Oscar Levant

Dixie Burge in Big Band Swing:

“Oscar Levant is a character who, if he did not exist, could not be imagined.” These words were used by Levant’s great friend, S. N.(“Sam”)Behrman, to describe him. No truer words were ever spoken! In his lifetime, 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 panelist. Whew! It was what he described as his Noel Coward Principal he managed “to break off his jobs at a certain interval.” He appeared in thirteen movies, including “An American In Paris”, “The Band Wagon”, “Humoresque” and the George Gershwin biograpy, “Rhapsody in Blue”, in which he played “an unsympathetic part… myself.”

…Levant was an astonishingly gifted concert pianist who, in his heyday of the 1940’s and early-to-mid 1950’s, earned more money than any other pianist in America. In the 1930’s, before he gained his real fame, Levant was dubbed “the wag of Broadway” by Michael Mok in the New York Post. In the 1940’s, at the height of his fame as a wit and bad boy, he was known as “the enfant terrible.” In the 1950’s and ‘60’s, after mental illness and drug abuse had taken their toll, Levant was known as “America’s favorite neurotic.” He sporadically appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar to talk candidly about those subjects, being the first well-known personality to do so. He coined a now-famous phrase: “There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased that line.” Author Christopher Isherwood described Levant as a character created by Dostoevsky someone “completely unmasked at all times.”

…“It’s not what you are – it’s what you don’t become that hurts.” Oscar Levant

More here.