Sam Levene

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Sam Levene
Sam Levene.jpg
Sam Levene (1936)
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)
ChildrenJoseph K. Levene [1]

Sam Levene (born Scholem Lewin, August 28, 1905 – December 28, 1980) was a Broadway, film, radio and television actor who in a career spanning more than five decades created some of the most legendary comedic roles in American theatrical history, including Nathan Detroit, the craps-shooter extraordinaire, in the 1950 original Broadway production[2] of Guys and Dolls (1950), Max Kane, the hapless agent, in the original 1932 Broadway production of Dinner at Eight (1932), Patsy, a professional if not always successful gambler, in the 1935 original and longest running Broadway production of Three Men on a Horse (1935), Gordon Miller, the shoestring producer, in the original 1937 Broadway production of Room Service (1937), Sidney Black, the theatrical producer, in Moss Hart's original Broadway production of Light Up the Sky (1948), Horace Vandergelder, the crotchety merchant of Yonkers, in the 1954 premier UK production of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (1954) and Al Lewis, the retired vaudevillian, in the original 1972 Broadway production of The Sunshine Boys (1972), Neil Simon’s beloved salute to vaudevillians opposite Jack Albertson as Willie Clark. In 1984, Levene was posthumously inducted in the American Theatre Hall of Fame and in 1998, Sam Levene along with the original Broadway cast of the 1950 Guys and Dolls Decca cast album posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Levene effortlessly segued between starring roles in over 100 productions on stage, radio, television and film, appearing in a variety of roles, including policemen, servicemen, gamblers, gangsters, newspaper reporter, theatrical producer, actor's agent, dress manufacturer and even a psychiatrist and was equally adept in segueing from comedy to farce and drama. Levene was the archetypal New Yorker on stage and screen who shined in creating rough character parts, often playing working class roles with names like Patsy, Dino and Hymie and appeared with legendary roster of stars. For 54 years Levene was a consistent presence on Broadway; Levene's first Broadway play was in 1927 and the last in 1980. Levene appeared in a staggering list of 38 Broadway productions, 33 of which were the original Broadway productions. Levene was a consummate actor who routinely received critical acclaim, even when the productions were not of top quality. Levene earned a niche in American theatrical history by perfecting a certain species of comic hero and for the majority of those appearances, Levene was a Broadway star, even starring in Horowitz and Mrs. Washington in 1980, the year he passed away, with Esther Rolle. Levene's longevity was due in part to his ability to show the amiability and even sweetness beneath the rough hewn tough exteriors of his characters, however bad they may have seemed. Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor observe[3] "the theater has always embraced certain stars as one of their own, comedians who both ennoble and energize a live event with their presence", and include Levene on a list of Broadway stars along with Beatrice Lillie, Carol Channing, Robert Morse, Zero Mostel and Nathan Lane.

Early life[edit]

Born in Ekaterinaslav, Russia, Levene came to the United States when he was two years old. Levene grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on Avenue D and 8th Street and attended Public School 64. Levene was a 1923 graduate of Stuyvesant High School but failed to qualify for the school's dramatic society; he also studied law at New York University. Aspiring to become a physician, Levene's medical career was sidelined "when he caught the virus of the theatre."

In 1923 Levene was working as a cutter for his older brother Joe, proprietor of a Madison Avenue dressmaking business but wanted to become the best garment salesman around. Joe agreed to consider Sam for the job if Sam "got more poise" so Sam decided to take night lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, taking diction classes to remove traces of his Yiddish accent. Charles Jehlinger, Director of the American Academy encouraged Levene to become an actor and provided him with a full scholarship so he could attend as a day student. Levene's speech improved perceptibly and by the time he graduated in 1927, he lost his desire to work in the garment business.

