Did Jack Benny make an uncredited cameo in the 1942 movie? That odd claim isn’t new: it dates back to the movie’s release and appears in the Casablanca press book. But movie studio publicity departments weren’t known for slavish adherence to the truth and often invented stories for publicity. I had always assumed this story fell into the category of urban legend.
To my surprise, many people think that the story is true. Roger Ebert recently addressed it in his “Movie Answer Man” column in the Chicago Sun-Times (the December 9, 2009 and December 23, 2009 columns). Here is another discussion at the International Jack Benny Fan Club Forum. The best guess among viewers seems to be that Jack Benny is sitting at a table in the background at around the seven minute mark.
I found some further corroboration in the Wednesday, February 3, 1943 issue of The Evening Independent, a St. Petersburg, Florida newspaper. Here is a story with the headline of “Playhouse Offers Award for Finding Benny in Picture”:
If you look sharply at the right time and the right place, you will see Jack Benny in Warner Brothers “Casablanca” now showing for the last two days (today and Thursday) at the Playhouse theater. And if you identify the comedian and the scene in which he appears the box office will present you with a free ticket to the next feature at the theater.
The novel contest offer was made today after Playhouse officials discovered the extra star in the star studded “Casablanca” which features among others, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Humphrey Bogart.
Benny who is not supposed to appear in the picture, went stage hopping at the Warner Brothers studio and found himself on the set of “Casablanca” while the cameras were shooting. Due to wartime shortage of film the scene was not retaken and Benny definitely appears in the picture.
The contest is also mentioned in the Playhouse advertisement on the same page under the caption “Find Jack Benny in Casablanca”:
Jack Benny is not billed and is not supposed to be in the picture BUT HE IS … Any person attending the show today and tomorrow who can identify him and describe the scene in which he appears will be given A FREE PASS to see “RHYTHM PARADE”