with Bogart . . . even if it’s just for a few seconds. Good grief, this guy is cool. You can read the rest of the entries here.*