Monday, April 7, 2014

Charity Lockheed flight blends elements of Whatcom history, 'Casablanca'

Auctions and sales are a staple at community fundraisers, but the Bellingham Festival of Music has come up with an unusual offering that combines elements of local history, a famous movie and a vintage airplane.  

The festival is offering five people a chance to pay for a flight around Mount Baker in a restored 1938 Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior, on Aug. 2.

That's the same twin-engine plane portrayed in the classic closing scene of "Casablanca," when Humphrey Bogart says goodbye to Ingrid Bergman, who is about to fly out of Bogart's life.

Up to 100 people also can pay to attend a "Casablanca" party Aug. 2 at a hangar at Bellingham International Airport.

The 1938 plane is owned by Patrick Donovan, a retired commercial pilot and the great-grandson of John Joseph (J.J.) Donovan, an early Bellingham businessman whose life is the subject of "Treasures from the Trunk," a history exhibit at Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall building.

Donovan, who lives in Seattle, was in Bellingham recently for a tour of the Donovan exhibit led by Brian Griffin, the local author and historian who was the leading force behind the exhibit. Griffin is working his way through Donovan's letters, diaries and other papers to write a biography of the prominent businessman and civic leader.

Also at the exhibit tour was Sally Chapman, a friend of Griffin's and co-chair of the festival's dinner auction. After the tour, they all ventured to Boundary Bay Brewery for beer and conversation.

The subject of old movies came up and, given Donovan's airplane, "Casablanca" was mentioned. Chapman asked Donovan if rides aboard his plane could be sold for the festival, and he agreed.

"If it's a good cause, I'm happy to participate," Donovan told me later.

As it turns out, Griffin discovered in one of J.J.'s diaries that J.J.'s son Philip, an early car dealer and aviator, flew around Mount Baker with his wife, Hazel, in 1928.

With a contemporary Baker fly-around in the works, they decided a "Casablanca" party made a good idea even better.

San Juan Airlines, which recently combined with Northwest Sky Ferry, will host the party at its hangar at 4167 Mitchell Way. The party will include the movie, piano music, Moroccan food, beer and wine, and prizes for the best "Casablanca" character impersonators.

"This ought to be a hoot of a party, a thriller of a flight," Griffin said in an email. "The plane is absolutely original and authentic, even to vintage magazines in its behind-the-seat racks."

Donovan's Model 12 Electra is a smaller Lockheed plane from the late '30s, a model used by small airlines, companies and well-to-do individuals.

Fortunately, his plane is not exactly like the plane in the foggy goodbye scene in "Casablanca." That's because the plane waiting to take Bergman away was a reduced-size model, not a real plane.

During production of the 1942 movie, location shooting by studios on the West Coast was restricted because of concerns about possible Japanese attacks. That meant Warner Bros. had to shoot the airport scene on one of its soundstages.

To fit, they used a small-scale version of the Lockheed, with midget actors as the ground crew. The fog in the scene was created artificially to mask the trickery.

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