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Hollywood: Clippers Go to the Movies - Page 1

Given the dynamism of their image, Clippers have enjoyed a long movie run.  The actor most associated with the Clippers has been Humphrey Bogart.  In that classic “Here’s looking at you, kid” mist-shrouded scene from Casablanca, Rick (Bogart) put Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) on the plane to Lisbon where she and freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo (Raul Henreid) will catch the Clipper for their flight to freedom to the United States.  Earlier in the film, Prefet of Police Louis Renault (Claude Rains) stood with Rick as a Lisbon-bound plane roared over the bar:
                                    Renault:           You would like to be on it?
                                    Rick:               Why?  What’s in Lisbon?
                                    Renault:           The Clipper to America.

The romance of the clippers will forever be tied up in the world of international intrigue and passage to safety and freedom.  Shadowy figures, spies, and diplomats who kept their identities hidden flew both ways across the ocean.  Clippers served as a lifeline for European refugees during World War II.  Like Laszlo and Ilsa, many fled with only what they could carry—often hidden—items such as jewelry that could be converted into currency or letters of transit, legal or illegal as were those taken from murdered German couriers by Guillermo Ugarte (Peter Lorre) in Casablanca.

Talk about perfect timing….  In a twist of fate, the Casablanca fictional clippers became entwined with the historical clippers.  Casablanca was rushed into a quick release in New York on Thanksgiving 1942, a mere three weeks after the Allied landing in the North African city of Casablanca, and just a week before the first anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor (Casablanca took place in early December 1941 just days before the attack, and the movie made oblique reference to how the U.S. “slept.”)  The public was primed for this motion picture.  President Roosevelt watched a special screening on Dec. 31 at the White House.  Afterwards in January, Roosevelt secretly flew on the Clipper to the Casablanca Conference to meet Churchill, DeGaulle, and Henri Giraud and to break off treaties with Vichy-France, just as Rick and Renault did at the end of Casablanca when a bottle of Vichy water is symbolically thrown in the garbage can at the airport as Rick and Renault begin the start of a “wonderful friendship” working for the Free French.

Bogart’s acting career tied even more closely to the Clippers by way of playing a character based on Pan American Airways’ most famous Clipper pilot, Edwin Musick, in China Clipper (1939.)  Though not well known today, China Clipper played to packed houses in 1939.  In another twist, Bogart and Musick looked much alike.  And like Bogart’s on-screen persona, particularly Richard “Rick” Blaine in Casablanca, Musick was an unassuming man of few words, who meant what he said, often with ironic humor.  Also like Rick or Bogart, Musick the idealist masqueraded as a pragmatist, demanded perfection of himself, was known for occasional profanity, and had some shadows in his past such as working outside the law as a rum-runner.  Rick made money running a bar; Musick had flown illegal booze from offshore to speakeasy bars.

In this early Bogart movie, Bogey did not play the main role however.  That fell to Pat O’Brien, who starred as the leader of the airline, a character loosely based on Pan American Airways’ Juan Trippe.  O’Brien played the part of Dave Logan, founder of Transoceanic Airline.  According to the script, Logan would risk his marriage to his wife Jean (Beverly Roberts) and risk his old flying friendship with Hap Stewart (Bogart) in his drive to create an airline across the Pacific.  In keeping with the time it was filmed, the movie was filled with the greased hair, cigarettes, and the use of the word  swell in what seemed like every sentence.  Pan American Airways cooperated with the filming so that the movie contains vintage shots of the China Clipper and other PAA aircraft including early Tri-motors and rare views of Douglas Dolphin amphibians that PAA used in China.  Crews were allowed to film at Pan American bases, particularly at Alameda, California, and PAA provided its stock promotional film footage to be spliced into the movie.  The Dave Logan character may have run Transoceanic Airlines, but the aircraft in the movie all bore “Pan American Airways System”  and the PAA winged globe.  For the Clipper aficionado, this movie was just “swell” for shots of the China Clipper in flight.  Clipper models were also used to create scenes where the Bogart character would have to fly at night through fog or typhoons.

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