from the trailer for
Rhapsody in Blue (1945)
|Born||December 27, 1906|
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||August 14, 1972 65) (aged|
|Spouse(s)||Barbara Woodell (1932–1932; divorced)|
June Gale (1939–1972, his death; 3 children)
Oscar Levant (December 27, 1906 –August 14, 1972) was an American concert pianist, composer, music conductor, author, radio game show panelist, television talk show host, comedian and actor. Though awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for recordings featuring his piano performances, he was as famous for his mordant character and witticisms, on the radio and later in movies and television, as for his music.
Levant was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, in 1906, to Orthodox Jewish parents from Russia.His father, Max, was a watchmaker who wanted his four sons to become either dentists or doctors. His mother Annie was a highly religious woman whose father was a Rabbi who presided over his daughter's wedding to Max Levant.
Oscar Levant moved to New York in 1922, following the death of his father. He began studying under Zygmunt Stojowski, a well-established piano pedagogue. In 1925, aged 18, he appeared with Ben Bernie in a short film, Ben Bernie and All the Lads , made in New York City in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film system.
In 1928, Levant traveled to Hollywood, where his career took a turn for the better. During his stay, he met and befriended George Gershwin. From 1929 to 1948 he composed the music for more than twenty movies. During this period, he also wrote or co-wrote numerous popular songs that made the Hit Parade, the most noteworthy being "Blame It on My Youth" (1934), now considered a standard.
Around 1932, Levant began composing seriously. He studied under Arnold Schoenberg and impressed him sufficiently to be offered an assistantship (which he turned down, considering himself unqualified).His formal studies led to a request by Aaron Copland to play at the Yaddo Festival of contemporary American music on April 30 of that year. Successful, Levant began composing a new orchestral work, a sinfonietta.
The year 1938 saw Levant make his debut as a music conductor on Broadway, filling in for his brother Harry in sixty-five performances of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s The Fabulous Invalid. In 1939 he was again working on Broadway as composer and conductor of The American Way , another Kaufman and Hart production.
At this time, Levant was becoming best known to American audiences as one of the regular panelists on the radio quiz show Information Please . Originally scheduled as a guest panelist, Levant proved so quick-witted and popular that he became a regular fixture on the show in the late 1930s and 1940s, along with fellow panelists Franklin P. Adams and John Kieran and moderator Clifton Fadiman. "Mr. Levant," as he was always called, was often challenged with musical questions, and he impressed audiences with his depth of knowledge and facility with a joke. Kieran praised Levant as having a "positive genius for making offhand cutting remarks that couldn't have been sharper if he'd honed them a week in his mind. Oscar was always good for a bright response edged with acid."Examples include "I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin," "I think a lot of Bernstein—but not as much as he does," and (after Marilyn converted to Judaism when she married playwright Arthur Miller), "Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her."
From the 1930s through the mid-1950s, Levant appeared in a number of feature films, often playing a pianist or composer. He had major supporting roles in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals The Barkleys of Broadway (1949),starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, An American in Paris (1951), starring Gene Kelly, and The Band Wagon (1953), starring Astaire and Cyd Charisse.
From 1947 to 1949, Levant regularly appeared on NBC radio's Kraft Music Hall , starring Al Jolson. He not only accompanied singer Jolson on the piano with classical and popular songs, but often joked and ad-libbed with Jolson and his guests. This included comedy sketches. The pairing of the two entertainers was inspired. Their individual ties to George Gershwin—Jolson introduced Gershwin's "Swanee"—undoubtedly had much to do with their rapport. Both Levant and Jolson appeared as themselves in the Gershwin biopic Rhapsody in Blue (1945).
In the early 1950s, Levant was an occasional panelist on the NBC game show Who Said That? , in which celebrities would try to determine the speaker of quotations taken from recent news reports.
Between 1958 and 1960, Levant hosted a television talk show on KCOP-TV in Los Angeles, The Oscar Levant Show,which later became syndicated. It featured his piano playing along with monologues and interviews with top-name guests such as Fred Astaire and Linus Pauling. Full recordings of only two shows are known to exist, one with Astaire, who paid to have a kinescope recording of the broadcast made so that he could assess his performance.
In 1960, Levant was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in recognition of his recording career.
Levant was briefly married to actress Barbara Woodell; they divorced in 1932.In 1939, Levant married his second wife, singer and actress June Gale (née Doris Gilmartin), one of the Gale Sisters. They were married for 33 years, until his death in 1972, and had three children: Marcia, Lorna, and Amanda.
Levant was open about his neuroses and hypochondria. The 1920s and 1930s wit Alexander Woollcott, a member of the Algonquin Round Table, once said of him: "There isn't anything the matter with Levant that a few miracles wouldn't cure."Despite his afflictions, Levant was considered a multifaceted genius by some. He himself wisecracked "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." In later life Levant became addicted to prescription drugs, was frequently committed to mental hospitals by his wife, and increasingly withdrew from the limelight.
