Oscar Levant

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Oscar Levant

Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 14 Aug 1972 (aged 65)
Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Plot Sanctuary of Love, Crypt 26-A
Memorial ID 620 View Source
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Composer, Pianist, Author, Comedian, Actor. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was the husband of actress June Gale. They were married on December 1, 1939. Often quoted for his 1942 quip "It has always been a regret that the event could not have been delayed four days, so that I would have been born in 1907. As it is, I'm reckoned as a nineteen-sixer, and thus thirty-five at the present time, when I am really only thirty-four." A true renaissance man, he is perhaps best remembered as a gifted composer and brilliant solo pianist. He played Gene Kelly's pianist buddy in the movie version of American in Paris. Often his musical accomplishment is overshadowed by his public persona. At the age of seven he was studying with Martin Miessler, a graduate of the Leipzig Conservatory who specialized in the Czerny piano method. His early repertoire included Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann. After the death of his father, his mother took him to New York City in 1922 to deepen his musical apprenticeship. The allure and glamour of Broadway would distract him forever from a classical career. He became one of George Gershwin's closest friends. He toured London in cabaret in 1926 and first traveled to Los Angeles in 1929 the same year the Nordstrom Sisters left for the Ritz in London using one of his songs. He would compose for, and appear in numerous Hollywood films, but at the same period would retain a New York presence writing for Broadway and Tim Pan Alley. At 25 he sat with Gershwin, playing second keyboard in a two-piano version of the Second Rhapsody for conductor Arturo Toscanini. On 16 August 1932, in Lewisohn Stadium, he played the Gershwin Concerto in F for an audience of 17000. He would not give another public concert for five years. Gershwin died at 38 in 1937 and Levant played the Concerto in F at the Gershwin memorial concert in the Hollywood Bowl. His debut as a Broadway conductor was in the spring of 1938 taking over for his brother Harry. Following this he was engaged as composer and conductor of the American Way another Kaufman and Hart production in January 1939. That spring he worked as a film conductor for director Joseph Losey which first screened at the New York World's Fair that year. In the summer of 1945 he appeared as himself in the Warner Brothers film Rhapsody in Blue a free form biography of George Gershwin. He did a recording in 1946 with violinist Isaac Stern and conductor Franz Waxman for the sound track of Humoresque which underscored the death of Joan Crawford. For most of the remainder of his career he worked in radio, film, television, writing, and increasingly rare concerts and recitals. On January 14, 1947, at the invitation of President Harry S Truman, he gave a recital at the White House. As they were bidding their hosts goodnight, Oscar turned to his wife. "Now," he said with mock resignation, "we have to have them over to dinner." He co-hosted a talk show with his wife in 1956 on KCOP-TV. He made an on-air prediction once. After telling viewers not to buy Philco television sets—the product of his sponsor—he forecast that he'd be fired. He was. He also predicted he would land a job on KHJ-TV, Channel 9, remarking that they'd take anyone. His show switched to Channel 9 inlate 1958. He wrote two books Memoirs of an Amnesiac in 1965 and the Unimportance of Being Oscar in 1968. One of his famous one-liners: "There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line." June and he had three daughters Marcia, Lorna and Amanda. Increasingly reclusive, he died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills at the age of 66.

Bio by: D C McJonathan-Swarm

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 620
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Oscar Levant (27 Dec 1906–14 Aug 1972), Find a Grave Memorial ID 620, citing Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .