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A Talent for Genius

A Talent for Genius
Your Price: $26.99 CDN
Limited Quantities
Author: Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger
Publisher: Sillman-James
Format: Softcover
# of Pages: 512
Pub. Date: 1998
ISBN-10: 1879505398
ISBN-13: 9781879505391

About the Book:

Rare book, very limited quantities available.

A Talent for Genius
The Life and Times of Oscar Levant is as inexhaustibly entertaining as the enfant terrible himself.

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, Oscar Levant steered a maniacally masochistic course through seven glorious decades. His death in 1972, at the age of sixty-five, 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 1930s 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 thirteen 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 1950s 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 revealing portrait of the enfant terrible who almost single-handedly added the word neurotic to American vocabulary. It is also a vividly evoked, star-studded panorama of an era: Levant's intimates George and Ira Gershwin, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Becall, Charlie Chaplin, Dorothy Parker, Arturo Toscanini, Candice Bergen, Joan Collins, Vincente Minnelli, Harpo Marx, Gene Kelly — all tolerant victims of Levant's rapier wit — make appearances in these pages.

About the Author:

Sam Kashner, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the author of three books of nonfiction and one novel.

Nancy Schoenberger is a poet and biographer. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the College of William and Mary.