Groucho's Casablanca Hoax

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What would comedy be without the Marx Brothers?

Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are the most popular in the group, but there were five in total. Their act began on the vaudeville stage and later shifted to film with even greater success. In 1946, three brothers teamed with United Artists for A Night in Casablanca.

According to Groucho, the movie caused quite a stir with Warner Brothers. The studio threatened legal action over the title of their film. As the story goes, Warner felt that they owned the exclusive rights to the word “Casablanca,” since it was the name of their 1942 hit starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

Groucho didn’t agree though and responded with a tongue-in-cheek letter. In it, he called them out for using a word which he alleged their act claimed first. 

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.”

As the story goes, everything was eventually worked out between the two, and the film was able to keep its name. 

In real life, however, the event never happened. Rather, Groucho invented the whole incident.

In another letter that he wrote in 1945, Groucho revealed, "We spread the story that Warners objected to this title purely for publicity reasons. They may eventually 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 turned out, Warner Brothers did inquire about the film when some initial rumors suggested that Groucho would be playing a character named "Humphrey Bogus." However, their investigation never amounted to anything too serious and didn't hold up the release of A Night in Casablanca.

Below is an excerpt from Groucho’s fictitious 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