Groucho's Casablanca Hoax

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What would comedy be without the Marx Brothers?

Five brothers in total, the three that are most remembered are Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. The act that began on vaudeville later showcased their witty and slapstick power on film to great success. In 1946, the three brothers teamed for yet another film in A Night in Casablanca.

But according to Groucho, the title caused quite a stir for Warner Brothers, who threatened legal action. As the story goes, the studio felt that they owned the exclusive rights to the word “Casablanca,” since it was the title of their 1942 hit starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Groucho didn’t back down though and responded with a witty letter, which included a particularly funny claim on a word they were using.

He wrote, “You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were.”

The only problem is that this humorous exchange never actually happened in real life. Groucho invented it.

“We spread the story that Warners objected to this title purely for publicity reasons,” he divulged in a letter in 1945. “They may eventually actually object to it, although I don’t think so… At any rate, the publicity has been wonderful on it and it was a happy idea.”

As it turns out, Warner Brothers eventually did inquire about the film (and even lodge a formal complaint), after some initial details emerged that Groucho would be playing "Humphrey Bogus" – but it never amounted to anything too serious. The studio later dropped the issue -- though they remained the butt of joke.

Below is an excerpt of Groucho’s letter:

Dear Warner Brothers:

Apparently there is more than one way of conquering a city and holding it as your own. For example, up to the time that we contemplated making this picture, I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers.

However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name Casablanca.

It seems that in 1471, Ferdinand Balboa Warner, your great-great-grandfather, while looking for a shortcut to the city of Burbank, had stumbled on the shores of Africa and, raising his alpenstock (which he later turned in for a hundred shares of common), named it Casablanca . . .

I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well — hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion.

This bar sinister probably needled your attorneys, most of whom are fine fellows with curly black hair, double-breasted suits, etc., into attempting to enjoin us.

Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court!

No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool.


Groucho Marx