He was the inspiration for the neurotic, womanizing pianist "Henry Orient" in Nora Johnson's novel and subsequent Hollywood film The World of Henry Orient (1964).
A lifelong heavy smoker, Levant died in Beverly Hills, California, of a heart attack in 1972 at age 65. His death was discovered by his wife June when she called him from their bedroom to meet for an interview with Candice Bergen, a photojournalist at the time. He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. In citing an old joke, comics tell an apocryphal story about Levant: that his epitaph reads, "I told them I was ill."
This section needs additional citations for verification . (December 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
More examples of his repartée:
George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs "Swanee" (1919) and "Fascinating Rhythm" (1924), the jazz standard "I Got Rhythm" (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935) which gave birth to the hit "Summertime".
Fred Astaire was an American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer, and television presenter. He is widely considered the most influential dancer in the history of film.
This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1927.
This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1924.
Robert Russell Bennett was an American composer and arranger, best known for his orchestration of many well-known Broadway and Hollywood musicals by other composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Richard Rodgers.
Arthur Schwartz was an American composer and film producer, best remembered for his songwriting collaborations with Howard Dietz.
Swing Time is a 1936 American RKO musical comedy film set mainly in New York City, and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It features Helen Broderick, Victor Moore, Betty Furness, Eric Blore and Georges Metaxa, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The film was directed by George Stevens.
John William Sublett, known by his stage name John W. Bubbles, was an American tap dancer, and vaudevillian, movie actor, and television performer. He performed in the duo "Buck and Bubbles", who were the first black artists to appear on TV. He is known as the father of "rhythm tap."
Harry Akst was an American songwriter, who started out his career as a pianist in vaudeville accompanying singers such as Nora Bayes, Frank Fay and Al Jolson.
The Barkleys of Broadway is a 1949 Technicolor musical film from the Arthur Freed unit at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that reunited Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers after ten years apart. Directed by Charles Walters, the screenplay is by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Sidney Sheldon, the songs are by Harry Warren (music) and Ira Gershwin (lyrics) with the addition of "They Can't Take That Away from Me" by George and Ira Gershwin, and the choreography was created by Robert Alton and Hermes Pan. Also featured in the cast were Oscar Levant, Billie Burke, Jacques François and Gale Robbins.
Shall We Dance, released in 1937, is the seventh of the ten Astaire-Rogers musical comedy films. The idea for the film originated in the studio's desire to exploit the successful formula created by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart with their 1936 Broadway hit On Your Toes. The musical featured an American dancer getting involved with a touring Russian ballet company. In a major coup for RKO, Pandro Berman managed to attract the Gershwins – George Gershwin who wrote the symphonic underscore and Ira Gershwin the lyrics – to score this, their second Hollywood musical after Delicious in 1931.
Rhapsody in Blue is a 1945 fictionalized screen biography of the American composer and musician George Gershwin (1898–1937) released by Warner Brothers.
Phil Baker was an American comedian and emcee on radio. Baker was also a vaudeville actor, composer, songwriter, accordionist and author.
Will Vodery was an American composer, conductor, orchestrator, and arranger, and one of the few black Americans of his time to make a name for himself as a composer on Broadway, working largely for Florenz Ziegfeld.
Stanley Freeman was an American composer, pianist, lyricist, musical arranger, conductor, and studio musician.
"By Strauss" is a 1936 song composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. It pays homage to the music of Johann Strauss, Sr. and Johann Strauss, Jr..
Show Girl is a musical by William Anthony McGuire that ran from Jul 2, 1929 to Oct 5, 1929. The show tells the story of aspiring Broadway showgirl Dixie Dugan as she is pursued by four suitors. The music was written by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and Gus Kahn.
William C. K. Irwin, also known as William C. Irwin and Will Irwin, was an American pianist, conductor, and songwriter.
Rob Fisher is an American music director, conductor, arranger and pianist. He was the founding music director and conductor of the New York City Center Encores! series from 1994 to 2005. He is the leader of the Coffee Club Orchestra, which was the house band for Garrison Keillor’s radio broadcasts from 1989 to 1993.
Edward Benson Powell was an American arranger, orchestrator and composer, who served as Alfred Newman's musical lieutenant at 20th Century Fox film studios for over three decades. His contributions to the scores of 400 films culminated in the canon of widescreen Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals of the late 1950s, for which his arrangements, such as the extended "Carousel Waltz", continue to be revived in concerts and proms, as well as live-to-classic pictures. Powell was occasionally credited as Ed or without the middle initial, but his friends invariably called him Eddie.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oscar Levant .|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Oscar Levant|