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Oscar Levant

Born Dec 27 1906
Died Aug 14 1972

Oscar Levant had a unique career. To quote an essay by Dixie Burge, Oscar Levant flourished as (and subsequently gave up each, one by one) gifted composer, concert pianist, radio personality, movie star, successful recording artist, best-selling author, talk-show host and quiz show panellist.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Levant composed and performed an eclectic range of popular and classical music. One bizarre highlight was the composition of a 15 minute opera, for, all of things, a Charlie Chan film. Well, to be fair, it was Charlie Chan at the Opera.

A minor entry in the catalogue was the score for the Ginger Rogers movie In Person in 1935. This was his only work with Dorothy Fields who wrote the lyrics for three Levant melodies. All three songs are currently available on recordings by Bobby Short, Peter Mintun and Kay Thompson.

After the death of his friend George Gershwin, Levant became the acknowledged primary interpreter of Gershwin's concert music. In the 1950s he became a famous TV personality and was noted for his appearances on the Jack Paar show where he talked frankly about the difficulties of his personal life, which included mental illness and drug addiction. Despite an acerbic wit and subversive style, which would seem to clash with the popular perception of anodyne American television of the 1950s, Levant knew considerable success with his own talk show “Disgrace the Nation”. A fascinating man.

Quote from Oscar Levant : “I've given up reading books. I find it takes my mind off myself.

For details of Oscar Levant's career in classical music see Oscar Levant.

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