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 Posted:   Apr 22, 2008 - 3:29 PM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

I was watching the Astaire-Rogers opus The Barkleys of Broadway the other night and was once again struck by the wit and musical ability of Oscar Levant (1906-1972). I've known him by his role in Barkleys as well as his most famous film, An American In Paris and the one liner attributed to him about Richard Nixon ("He'll doublecross that bridge when he gets to it.")

Now I'm finding myself needing to read the man's memoirs and I understand he had a TV show in the late 1950s. Whenever I see him on film, I am immediately taken with his scene-stealing, caustic, self-deprecating wit, which, apparently was all too real in his personal life, making himself the butt of his own jokes. He's about as original of a performer/personality as I've ever seen or read about. He's fascinating.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfWLQjkLWW4

Levant performing "Saber Dance" from The Barkleys of Broadway:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnXfNHQhgio&feature=related

 
 Posted:   Apr 22, 2008 - 3:43 PM   
 By:   Eric Paddon   (Member)

and the one liner attributed to him about Richard Nixon ("He'll doublecross that bridge when he gets to it.")


It's so tempting to then think of what he possibly could have said about the guy who couldn't cross the bridge when he did get to it, but....big grin

I've seen loads of clips of Levant on talk shows, where he was a real favorite of Jack Paar's, and his surly hypochondria also a source of much of his humor.

 
 Posted:   Apr 22, 2008 - 4:10 PM   
 By:   PhiladelphiaSon   (Member)

I remember him well from his many television appearances when I was young. He famously quipped that he knew Doris Day "before she was a virgin".

 
 Posted:   Apr 22, 2008 - 10:39 PM   
 By:   Steve Johnson   (Member)

Catch him in the 1946 Warner Bros. potboiler HUMUORESQUE, supporting John Garfield and that magnificent bitch, Joan Crawford. Sublime.

 
 
 Posted:   Apr 23, 2008 - 4:45 AM   
 By:   vinylscrubber   (Member)

I also love the title of his autobiography, A SMATTERING OF IGNORANCE.

Or, the way he would describe his piano musicianship as "playing with arthritic abandon."

I grieve over the loss of such wits today.

 
 Posted:   Apr 23, 2008 - 9:46 AM   
 By:   shicorp   (Member)

I once started reading "Memoirs of an Amnesiac", but time prevented me from getting far. It was quite a funny experience, though. It's outstanding how Levant describes his family life. An unfortunate example of how close brilliancy and dementia can get...

 
 Posted:   Apr 23, 2008 - 5:48 PM   
 By:   Ray Faiola   (Member)

Sardonic, intellectual wit has been replaced by rank cynicism and I think we're all the worse for it. Levant has to have been one of the most complex personalities of the 20th Century. Imagine a child prodigy who yearns to compose but becomes a close friend of perhaps the greatest American composer of his time (maybe all time). Did the words "why bother" come to mind? And how about that two-year stint with Jolson on THE KRAFT MUSIC HALL? Talk about two head cases butting heads every week!

 
 
 Posted:   Apr 23, 2008 - 6:23 PM   
 By:   manderley   (Member)

God, I miss these witty old raconteurs who used to inhabit the TV and radio talk shows!

I'm so happy I've lived long enough to have enjoyed, first-hand, people like Levant, Noel Coward, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, Monty Woolley and some of the now more obscure ones like Ilka Chase and Alexander King.

Do we really have anything like them anymore?

 
 Posted:   Apr 24, 2008 - 10:41 AM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Catch him in the 1946 Warner Bros. potboiler HUMUORESQUE, supporting John Garfield and that magnificent bitch, Joan Crawford. Sublime.

I saw the film once, years ago. I'm quite a John Garfield admirer and Joan Crawford won me over with THE WOMEN (1939) and SUDDEN FEAR (1952). Not to mention THE DAMNED DON'T CRY. She was brilliant!

My wife's favorite movie of all time is probably AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, so my exposure to Levant was through that film.

More Levant wit:

1. Every time I look at you I get a fierce desire to be lonesome.

2. I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.

3. I have given up reading books; I find it takes my mind off myself.

4. I was once thrown out of a mental hospital for depressing the other patients.

5. It's not a pretty face, I grant you, but underneath its flabby exterior is an enormous lack of character.

6. There is a thin line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.

7. [Jack Paar: What did you want to be when you were a kid, Oscar?] An orphan.

8. The Jerry Lewis Show has all the suspense of a Hitchcock thriller -- the suspense of wondering when the first laugh will come.

9. [Leonard] Bernstein uses music as an accompaniment to his conducting.

10. I'm controversial. My friends either dislike me or hate me.

 
 Posted:   Sep 11, 2013 - 11:47 AM   
 By:   DavidinBerkeley   (Member)

Of course the swell JP would have an opinion I like!



I haven't watched this yet, but I'm looking forward to it.







Levant was a wit like no other. He seems like he'd be a great talk show host.

 
 Posted:   Sep 11, 2013 - 1:42 PM   
 By:   Jim Phelps   (Member)

Oooh, I'm going to watch these! I also happen to be a Robert Benchley admirer, though his humor is the polar opposite in tone to Levant's.

Wow, this thread of mine is from five years ago??? embarrassment

By the way, the FSM board is known throughout the world for its love of Oscar Levant.

 
 Posted:   Nov 7, 2013 - 10:13 AM   
 By:   DavidinBerkeley   (Member)











My stars, but that was the twitchiest person I have ever watched in my life.

I realized while watching it that I've only ever seen him while he was scripted; I've never heard him speak extemporaneously.

And I couldn't help thinking, while seeing him puff one cigarette after another, that his living room drapes must smell of smoke to high heaven.

 
 Posted:   Apr 16, 2014 - 9:34 PM   
 By:   DavidinBerkeley   (Member)

Levant in much better form (i.e., in a supporting role), and very, very funny.

 
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