Dooley Wilson, actor known as Sam in Casablanca, honored with downtown marker

Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 19:25 - Written by FAITH HARPER,

Prev  1 of 5  Next

It looked great on the big screen, but the famed musician “Sam” from the 1942 classic movie "Casablanca" didn’t actually play the piano.

Tyler-born actor and musician Arthur “Dooley” Wilson was a singer and drummer, but he did not play piano.

Wilson appeared in more than 20 films, but is best known for his role in "Casablanca" as Sam, the piano player employed by nightclub owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart). He also sings the Herman Hupfeld song “As Time Goes By,” which is a recurring motif in the film, reminding Rick and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) of their lost love affair in Paris during World War II.

For his contributions to culture and to the city, Wilson was honored locally with a Half-Mile of History marker downtown. The markers honor significant people, places or events in Tyler.

Wilson was born in Tyler on April 3, 1886, and died March 30, 1953. He is buried in Los Angeles.

Wilson was selected to play Sam because of his voice, according to the marker application submitted to the city by Stanley Cofer, with Empowerment Community Development Corporation.

“The Hollywood Reporter said he created ‘something joyous,’” the application reads.

The piano playing in the film is actually played by Elliot Carpenter, who sat where Wilson could see and imitate his hand movements. The two became fast friends and remained close for the rest of Wilson’s life.

The pair also played “It had to be you,” “Shine,” Knock on Wood” and “Parlez-moi d’armour.”

Wilson broke into show business at age 12 by performing in a vaudeville minstrel show, a popular variety show of the time period, according to the application.

He sang and played drums in African-American clubs in Tyler before moving to Chicago.

It was in Chicago that Wilson earned his nickname “Dooley.” Around 1908, while working in the Pekin Theatre he became known for his then-signature Irish song “Mr. Dooley,” according to the application. Wilson reportedly performed the song in white-face.

Wilson worked in African-American theaters in Chicago and New York until 1930, but he did tour Europe around 1920 with his band the Red Devils, the application reads.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Wilson got into Broadway productions and worked in motion pictures.

His breakthrough Broadway role was as Little Joe in the musical "Cabin in the Sky." That led to his signing with Paramount Pictures.

"Casablanca" was his most prominent role, but he also starred alongside Bob Hope, Lena Horne, and the Nicholas Brothers, among others.

He also was on the board of the Negro Actors Guild of America, and was married to Estelle Wilson.

Twitter: @TMTFaith



- On Our Selection (1920)

- Keep Punching (1939)

- My Favorite Blonde (1942)

- Take a letter, Darling (1942)

- Night in New Orleans (1942)

- Cairo (1942)

- Casablanca (1942)

- Two Tickets to London (1943)

- Stormy Weather (1943)

- Higher and Higher (1943)

- Seven Days Ashore (1944)

- Triple Threat (1948)

- Racing Luck (1948)

- Knock on Any Door (1949)

- Come to the Stable (1949)

- Tell it to the Judge (1949)

- Free for All (1949)

- No man of Her Own (1950)

-  Father is a Bachelor (1950)

- Passage West (1951)

- The Beulah Show (TV Series) (1950)