Dooley Wilson (Arthur Willson)

Dooley Wilson

Dooley 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)”.

Dooley 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 in 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, Dooley 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. Dooley Wilson, who was on the board of the Negro Actors Guild of America, died on May 30, 1953, shortly after he retired from show business. He is buried at the Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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  • April, 03, 1886
  • USA
  • Tyler, Texas


  • May, 30, 1953
  • USA
  • Los Angeles, California


  • Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery
  • Los Angeles, California
  • USA

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