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Oscar Levant (December 27, 1906 – August 14, 1972) was a pianist, composer, author, comedian and actor of American nationality. He was famous for his scathing character and for his sharpness acting in radio, film and television productions.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, into a Jewish Orthodox family of Russian origin, Levant went to live in New York in 1922, after the death of his father, Max. He started studies under the tutelage of Zygmunt Stojowski, a well-known piano teacher. In 1924, at 18 years of age, he starred with Ben Bernie in a short, Ben Bernie and All the Lads, shot in New York with the sound system of Lee DeForest Phonofilm.
In 1928, Levant traveled to Hollywood, where his career took a positive turn. There he became friends with George Gershwin. Between 1929 and 1948 he composed music for more than twenty cinematographic productions, and in that period he also composed totally or partially numerous popular songs, highlighting among them “Blame It on My Youth” (1934).
Around 1932 he started composing serious music. He studied under the direction of Arnold Schoenberg, impressing him to the point that the composer offered to work as his assistant (Levant rejected the offer, as he did not consider himself qualified.) His formal studies led Aaron Copland to request him to play in Yaddo at the Festival of contemporary American music. Levant began to compose a new orchestral work, a sinfonietta. Coinciding with all this, he married the actress Barbara Woodell, from whom he divorced in 1932.
In 1939 Levant married for the second time, with the singer and actress June Gale (born Doris Gilmartin), one of the Gale Sisters. Oscar and June remained married for 33 years, until his death. They had three children: Marcia, Lorna, and Amanda.
Levant was then perhaps best known to the American public as one of the panelists of the Information Please radio contest. At first he had thought of him as a guest panelist, but Levant became so popular that he became part of the cast of the show, participating in it along with panelists Franklin Pierce Adams and John Kieran, presented by Clifton Fadiman. < / p>
From 1947 to 1949, Levant performed regularly on the radio show of the NBC Kraft Music Hall, starring Al Jolson. Not only did he accompany Jolson to the piano with popular and classical songs, but he often joked and improvised with Jolson and his guests. Both artists had a relationship with George Gershwin-Jolson presented Gershwin’s song “Swanee” -something that influenced their good relationship. The two acted like themselves in the biopic of Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue (1945). Levant also starred in The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) and An American in Paris (1951).
In the early 1950s, Levant was an occasional panelist for the NBC contest Who Said That? Between 1958 and 1960 Levant presented a TV talk show for Los Angeles KCOP-TV, The Oscar Levant Show, which would later transmit in retransmission. In the program he played the piano, monologue and interviewed guests of the likes of Fred Astaire and Linus Pauling.
Tendency to neurosis and hypochondria, in his last years Levant suffered addiction to drugs, and often had to be taken by his wife to psychiatric hospitals.
Because of all this, Levant gradually withdrew from public life.
Heavy smoker, Oscar Levant died in Beverly Hills, California, from an acute myocardial infarction, in 1972, at 65 years of age. He was buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
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