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Pay It Again, Sam

October 11, 1985

Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Dooley Wilson made Casablanca come alive in the 1942 movie of that name--and who can forget it?--but if it weren't for Murray Burnett and Joan Alison, there would never have been any movie at all.

Burnett and Alison were two young New Yorkers who wrote a play in the summer of 1940 called "Everybody Comes to Rick's," which never got to Broadway but which was purchased by Warner Bros. lock, stock and barrel for $20,000--a very substantial sum in those days. The company had paid Dashiell Hammett only $8,000 for the rights to "The Maltese Falcon."

For the last several years, Burnett and Alison have been suing Warner's, trying to get the studio to pay them more for the characters and story they created that subsequently were turned into one of the most popular movies of all time.

The studio says a deal is a deal. The authors signed over all rights and were paid for them. "Legally and factually, this case is clear-cut," said Donald S. Zakarin of Pryor, Cashman, Sherman & Flynn, counsel for Warner's.

Perhaps so. But perhaps the studio should show the same compassion that Rick displays in the movie, when he forgoes his personal safety and love for Ilsa Lund and turns over the letters of transit to her and Victor Laszlo, allowing them to escape from the Nazis, though putting himself in peril. Because the movie has touched so many millions, the studio should give the authors a bonus. Sometimes reason and the law must be tempered by compassion.

Here's looking at you, kid.

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