If terrorizing the nation behind the scenes with one of the most iconic radio broadcasts of all time wasn’t enough to put Howard Koch on the map, then turning an obscure play into an American film classic surely sealed the deal.
Born in 1901 in New York City, Howard Koch studied law before turning his attention to plays. After a few flops on Broadway, his play The Lonely Man became a hit in Chicago. After this, he began writing for Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater on the Air, adapting H. G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds into the now infamous 1938 radio special. The following year, he signed a contract with Warner Bros and had a string of hits, including The Sea Hawk (1940, dir. Michael Curtiz), The Letter (1940, dir. William Wyler) and Sergeant York (1941, dir, Howard Hawks), culminating in his adaptation, with Julius and Phillip Epstein, of Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s play Everybody Comes to Rick’s into, you guessed it, Casablanca (1942, dir. Michael Curtiz), for which he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He followed this with Mission to Moscow (1943, dir. Michael Curtiz) and Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948, dir. Max Ophuls), the former being the source of his blacklisting in 1951. Like so many others, he ended up fleeing to the United Kingdom, returning five years later, after which he continued writing plays and getting involved with political causes. His memoir As Time Goes By was published in 1979 and, in 1995, Howard Koch died at the age of 93.