Sam Levene

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Sam Levene
Sam Levene in Shadow of the Thin Man trailer.jpg
Levene in The Killers (1946)
Born
Scholem Lewin

(1905-08-28)August 28, 1905
DiedDecember 28, 1980(1980-12-28) (aged 75)
Resting placeMount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, Queens
Years active1927–1980
Spouse(s)Constance Kane (1953-?) (divorced) (1 child)
ChildrenJoseph Levene[1]

Sam Levene (born Scholem Lewin, August 28, 1905 – December 28, 1980) was an American Broadway and film actor, who originated numerous legendary roles in 33 original Broadway productions, many considered a part of American theatrical history, including Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls (1950), Horace Vandergelder in The Matchmaker (1954), Sidney Black in Light Up the Sky (1948), Patsy in Three Men on a Horse (1935), Al Lewis in The Sunshine Boys (1972). Sam Levene also established himself as one of the great noir stalwarts with a long list of film noir credits, a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas.

Over a span of 54 years, Sam Levene had a legendary theatrical career, created starring roles in 33 original Broadway productions; 37 Broadway productions, numerous national tours and 2 appearances in the UK. Sam Levene's original Broadway performances included the original Broadway productions of: Dinner at Eight (1932), Room Service (1937), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Margin For Error (1939), Light Up the Sky (1948), Guys and Dolls (1950), Fair Game (1957), The Devil's Advocate (1961), written, produced and directed by Dore Schary, based on the novel by Morris West, for which Sam Levene was nominated for 1961 Tony Award for Best Actor in a play, Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (1972). In 1954 Sam Levene originated the role of Horace Vandergelder in the world premiere production of Tyrone Guthrie's The Matchmaker in Newcastle, England, a role he also played in the UK production directed by Tyrone Guthrie.

Sam Levene established himself as one the great noir stalwarts; his film noir credits include: Golden Boy (1939), Action in the North Atlantic (1943), The Purple Heart (1944), The Killers (1946), Brute Force, (1947), Crossfire (1947), Boomerang (1947), Killer McCoy (1947), Dial 1119 (1950), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957).

Sam Levene made his Broadway debut in 1927 with a five line part in Wall Street, and over a span of 54 years, appeared on Broadway in 37 shows, of which 33 were original Broadway productions. Sam Levene made his film debut in 1936, recreating the role of Patsy that he had played for seventy weeks in the original Broadway production of Three Men on a Horse (1935). He also appeared in the 1944 USO tour of this same show, the first legitimate production mounted overseas; the radio version; the musical version that opened on Broadway called Let It Ride (1961) as well as the 1969 Broadway revival of the play directed by George Abbott, the original Broadway director and co-author.

The son of a cantor, Sam Levene was proud of his Jewish heritage and stubbornly refused requests by directors and producers who tried to persuade the actor to Anglicize his last name, something that occurred frequently early in the actor's career. When the actor became a proud member of Actor's Equity in 1927, Sam changed the spelling of his last name from "Levine", spelling it phonetically as "Levene". The legendary stage and film actor recognized the name "Sam Levene" "puts a kind of stamp on the kind of roles that producers think the actor can play".

In a 1967 interview with journalist Norton Mockridge for the The World-Telegram, Sam Levene recalled when he was up for a role in The Story Of Dr Wassell (1944), a film produced and directed by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille; the actor auditioned for the role of Murdock, an Irishman. Levene recalled ten or 11 or other actors auditioned too and afterwards, Mr. DeMille called Levene and said Of all the actors who auditioned, you're the best. I thanked him and said Did I get the part?

No said Demille, who told Levene Ï'm sorry but it would disturb me to have an actor named Sam Levene play the role of an Irishman". Levene asked Demille: "Did you find anything Jewish in my audition? to which DeMille replied No, that's what disturbs me. You were a better Irishman than the Irishman. But I can't give you the part. Shortly thereafter Levene got another call from DeMille who told the actor: I just want you to know that I've let the actor go that I first picked for the role of the Irishman, Murdock, and if your name weren't Sam Levene, I'd have given you the role. Instead I am going to give it to Paul Kelly. Levene said, you called to tell me that? Ÿes said DeMille I thought you'd like to know!, Levene reminisced saying I lost the role twice!

