Meyer Levin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Meyer Levin (October 7, 1905 – July 9, 1981) was a Jewish-American novelist, known for works on the Leopold and Loeb case and the Anne Frank case.

Early work[edit]

His novel Citizens (1940), was written in response to the 1937 steel strikes in Chicago, in which 10 strikers were killed. Ernest Hemingway called Citizens "a fine American novel -- one of the best I ever read." And Norman Mailer referred to him as "one of the best American writers working in the realistic tradition."


In 1946, Levin wrote the script for his first fiction film, My Father's House, which tells the story of a child survivor who seeks his family after the war. Levin co-produced the film, together with Herbert Kline. It was filmed in Palestine and included major figures within the Zionist movement such as artist Yitzhak Danziger. The New York Times called the film "a poignant yet thoroughly heartening story".

In 1948 he filmed, together with Tereska Torres, Al Tafhidunu (The Illegals), a unique film which combines documentary and fiction to tell the story of Jewish refugees who fled Poland after the Holocaust and tried to reach Palestine. The film became served as inspiration for Exodus and other movies about the efforts made by Jewish refugees to reach pre-state Israel.

Leopold and Loeb case[edit]

Meyer wrote the 1956 novel Compulsion inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case. Levin had attended the University of Chicago at the same time as Leopold and Loeb, before the murder of Bobby Franks. Contemporary reviews of both the book and subsequent film suggest that Levin was a class-mate or friend of the two but Levin himself does not appear to have made such a claim. In his auto-biography Life Plus 99 Years, Leopold denies any personal acquaintance with Levin, noting that there were thousands of students attending the University of Chicago in the mid-1920s.

The novel, for which Levin was given a Special Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1957, was the basis for Levin's own 1957 play adaptation and the 1959 film based on it, starring Orson Welles.[1] Compulsion was "the first 'documentary' or 'non-fiction novel' ("a style later used in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood and Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song").[2] Levin follows the known facts of the case closely, while changing names and using a fictional reporter as a narrator. The novel lays particular emphasis on the differing motives and personalities of the two intellectually gifted but emotionally stunted murderers, both from privileged backgrounds.

Anne Frank's diary[edit]

Levin was one of the first American journalists to become aware of the existence of Anne Frank's diary, and he was also one of the first people to recognize the literary and dramatic potential of this document; he wrote the book review, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review. He corresponded with and met Anne's father Otto Frank, who authorized Levin by mail to adapt the Diary for the stage.

Levin later developed, in his own word, an "obsession" with his adaptation when the play he wrote was rejected. Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett were substituted for him, successfully adapting the diary into a hit play. He brought suit against the producers and writers of the Broadway play, alleging that they had appropriated a number of Levin's original scenes from his adaptation. Levin prevailed in his lawsuit, but settled for a lesser amount of damages, rather than continue with expensive litigation, since the Hacketts decided to appeal the verdict, but Levin still obtained no right to have his version of the play performed, as he had signed that away, under pressure by Myer Mermin, an attorney for Otto Frank, of the law firm Paul, Weiss.

Levin wrote a novel, The Fanatic, based on his experiences, but that was not sufficient to exorcise his inner demons. Some years later, he wrote one of his best-received books, The Obsession, containing his straightforward version of all the facts.

His 30-year battle to have his play performed and the legal battles were also covered in An Obsession with Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary by Lawrence Graver, The Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman and the Staging of the Diary by Ralph Melnick, as well as in the French-language book by Levin's wife, Tereska Torres, Les maisons hantees de Meyer Levin, published by Editions Phebus (Paris). Also look for the 2010 play by Rinne Groff Compulsion, inspired by the life of Meyer Levin, starring Mandy Patinkin, and directed by Oskar Eustis.



Autobiographical works[edit]


  • Beginnings in Jewish Philosophy
  • The Story of Israel
  • An Israel Haggadah for Passover
  • The Story of the Synagogue
  • The Story of the Jewish Way of Life

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jake Hinkson (October 19, 2012). "Leopold and Loeb Still Fascinate 90 Years Later". Retrieved October 23, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Meyer Levin's Compulsion": article by Steve Powell in "The Venetian Vase of September 21, 2012

External links[edit]