Carl, the Head Waiter

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 Carl, the Head Waiter

Don Conway

Authors note: This is one of a series of stories called Movie Minor Characters in which I try to develop a fictional history of some minor character in a popular movie. Carl the headwaiter is such a person in the Movie Casablanca.

          Carl the headwaiter was born Carl Schuetz in 1881 in the Austro-Hungarian city of Karlsbad,. His father, Heinrich, was the chief Brewmeister at a local brewery. His mother Annemae, typical of most women in the region, was a housewife and mother to the five children of the family. Carl was the youngest child.

His early childhood days were happy and carefree. The Schuetz family, while not wealthy, was on firm financial ground. Like most boys of his day, Carl was given a solid primary school education but movement to the upper-level gymnasium school was limited, for financial reasons, to his two older brothers. It was decided that Carl would be apprenticed to his father as a potential brewmeister. He started work in the brewery in 1895 at the age of fourteen.

In 1900 Carl, now twenty, took over as the Brewmeister at the brewery upon his father’s death. In 1904 he met a local Jewish girl, Edda, his future wife.  They were married in 1906. Their only child, a girl, died at childbirth. Saddened but unbowed, Carl and his wife settled down to a contented life surrounded by both his, and his wife’s families. Their lives would probably have been uneventful from this time onward except for the outbreak of WWI in 1914.

At age thirty-three Carl was too old to be conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian/German army but given his general knowledge of food handling and preservation he was required to become a food broker and supplier to the German army in the Karlsbad region of the Sudeten mountains in North Eastern Austro-Hungary.

With the German defeat in WWI, the Austro-Hungarian empire was dismantled by the Treaty of Versailles. The new republic of Czechoslovakia was declared with Karlsbad and the region around the Sudeten mountains incorporated into it as the Sudetenland. Carl, his Jewish wife, and both his and her families found themselves as citizens of Czechoslovakia.

The interim years between WWl and the rise of Nazi Germany were politically tumultuous. The Sudetenland was home to 3.5 million German-speaking people who were being forced to speak Czech and to integrate into the mostly Slavic cultures, of eastern Czechoslovakia.

By 1937, Adolf Hitler began making speeches about the alleged persecution and discrimination against the Sudeten Germans. On October 1st, 1938 he invaded the Sudetenland and declared it an annexed territory of Germany. In celebration of the annexation, the German army staged a massive military parade in Wenceslas Square in Prague. With this clear indication of the German takeover of all of Czechoslovakia. Carl and his wife became aware, and fearful of, the danger to his Jewish wife. They fled the Sudetenland in January 1939. Their Czechoslovakian passports did not show their religious affiliations and they were allowed to travel into Germany as German citizens.

Their ultimate goal was to get to America. Their route took them to Stuttgart, Germany then to Strasbourg on the German-French border and eventually into Paris in March, of 1939. By this time they had exhausted their finances and were forced to take work in Paris. They found a small hotel/restaurant owned by a fellow Sudetenland refugee. Edda worked as a housekeeper and Carl as the head waiter in the restaurant.

In the Spring of 1939 an unusual couple, an American named Rick Blaine and a Czech woman named Ilsa Lund began to frequent the restaurant. They, and the good-natured Carl, soon became friends. One afternoon, while waiting for Rick to arrive at the restaurant, Ilsa revealed to Carl that she was the widow of the famous Victor Laszlo the leader of the Czech resistance movement. Fearful of what this information might do to her relationship with Rick Blaine she swore Carl to secrecy about her former marriage.

Frances’ war against Germany went badly. As the middle of 1940 approached Rick and Ilsa began to make plans to leave Paris. Rick said he was going to go to Morocco and open some sort of restaurant. Carl begged Rick to lend him enough money so that he and Edda could leave Paris with Rick and his friend Sam. Carl promised to go to Morocco and work for Rick without pay as reimbursement for the loan. Out of friendship for Carl, and aware that he might have need of a good waiter in Morocco. Rick agreed.

The French army collapsed and on June 14, 1940, German troops marched down the Champs Elysees This was also the day that Rick, Carl and Edda, and Sam, Rick’s African American friend, were to meet at the Gare Montparnasse to take the train for Spain, their entry point to Morocco. The night before this departure date Ilsa had been informed that her husband, Victor Laszlo, whom she had presumed to be dead, was, in fact, alive. Conscience-stricken, Ilsa decided to abandon Rick and stay in Paris so she could rejoin her husband.

The following year, when Ilsa and her husband came to Morocco, Carl led Victor to the French Resistance fighters in Casablanca.

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Don Conway is an award-winning Architect and Writer (two golds and a silver medal from national writing competition) also a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University. Says he is working hard on book number four.