Sam Levene starred in several Broadway revivals, portraying the roles of: Boss Mangan in George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1959), Patsy in the revival of Three Men On A Horse (1969) and Oscar Wolfe in the all-star revival of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's The Royal Family (1975) directed by Ellis Raab; the production was filmed for the PBS series Great Performances on November 9, 1977,[2]; this version was released on DVD. Sam Levene replaced comedian Alan King in the starring role of Dr. Jack Kingsley in The Impossible Years (1965), a role he also played in the 1967 national tour of the play .

Although not known as a singer, Sam Levene originated the role of Nathan Detroit in the original 1950 Broadway production and original cast recording of the musical Guys and Dolls, and later reprised the role of Nathan Detroit in 1953 in the first UK and first Las Vegas productions of Guys and Dolls. Book writer Abe Burrows specifically crafted the role of Nathan Detroit around Sam Levene who signed for the project long before Burrows wrote a single word of dialogue, a similar break Burrows said he had when he wrote Cactus Flower for Lauren Bacall. In “Honest, Abe: Is There Really No Business Like Show Business?”, Burrows recalls I had the sound of their voices in my head. I knew the rhythm of their speech and it helped make the dialogue sharper and more real.

Composer and lyricist Frank Loesser specifically wrote “Sue Me” in one octave for Sam Levene and structured the song so he and Vivian Blaine never sang their duet show stopping number together; the son of a cantor, Sam Levene was fluent in Yiddish: Alright, already, I’m just a no-goodnick; alright, already, it’s true, so nu? So sue me. Frank Loesser felt Nathan Detroit should be played as a brassy Broadway tough guy who sang with more grits than gravy. Sam Levene sang Sue Me with such a wonderful Runyonesque flavor that his singing had been easy to forgive, in fact it had been quite charming in its ineptitude.

Alan Alda, son of Guys and Dolls co-star Robert Alda, recalls watching Sam Levene perform Nathan Detroit while standing in the wings. In “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed; And Other Things I’ve Learned”, Alan Alda recalls: "Watching Sam Levene was thrilling. He could ride a moment as if a wild animal…New meanings occurred to him on the spot. Not only did he play the same lines differently every night, but the laughs rolled in from the audience in different places. How did he do it?" "This kind of spontaneity and this utter commitment to the moment became what I wanted to have. As good as my father was, what I was seeing as they played together a few feet away was the difference between burlesque and theatre, between performing and acting. I chose acting. I wanted to be Sam."

Sam Levene lost the role to Frank Sinatra in the film version. Guys & Dolls director Joseph L. Mankiewicz wanted original Broadway star Sam Levene, but producer Sam Goldwyn insisted on giving the part to Frank Sinatra. Joseph L. Mankiewicz said "if there could be one person in the world more miscast as Nathan Detroit than Frank Sinatra that would be Laurence Olivier and I am one of his greatest fans; the role had been written for Sam Levene who was divine in it". Fordham Professor of Music Larry Stempel, author of "Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater" said if given a choice, he would cast Sam Levene, who created the role on Broadway, as the ideal Nathan Detroit instead of Nathan Lane, who played the part in the Broadway revival or Frank Sinatra, who played the part on film, stating "Musically, he may have been tone-deaf, but he inhabited Frank Loesser’s world as a character more than a caricature. Listen to Sam Levene sing “All right, already, I’m just a no-goodnick . . .” on the original Guys & Dolls cast recording of “Sue Me".

Sam Levene never received a Tony Award; by the time the Tony's were established in 1947, Sam Levene had already created roles in 16 original Broadway shows, including original Broadway productions of Dinner at Eight (1932), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Room Service (1937) and Margin For Error (1939). 43 years after making his Broadway debut, Levene made his Off-Broadway debut, starring in Irv Bauer's A Dream Out Of Time at the Promenande Theatre, his only Off-Broadway appearance.

