‘Casablanca’ scribe Epstein dead at 91

Oscar winner produced 50 screenplays, some with his twin brother

Screenwriter Julius Epstein, who co-wrote the screenplay for “Casablanca,” died Saturday at age 91. A highly visible and well-respected figure in the Hollywood writing community, Epstein died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The Oscar-winning writer was born the son of a livery stable owner on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He turned out 50 produced screenplays, both with his twin brother, Philip, who died in 1952, and by himself, during a career that spanned 60 years.

“Casablanca” brought the brothers and Howard Koch a shared Oscar for the screenplay. The 1942 Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman romantic drama also won the Oscar for best picture.

Epstein, revered for his wit, later commented that the screenplay contained “a great deal of corn, more corn than in the states of Kansas and Iowa combined. But when corn works, there’s nothing better.”

Casablanca has achieved cult status due largely to the Epsteins’ unforgettable dialogue, which includes such gems as “Here’s looking at you, kid,” “We’ll always have Paris” and “‘Round up the usual suspects.”

Epstein was a boxer in college and originally planned to be a sportswriter, but had trouble finding work after his graduation in 1931 in the midst of the Depression. He came to Los Angeles in 1933 to ghostwrite a script and by 1935 was placed under contract with Warner Bros.

The Epstein brothers were very much in demand in the years preceding World War II, and “Casablanca” came out of one of their typical writing assignments for the studio. They were asked to write a script based on an unproduced play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”

The making of the movie, considered by movie buffs to be one of the finest films ever made, was subject to the same chaotic conditions of other movies made under the studio system, according to Aljean Harmetz, who wrote about the film in her book “Round Up The Usual Suspects.”

“Movies made under the studio system were accumulations of accidents, and Casablanca was no exception,” she wrote in her book. “A classic movie is the biggest accident of all,” she added.

Despite their success, the brothers’ tenure was tumultuous at Warner Bros., and Epstein frequently disparaged “Casablanca” and most of the films he wrote during his 17-year stint there.

During the 1940s and 1950s when government investigators were trying to root out alleged Communists in Hollywood, Epstein, a critic of communism, was asked if he ever belonged to a subversive organization.

“Yes,” he replied. “Warner Bros.”

His other film credits include “The Strawberry Blonde,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” “Four Daughters,” and “Pete ‘n’ Tillie.”

Epstein is survived by his son, James, his wife, Ann, and daughter Elizabeth Schwartz.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 3 p.m. at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 Centinela Ave., in Los Angeles.

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