Winding Road from ‘Casablanca’

Playwright Explores Her Hollywood Family's Real-Life Drama

Here’s Looking at You, Kid: An encounter between Thilde Foerster (left) and Casablanca director Michael Curtiz (inset) set the stage for a family drama unfolding only decades later.
cUrtiz photo: ap photo
Here’s Looking at You, Kid: An encounter between Thilde Foerster (left) and Casablanca director Michael Curtiz (inset) set the stage for a family drama unfolding only decades later.

By Jon Kalish

Published July 31, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

Forster wanted her father’s blessing for the play. She also realized that she couldn’t really write it without her father’s assistance. It wasn’t until after the playwright had her own children, and her father became a grandfather, that he became more open to the idea.

“Life is short, and you gradually let go of the things that hurt you as a child and as a young man,” Forster observed. “You see them in a different light as time goes by.”

Among the works found in that battered suitcase under Thilde Foerster’s bed when she died was a play that Foerster wrote about Hitler. Forster says the play made it into the finals in a playwriting competition in the late 1960s. If it had won, it would have been staged at Lincoln Center.

“I hadn’t really appreciated that the whole time she was my grandmother, she was actually writing; she was still hoping to break through somehow with a work, but that never happened for her,” Forster said.
 Thilde Foerster spent the last years of her working life as a secretary in the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department. She spent the end of her life in a nursing home after surgery for a brain tumor.

Forster was the only member of the family in California when her grandmother died. The playwright remembers her grandmother as a witty, politically aware woman who was a good storyteller. She says that the two of them were quite close, despite the fact that Thilde Foerster revealed almost nothing about her life.

Foster’s father was similarly tight-lipped. He didn’t reveal that he was Jewish until Michelanne Forster was 14, just a year older than he was when Uncle Ludwig had informed him that he was Jewish. When a classmate insisted that Forster couldn’t be Jewish because her mother wasn’t Jewish, she confronted her father, who said that as far as he was concerned, she was Jewish, too, even if her mother was a gentile.

“My father said to me, ‘You’re Jewish enough for Hitler.’ And that sentence went straight into my heart and stayed with me ever since,” she said.

Forster had felt that she was a failure as a Jew because she lacked a Jewish education as a child, but over the years she has decided that she is part of the Jewish people.

“My father said to me many times, ‘I lived off the charity of the Jewish community, and without the Jewish community, I would be in Hitler’s ovens.’ And that has always stayed with me and gave me the courage to go back to the Jewish community because I owe my life to them. Our whole family does,” Forster said, her voice breaking.

Jon Kalish is a Manhattan-based radio reporter and podcast producer.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.