In 1936 Sam Levene moved to Hollywood and made his film debut, re-creating his stage role as Patsy in the film Three Men on a Horse (1936) directed and produced by Mervyn LeRoy. Sam Levene was the only member of the original Broadway production of the play Yellow Jack to appear in the 1938 film of the same name. Sam Levene was cast as a police lieutenant in After the Thin Man (1936), The Mad Miss Manton (1938), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and The Killers (1946) which included the film debut of Burt Lancaster, who just a year prior was professionally credited as Burton Lancaster when Sam Levene helped the former circus acrobat land a part in the original Broadway production of A Sound of Hunting.

When several Hollywood studios initially wanted to sign Burt Lancaster, Sam Levene, Lancaster's co-star in the 1946 Broadway play A Sound of Hunting, agreed to represent him, eventually the two actors became lifelong friends. Together Lancaster and Levene were invited to restaurants, fielding offers from David O. Selznick, 20th Century-Fox and Hal B. Wallis, who had a deal at Paramount Pictures, and ultimately introduced Lancaster to Harold Hecht, his long-time agent and Hollywood film production partner. In addition to the Broadway production of A Sound of Hunting, Sam Levene appeared in four films with Burt Lancaster, including: The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947), Three Sailors and a Girl (1953) and Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Burt Lancaster was one of the speakers at Sam Levene's 1980 West Coast services organized by Joseph K. Levene, the actor's son. Sam Levene played a small but vital role in the 1939 film classic Golden Boy as William Holden's taxi-driving brother-in-law "Siggie", a Doolittle Flyer and Japanese POW in The Purple Heart (1944), and many film noir classics, such as The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947) and Crossfire (1947). Levene made 49 films total during his Hollywood career. His final film role was in the courtroom drama ...And Justice for All (1979).

In 1960 Sam Levene was awarded the prestigious Actors Fund Medal of Honor, at the time, only the second actor to be awarded the honor; Sam Levene's son Joseph K. Levene donated the medallion given to his dad along with Sam Levene archives collected and accumulated over the legendary actor's 54 year Broadway career to The Museum of The City of New York.[citation needed] In 1984, Levene was posthumously inducted in the Theatre Hall of Fame; his son, Joseph K. Levene, accepted the award stating "if my dad were here today; he would want to know one thing: why did it take you guys such a long time to give me this award?"

In December 1980, Sam Levene died of a heart attack in New York City.

Complete filmography[edit]

Broadway performances[edit]

Wall Street

William Thompson, Asst. District Attorney
Originated role, original Broadway production, Broadway debut, 21 performances

April 20, 1927 - May 1927
Jarnegan

Guest at Leedman's Party
Originated role, original Broadway production, 136 performances

September 24, 1928 - January 1929
Tin Pan Alley

Telephone Troublehunter
Originated role, original Broadway production, 69 performances

November 1, 1928 - December 1928
Street Scene

Forrest
Replacement original Broadway production, 601 performances

January 10, 1929 - June 1930
Headquarters

Isadore Lipwitz
Originated role, original Broadway production, 15 performances

December 4, 1929 - December 1929
This Man's Town

Rosso
Originated role, original Broadway production, 8 performances

March 10, 1930 - March 1930
The Up and Up

Solly
Replacement, original Broadway production, 72 performances

September 8, 1930 - November 1930
Three Times the Hour

Cooper
Originated role, original Broadway production, 23 performances

August 25, 1931 - September 1931
Wonder Boy

Schwartz
Originated role, original Broadway production, 44 performances

October 22, 1931 - November 1931
Dinner At Eight

Starring as Max Kane
Originated role, original Broadway production, 232 performances

October 22, 1932 - May 6, 1933
Yellow Jack

Busch
Originated role, original Broadway production, 79 performances
Recreated role in the motion picture of the same name

March 6, 1934 - May 1934
The Milky Way

Gabby Sloan
Replacement, original Broadway production, 63 performances

May 8, 1934 - July 1934
Spring Song

Milton
Originated role, original Broadway production, 40 performances

October 1, 1934 - November 1934
Three Men on a Horse

Starring as Patsy
Originated role, original Broadway production, 835 performances
Recreated role in the film of same name, motion picture debut
Recreated role of Patsy in a USO tour and radio production

