Friday, January 01, 2010
Happy New Year With The Levants And Fred Astaire
Three years ago, I rang in the new year with an excerpt (and, if I'm not mistaken, just about the only extant footage) from The Oscar Levant Show, a wonderfully informal and frequently hilarious talk show hosted by the author, wit, raconteur, composer, virtuoso pianist, Algonquin Round Table regular and occasional movie actor. Along for the fun as co-host: Oscar's unbelievably charming and likeable wife, June.
Since 2007, two more excerpts from this 1958 episode featuring special guest Fred Astaire have been unearthed and posted to YouTube. The show's looseness and extemporaneous spontaneity harkens back to the bygone days of local programming; fitting the freewheeling format, Oscar invents one-liners on the spot with the best of them.
While the picture and sound quality leave a lot to be desired, it's all we have of Oscar's deliciously off-the-cuff show. Enjoy!
I've always liked Fred Astaire's singing. Whatever he lacks in voice quality, he more than compensates for with his understanding of a song's essential meaning. After all, he had to deliver these standards for Broadway audiences night after night.
Oscar's three memoirs, A Smattering Of Ignorance, Memoirs of an Amnesiac and The Unimportance Of Being Oscar, are must-reads, especially for students or enthusiasts of 20th century culture - and jam-packed with outrageous bon mots; if you can't find copies or order them online, consult your friendly and invaluable public library. For more essential Oscar Levant lore, peruse this recent tribute by historian Confetta Ras, author of the extraordinary and informative On This Day In Jazz Age Music blog.