Levene's father, Harry Levine, an orthodox Jewish cantor never saw Levene act and never went to a theatre[4], but Levene's mother, Beth Weiner, saw every one of Levene's performances. Sam Levene was stubbornly proud of his Jewish heritage and refused all requests by directors and producers who tried to persuade the actor to anglicize his last name, something that occurred frequently early in Levene's career. To join Actor's Equity in 1927, Levene was forced to change the spelling of his last name from "Levine" because another actor at the time was using the name "Sam Levine" so Sam decided to spell "Levene" phonetically.

Broadway Debut[edit]

Levene made his Broadway stage debut[5] earning $60 week under his first Actor's Equity contract on April 20, 1927 with a five-line part as an assistant district attorney in the original Broadway melodrama, Wall Street, at the Hudson Theatre. Although Levene's first Broadway show lasted three weeks, his Broadway career had a 54 year run; he appeared in 38 Broadway shows, most of them original Broadway productions. Levene's early career included a successive series of flops, including Solitaire, a Broadway play partially financed with a last minute $500 investment from Levene's brother Joe. In 1932, Levene landed the role of Max Kane in a hit show, the original Broadway production of Dinner at Eight, and seven years after making his Broadway debut, Levene was recognized as a Broadway star when he created the role of Patsy in his fourteenth Broadway show, the original Broadway production of Three Men on a Horse (1935). Nine years after making his Broadway debut, Levene was lured to Hollywood where he made his motion picture debut as Patsy in the Warner Bros. film Three Men on a Horse (1936), Levene was paid $1,000[6] a week to recreate his original Broadway performance on film.

Stage Career[edit]

Levene appeared in over 50 theatrical stage productions in the United States and abroad, including 38 Broadway productions, 33 of which were performances Levene created in the original Broadway productions, and a ten-month USO tour. Levene's Broadway performances include lauded legendary star turns creating sharply etched comedic and dramatic performances in numerous Broadway productions now considered a part of 20th century american theatrical history including: Max Gordon in Dinner at Eight (1932), Gordon Miller, the hilarious shoestring producer, in the smash hit farce Room Service (1937) directed by George Abbott, Patsy, the lovable gambler, in Three Men on a Horse (1935), Margin For Error (1939), Sidney Black, the Broadway producer, a role playwright Moss Hart told Levene was largely a self-portrait of the author, in Light Up the Sky (1948), Nathan Detroit, a role written and crafted specifically for Levene by Abe Burrows in Guys and Dolls (1950), Fair Game[7] (1957), Dr. Aldo Meyer in the original Broadway production of The Devil's Advocate (1961), written, produced and directed by Dore Schary, based on the novel by Morris West, for which Levene was nominated for the 1961 Tony Award for Best Actor in a play, and Al Lewis, the retired vaudevillian Levene created and performed with Jack Albertson as Willie Clark in the original 1972 Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (1972); Levene and Albertson reprised their original Broadway performances in the 1974 first national tour with the original Broadway stars. In the latter part of 1074 Albertson left the touring production and was replaced by Levene who switched parts, performing the role of Willie Clark, first with Ned Glass as Al Lewis, who was subsequently replaced with Jack Somack.

Sam Levene starred in three Broadway revivals, portraying Boss Mangan in George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House (1959) directed by Harold Clurman, recreated his original Broadway performance as Patsy in the all-star Broadway revival of Three Men On A Horse (1969) and performed the role of Oscar Wolfe in the all-star 1975-76 Broadway revival of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's The Royal Family (1975) directed by Ellis Rabb; the production was filmed for the PBS series Great Performances on November 9, 1977;[8] this version was released on DVD. Levene replaced comedian Alan King in the starring role of Dr. Jack Kingsley in The Impossible Years (1965), which Levene performed and directed for over a year in the 1967 U.S. national tour. Levene starred in numerous touring stage productions including Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Sidney Black in Light Up The Sky; Patsy in Three Men on a Horse which Levene directed; Michael Freeman in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?; Jerry Kingsley in 'Middle Of The Night; Walter Hollander in Don't Drink the Water, a touring production he directed and co-starred with several leading lady co-stars including, Vivian Blaine, Selma Diamond, Marjorie Lord and a second touring production co-starring Phil Foster and Vivian Blaine; Sabrina Fair performed at The National Theatre in 1975; on 10/2/75 President Gerald R. Ford and Mrs. Ford invited Levene and his co-stars, Arlene Francis and Maureen O'Sullivan to a State Dinner at The White House in honor of the Emperor and Empress of Japan.