January 30, 1935 - January 9, 1937
Room Service

Starring as Gordon Miller
Originated role, original Broadway production, 500 performances

May 19, 1937 - July 16, 1938
Margin for Error

Starring as Officer Finkelstein
Originated role, original Broadway production, 264 performances

November 3, 1939 - June 15, 1940
A Sound of Hunting

Starring as Pvt. Dino Collucci
Originated role, original Broadway production, 23 performances

November 20, 1945 - December 08, 1945
Light Up the Sky

Starring as Sidney Black
Originated role, original Broadway production, 214 performances
Recreated role in TV production and first national tour

November 18, 1948 - May 21, 1949
Guys and Dolls

Starring as Nathan Detroit
Originated role, original Broadway production, 1,200 performances
Sam Levene starred in first UK production at the Coliseum and first Las Vegas production at the Royal Nevada

November 24, 1950 - November 28, 1953
The Hot Corner

Starring as Fred Stanley
Directed by Sam Levene
Originated role, original Broadway production, 5 performances

January 25-28, 1956
Fair Game

Starring as Lou Winkler
Originated role, original Broadway production, 217 performances

November 2, 1957 - May 10, 1958
Make a Million

Starring as Sid Gray
Originated role, original Broadway production, 308 performances

October 23, 1958 - July 18, 1959
Heartbreak House

Starring as Boss Mangan
Broadway revival, 112 performances

October 18, 1959 - January 23, 1960
The Good Soup

Starring as Odilon
Originated role, original Broadway production, 21 performances

March 2-19, 1960
The Devil's Advocate

Starring as Dr. Aldo Meyer
Originated role, original Broadway production, 117 performances
Levene received a Tony nomination for Best Actor

March 9, 1961 - Jun 17, 1961
Let It Ride

Starring as Patsy
Originated role, original Broadway production, 69 performances
Musical version based on Three Men on a Horse by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott

October 12, 1961 - December 9, 1961
Seidman and Son

Starring as Morris Seidman
Originated role, original Broadway production, 216 performances

October 15, 1962 - April 20, 1963
Cafe Crown

Starring as Hymie
Originated role, original Broadway production, 33 performances

April 17-18, 1964
The Last Analysis

Starring as Philip Bummidge
Originated role, original Broadway production, 15 performances

October 1-24, 1964
The Impossible Years

Starring as Dr. Jack Kingsley
Replaced Alan King, original Broadway production, 388 performances
Sam Levene starred in first national tour

October 13, 1965 - May 27, 1967
Nathan Weinstein, Mystic, Connecticut

Starring as Nathan Weinstein
Originated role, original Broadway production, 26 performances

February 25-26, 1966
Three Men on a Horse

Starring as Patsy
Revival of Broadway production, 104 performances

October 16, 1969 - January 10, 1970
Paris Is Out!

Starring as Daniel Brand in Broadway play co-produced by Donald Trump
Originated role, original Broadway production, 112 performances

February 2, 1970 - April 18, 1970
The Sunshine Boys

Starring as Al Lewis
Originated role, original Broadway production, 540 performances
Sam Levene starred in first national tour

December 20, 1972 - Apr 21, 1974
Dreyfus in Rehearsal

Starring as Arnold
Originated role, original Broadway production, 15 performances

October 17-26, 1974
The Royal Family

Starring as Oscar Wolfe
Broadway revival, 233 performances

December 30, 1975 - July 18, 1976
Horowitz and Mrs. Washington

Starring as Samuel Horowitz
Originated role, original Broadway production, 16 performances

April 2-6, 1980

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19801230&id=c54cAAAAIBAJ&sjid=42cEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4805,7505194&hl=en
  2. ^ "Television This Week: Of Special Interest". The New York Times. November 6, 1977. Retrieved 2016-09-23.

https://www.bard.org/news/nathan-detroits-through-time

External links[edit]