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'Casablanca' star lives in the shadow of his character

Paul Henreid, who played Nazi resistence leader Victor Laszlo, never achieved the fame of some of the movie's other stars and played largely European-type roles.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 25, 2008

Tête-à-tête: Paul Henreid, who played Nazi resistence leader Victor Laszlo in ‘Casablanca,’ shares a heartfelt moment with Ingrid Bergman. Henreid’s daughter, Monika, says the Austrian actor got narrowly defined roles after the movie.

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VIENNA

"Welcome back to the fight," Nazi resistance leader Victor Laszlo says to Rick Blaine at the end of "Casablanca" – as the famous plane to Lisbon sputters and roars. "This time I know our side will win."

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It's one of the finest Hollywood scenes ever – apotheosized by black and whites of Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund) face to face in the night fog, saying goodbye at the airport so her husband Laszlo can escape. They will always have Paris.

Of this trio, the elegant character of Laszlo, played by the refugee Austrian actor Paul Henreid, is nearly forgotten – in film and in real life. He went on to play roles as European types, Nazi heavies, and freedom fighters, as well as raised war bonds in Washington. But he got blacklisted in the McCarthy era for refusing to divulge the political views of fellow actors, and ended up directing TV fare for 25 years. Bogart got an Oscar nomination for "Casablanca." Henreid got typecast. He never broke free, becoming one of the countless Tinseltown footnotes who lived outside the Oscar glare.

Today Henreid's daughter, Monika, raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Brentwood, shuttles from the US to Vienna to reconstruct her father's life on film – a narrative itself synonymous with the 20th century whirlwinds that tossed European artists and intellectuals around like the characters in Casablanca itself.

"He played heroic screen characters but often got slapped around in life, so he constantly tried to reinvent himself," says Ms. Henreid, whose father died in 1992. "People think he is French. No one can pronounce his name. He is known as Victor Laszlo, but he spent much of his life in L.A., working and directing. He gave Richard Dreyfuss his first film job; he discovered Burt Reynolds. But it [being typecast] took a toll."

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Henreid came from an aristocratic Viennese family – his banker father was knighted, his mother owned a shop on the Herrengasse. He was twice blacklisted in Europe. He hung out with film director Otto Preminger and studied at the Max Reinhardt center. But in 1934 he refused to sign a Nazi loyalty oath that was part of a lucrative Berlin film contract. He escaped to London, worked on stage, but became a deportable alien after the Anchluss in 1938, when Hitler annexed Austria. Desperate to flee to America, he despaired when authorities told him the Austrian émigré list was full.

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