Tinkle those ivories again, Sam

It might be any old upright piano to you and me, but it could bring more than $1 million when it’s sold at auction in New York next month.

When Actor and singer Dooley Wilson sang As Time Goes By in the role of Sam in the 1942 classic film Casablanca, as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the unlucky lovers Rick and Isla, leaned on the piano in a flashback to their time in Paris, he never actually touched the keyboard in front of him. The music was played by jazz musician Elliot Carpenter, who sat where Wilson could watch and imitate his hand movements. And, incidentally, the phrase “Play it again, Sam”, one of the most popular phrases in cinematic history, is never used in the film.

On 14 December the piano goes under the Sotherby’s hammer with a pre-sale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million, when the film celebrates its 70th anniversary.

It was first sold by Sotheby’s in 1988 to a Japanese collector, who paid $154,000 for the battered-looking old piano, the highest price ever paid for a movie prop. Since then, interest in film props has grown, said Sotheby’s.

“How can anything say ‘I love you’ better than the piano from Casablanca?” said David Redden, vice chairman and director of the special projects department at Sotheby’s, when he announced the sale. Well, I can think of a few ways that would still leave me with $950,000 to put in the bank.

The film, set in Morocco during World War Two, won three Academy Awards including best picture, best writing and best director for Michael Curtiz, although despite the evocative name no-one set foot on Moroccan soil during its production – it was filmed in a back lot at Warner Brother’s Burbank studio, and some of the sets were left-overs from The Destert Song, which had been filmed there a couple of years earlier.

At least it’s a bit more of a bargain than the for $4.6 million someone paid last year for Marilyn Monroe’s white ‘subway dress’ from the 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch. One frock – I could get a whole wardrobe for that!