A Birmingham Valentine tradition: Casablanca and the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Alabama Theatre

Birmingham Alabama
Photo by the Alabama Theatre

It is one of those “must attend” events in Birmingham. If it is Valentine’s Day, you must take a loved one or the entire family to see the timeless movie Casablanca and join a sing-a-long with the Mighty Wurlitzer at the Alabama Theatre.

“We have shown Casablanca on Valentine’s Day for many years now. It’s a Birmingham tradition that a lot of people have come to expect and to treasure,” said Glenny Brock Outreach Coordinator for Birmingham Landmarks, the non-profit organization that owns and operates the Alabama and Lyric Theatres.

The Alabama Theatre will be showing Casablanca again this Valentine’s Day with doors opening at 6:00 p.m.

History of Casablanca within the Birmingham Theatre District

February edition of the Birmingham News and Birmingham-Age Herald, courtesy of the Birmingham Public Library.

A tradition at the Alabama for most of the 21 Century, Birmingham’s history with Casablanca goes all the way back to World War II.

It is important to remember that back in the 1940s, decades before the age of multiplex theaters, films were major events. Movies did not stay in theaters for weeks and months as they do today, and television was not made widely available till the late 40s and early 50s.

Casablanca had its Birmingham premiere at The Ritz Theater on Saturday, Feb. 19, 1943, with a “midnight show” that started at 11:30 p.m.

The Bogart-Bergman picture opened at the Alabama just a few days on Thursday, Feb. 25, 1943. There were six showings a day for a week.

Stanleigh Malotte, the Alabama’s beloved organist who was called “America’s Wizard of the Organ,” played the Mighty Wurlitzer for each show.

Photo of Stanleigh Malotte, “America’s Wizard of the Organ,” playing the Mighty Wurlitzer. From courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks

He shared the stage with NBC “Singing Star” Ann Bruce for the weekend shows and with Dr. IQ “The Mental Banker” Monday through Thursday. The pre-movie cartoon was “Donald Gets Drafted” starring Donald Duck.

After its Alabama Theatre run, “Casablanca” was so popular that it was held over at the Lyric Theatre, which at the time was more like today’s dollar theatre, or “second run” theatre for two more weeks after closing at the Alabama. Despite that status, the Lyric ran ads warning people that they were going to charge “Alabama (Theatre) prices.”

More than just a movie on Valentine’s Day

Alabama Theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer. Courtesy of Birmingham Landmarks

The upcoming show on Valentine’s Day evening will include not only the movie but sing-a long with the Mighty Wurlitzer. Alabama Theatre’s own Gary Jones will be playing and leading the sing-a-long.

“We love to say that the Mighty Wurlitzer is the engine that runs this block. Without the organ, the Alabama would not have been saved,” added Brock. “And, if the Alabama had not been saved, we would not have been able to save the Lyric, so we play the organ for our audiences as often as possible because it’s such a special part of our community.”

 

The Details

The doors at the Alabama Theatre open on Valentines Day at 6 p.m. and the movie at 7 p.m., immediately following a sing-along with the Mighty Wurlitzer. The show is sponsored by WBHM, Levy’s Fine Jewelry and Chocolata Bham.

Be a part of this cherished Birmingham tradition. Reserve your tickets today.

  • Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.