Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Oscar Levant (1906-1972), composer, virtuoso pianist, radio star, author, music historian, actor, wit, talk show host and "the irreligious Billy Graham of Los Angeles", is one of my artistic heroes. His amazing wife, June, is equally a heroine and should have been granted sainthood.
Enjoy the only remaining footage left from The Oscar Levant Show, featuring special guest star Fred Astaire.
While the picture and sound quality really leave something to be desired, it's all we have. Hey, Oscar plays and offers his usual bon mots, Fred sings, June is there for the fun - it's a treasure.
The innovative live television programs of the 1950's were taped over to save money. Essentially, they met the same fate as thousands of historic silent movies on nitrate film, which subsequently spontaneously combusted. In my view, the loss of Oscar Levant's shows and Ernie Kovacs' 1954 Dumont Network late-night shows - just to name two series - is the equivalent of wiping one's bloated rear with the Dead Sea Scrolls. We can thank De Good Lawd, repeatedly, for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who made the shrewd (but then unheard of) choice in 1951 to film their shows!
Had Oscar only written his three splendid memoirs, A Smattering Of Ignorance, Memoirs of an Amnesiac and The Unimportance Of Being Oscar, it would have been enough. Had he only appeared as his wonderful dyspeptic self in the outstanding MGM musicals The Band Wagon, An American In Paris and The Barkleys Of Broadway, his place in the pantheon would be unquestionable. Had he only spent those many Manhattan late-nights jamming on pianos with George Gershwin and Kay Swift, Oscar made the world a better place.