Levene starred in two major UK productions; in 1953, the first UK production of Guys and Dolls which opened at the Coliseum a few days before the 1953 Coronation which had an extraordinary run of 553 performances. In 1954, Sam Levene originated the role of Horace Vandergelder in the world premiere production of Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker (1954), initially at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, and performed the role 274 times opposite Ruth Gordon as Dolly Levi at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's West End, directed by Tyrone Guthrie.

For seven decades Levene has been synonymous with the role of Nathan Detroit. Not known as a singer, Levene originated the "craps-shooter extraordinaire" Nathan Detroit in the seminal American musical Guys and Dolls on the Great White Way in the original 1950 production directed by the inimitable George S. Kaufman, which ran for 1,200 performances. Thousands of productions of Guys and Dolls are mounted annually and Sam Levene's legendary comedic performance as Nathan Detroit still makes headlines. Guys and Dolls book writer Abe Burrows specifically crafted the role of Nathan Detroit around and for Levene, who signed for the project long before Burrows ever 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." Laurence Olivier said[9] that Sam Levene's performance as Nathan Detroit was the greatest stage performance he'd ever seen.

Levene reprised his legendary role on the Decca original cast recording of the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls according to Variety magazine, original cast album sales totaled 250,000 as of 9/1/54. Guys and Dolls composer and lyricist Frank Loesser specifically wrote “Sue Me” in one octave for Levene and structured the song so he and Vivian Blaine never sang their show-stopping duet number together; the son of a cantor, 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[10] "Nathan Detroit should be played as a brassy Broadway tough guy who sang with more grits than gravy." 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."

Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide and Sam Levene as Nathan Detroit in 1950 original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls

Alan Alda, son of Guys and Dolls co-star Robert Alda, recalls watching 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."

In 1953 Levene reprised the role of Nathan Detroit in the first UK production of Guys and Dolls at London's Coliseum, performing the legendary role for 555 performances, including a Royal Command Variety Performance for Queen Elizabeth on November 9, 1953. Sam Levene performed the role of Nathan Detroit twice daily in a reduced version of Guys and Dolls when the first Las Vegas production opened a six-month run at the Royal Nevada, September 7, 1955, the first time a Broadway musical was performed on the strip. In 1965, Sam Levene and Vivian Blaine, recreated their original Broadway roles as Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide in the 15th anniversary revival of Guys and Dolls at the Mineola Theatre, Mineola, New York and Paramus Playhouse, New Jersey.

For three decades Levene reprised his role as Patsy from Three Men on a Horse (1935) numerous times on stage, film, tv and radio; the first time when he made his motion picture debut in Three Men on a Horse (1936) directed by Mervyn LeRoy; three times on radio, two USO tours playing 200 shows to 120,000 servicemen, the first legitimate U.S. theatrical production mounted overseas. Due to security, the USO cast was reduced from 12 to 7 without losing a minute of running dialogue. According to a May 26, 1945 Billboard interview, Levene said[11], "the G.I.s' gratefulness is absolutely embarrassing. They express it not only by applause but by meeting you personally and giving you objects which they have fought and bled for. They lose sight of the fact that they are the ones fighting the war."

Levene as Patsy and Shirley Booth as Mabel reprised their original Broadway roles in two ABC radio versions produced by the Theatre Guild on the Air, the first adapted by Arthur Miller aired January 6, 1946; the second aired June 1, 1947 with David Wayne as Erwin. Three decades after creating the role of Patsy in the Broadway production of Three Men On A Horse, Levene reprised the role of Patsy on Broadway in Let It Ride (1961), a Broadway musical which had an abbreviated run of 69 performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Levene performed the title song from Let It Ride on the Let It Ride float in the 1961 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Levene performed the role of Patsy one last time in the 1969 all-star Broadway revival of Three Men On A Horse directed by George Abbott, the original Broadway director and co-author which was preceded by a national tour Levene directed, starring Levene as Patsy and Bert Parks as Erwin.

