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California and the West | Sitting Pretty

Settlement of Memorabilia Suit Brings Collector an Authentic 'Casablanca' Chair

January 27, 1998|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call it a perfect Hollywood ending.

A small-town guy gets jilted by a big-league movie studio when the prop he bought at an auction 23 years ago turns out to be a fake. He sues and the studio settles. But here's where the plot thickens.

Plaintiff-protagonist Robert Noe tells the studio he doesn't want money, just the real goods: an authentic chair from the 1942 movie classic "Casablanca."

That is, after all, what businessman Noe thought he'd bought in 1975 at a KCET auction when he paid $350 for a sturdy leather and wood chair, which he proudly displayed in his Ojai home over the years.

After months of negotiations, Warner Bros. Pictures agreed and on Monday afternoon Noe swapped his meaningless hunk of mahogany for a Tinseltown treasure--handpicked from a basement closet at the studio's Burbank headquarters.

"I think this is our winner," Noe said, selecting a wooden chair with red leather seat.

The terms of Noe's unusual out-of-court settlement didn't end there, however. After selecting his new chair, Noe and a group of friends were allowed to venture into the studio's museum.

They gathered around the original piano from the film and, with the tenor voice of Ventura County Superior Court Judge Steven Perren leading the charge, sang the film's melodic standard--"As Time Goes By." The judge, who had nothing to do with the case, agreed to come along simply as a vocalist.

Noe's settlement became final Monday after months of negotiations with the studio. Although KCET was also named as a defendant, the settlement with Warner Bros. resolved the claims against both defendants.

A lawyer for Warner Bros. would not comment on the settlement, saying it was the studio's policy not to discuss matters of litigation.

Noe's lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in June. It claimed that KCET and the Warner Bros. prop department intentionally misrepresented the value of the chair at auction.

The lawsuit specifically alleged that the chair, donated by Warner Bros., was wrongfully advertised. A script from the sale of Item No. 5181 reads in part:

"You must remember this . . . a wooden and leather chair from the movie 'Casablanca.' The star--Humphrey Bogart. The chair--a prize for Bogart fans. We know there are millions of you out there--let's hear from you."

The sales pitch hooked Noe, a fan of the movie. It was not until 1995, when he told an antique dealer about the chair, that Noe discovered it was not the real thing.

Marcia Tysseling, president of Star Wares, a Santa Monica-based company that specializes in acquiring and appraising film collectibles, scanned scenes from the movie and could not find a single shot in which it appeared.

Noe, accompanied by his lawyer, Glen Reiser, selected the replacement from seven possible chairs in the Warner Bros. vault--all of which appeared in scenes shot in the office of Claude Rains' character, Capt. Renault.

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