Oscar Levant

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Oscar Levant playing the piano

Oscar Levant (Pittsburgh, December 27, 1906August 14, 1972) was a pianist and an actor, better known for his character than his music.

Born into a musical family, Levant moved to New York with his mother in 1922 after the death of his father. He began studying under Zygmunt Stojowski, a well established piano pedagogue.

In 1928 Levant traveled to Hollywood where his career turned for the better. During his stay, he met and befriended George Gershwin.

Around 1932 Levant began composing on a serious note. This 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 on a new orchestral work, Sinfonietta.

During the years of 1958 and 1960, Levant had a syndicated talk show, The Oscar Levant Show. The show was highly controversial, finally being taken from the air after a comment in regards to Marilyn Monroe: "Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her." He later refuted he "hadn't meant it that way." Several months later, the show was rebroadcast in a slightly revised format. The show was now taped to use as a buffer to Oscar's antics. This however, failed to prevent Levant from making some comments of Mae West's sex life, causing the show to be canceled for good.

Levant was also known for his frequent guest appearances on Jack Paar's talk show.

Levant was hopelessly addicted to drugs and was frequently committed to mental hospitals by his wife, June Gale. Despite his addiction, Levant was a genius in many areas. His playing of the Tchaikovsky and Anton Rubinstein piano concerti, not to mention Gershwin, is a testimony to that.

Oscar Levant drew increasingly away from "starlight" in his later years. On his passing in 1972 he was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.



More examples of his controversial repertoire:

"I used to call Audrey Hepburn a walking X-ray."

"A few years ago someone suggested that I read Spinoza. The first chapter in this particular volume was about superstitions and rituals. Here was my faith! Spinoza said rituals are all based on fear. My faith destroyed, I put down the book."

"When Frank Sinatra, Jr., was kidnapped, I said, 'It must have been done by music critics.'"

"Not long ago, a well-known Hollywood savings-and-loan millionaire intruded on a conversation at my table at a restaurant. Worst still, he implied that he and I were equals. 'Compared to you, I'm a Hapsburg,' I told him. But it didn't offend him. He thought Hapsburg was a rival local banker."

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