Synopses & Reviews
Oscar Levant was the Amadeus of Hollywood, the Oscar Wilde of Broadway and the most wildly self-destructive personality ever to become a household name. An astonishingly gifted concert pianist, composer, film and stage presence, radio and television raconteur, insult wit, and bestselling author, Levant steered a maniacally masochistic course through seven glorious decades. His death in 1972, at the age of 65, left the entertainment community shocked largely with amazement that a four-pack-a-day smoker with a history of drug abuse and mental illness had lasted as long as Levant did. He made a national reputation for himself in the late '30s as a brash, brilliant 'expert' on radio's famed quiz show 'Information, Please!', and as a fine concert pianist and the premier interpreter of George Gershwin's concert works. He appeared in 13 films, usually as a best friend/'Oscar Levant' type. He played Gene Kelly's sidekick in 'An American in Paris' and a lovable hypochondriac in 'The Band Wagon,' and in the film biography 'Rhapsody in Blue,' he literally played himself: Oscar Levant, best friend to George Gershwin, a role he knew all too well.
His hero worship of Gershwin stunted his confidence as a songwriter and a serious composer, though one of his pop songs, 'Blame It on My Youth,' has become a standard, and Arnold Schoenberg, Aaron Copeland, and Virgil Thomson all thought Levant an immensely gifted composer. Levant's addiction to Demerol following a heart attack in the early '50s led to nearly a decade of drug dependency. Already hobbled by complex superstitions meant to ward off the terrors of performing, Levant was almost destroyed by his addictions. But his intense neurosis didn't keep him from appearing on television to talk about it. His uncensored comments on 'The Jack Paar Show' and on his own local Los Angeles talk show made national news. A Talent for Genius, the result of exhausting research and hundreds of hours of interviews, is a profoundly revelation.
"[Levant's] idiosyncratic character is brought to life in this objective and entertaining biography." Publishers Weekly