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 Promenade Theatre, Levene's only Off-Broadway appearance. In 1976, Levene was cast in the Broadway production of The Merchant based on an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice but withdrew from the Philadelphia tryout after Zero Mostel, the play's star and Levene's lifelong friend died after first collapsing in his dressing room. When John Dexter, the director, asked Levene if he would continue in the show, Levene told Dexter "we just had one death, we don't need two". Understudy Joseph Leon replaced Zero Mostel for the Broadway production of The Merchant which closed November 19, 1977 after a run of five performances. Levene's final Broadway role was the starring role of Samuel Horowitz in the Broadway comedy Horowitz and Mrs. Washington (1980) co-starring Esther Rolle, directed by Joshua Logan. In 1980, Levene starred in a summer stock and U.S. national tour of Horowitz and Mrs. Washington co-starring Claudia McNeil.

Over five decades Al Hirshfield, considered the greatest caricaturist of the 20th century, created nine caricatures[12] capturing seven original Broadway performances created by Levene, the first, 1935, the last 1975. The most iconic Hirschfeld caricature of Levene captures his legendary performance as Nathan Detroit[13] wearing his iconic pin stripe suit designed by Alvin Colt in the original 1950 Broadway production of Guys and Dolls published in The New York Times 11/19/50. In 2000, the iconic Guys and Dolls caricature included in The Museum of The City of New York exhibition "Guys and Dolls: The Fabled Musical of Broadway".[14] In 2015 the caricature included in "The Hirschfeld Century" at The New York Historical Society. The first time Hirschfeld captured Levene was his original Broadway performance as Patsy along with Shirley Booth as Mabel in the 1935 original Broadway production[15] of Three Men on a Horse; a second caricature of Levene and Booth with the Broadway casts from Tobacco Road and The Children's Hour published in the Herald Tribune 6/7/36 celebrates long-runs on Broadway[16]. Hirschfeld created two caricatures of Levene's critically acclaimed performance as Max Gordon, the shoestring producer, in the original 1937 Broadway production of Room Service, published in the Herald Tribune and Brooklyn Eagle. Hirschfeld captured Levene's performance as Al Lewis giving Willie Clark "the finger" in the original Broadway production of The Sunshine Boys published in The New York Times, 12/13/72. Hirschfeld also captured Levene's legendary original Broadway performances in Margin For Error and Light Up The Sky. Other notable caricaturists who memorialized Levene's legendary stage performances include Sam Norkin and Al Frueh. Frueh created caricatures of Levene as Nathan Detroit from the 1950 Broadway production of Guys and Dolls; Boss Mangan in the 1959 all star Broadway production of Heartbreak House directed by Maurice Evans and as the Jewish policeman in the 1940 original Broadway production of Margin For Error.

Film Career[edit]

In 1936 Levene moved to Hollywood and made his film debut recreating his original Broadway role as Patsy he had played for seventy weeks in the original Broadway production of Three Men on a Horse (1935) in the film Three Men on a Horse (1936) directed and produced by Mervyn LeRoy. Known as a dependable character actor, Levene appeared in 50 films, including 14 at MGM, over his five-decade Hollywood career. Levene established himself as one of the great film noir stalwarts with a long list of film noir credits, a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas. Levene's film noir credits includes his riveting performance as Samuels, the murdered GI, in Crossfire (1947), considered by many as one of RKO’s if not perhaps of any studio’s best film noirs. Levene's film noir credits include: William Holden's taxi-driving brother-in-law "Siggie" in Golden Boy (1939), Action in the North Atlantic (1943), a Doolittle Flyer and Japanese POW in The Purple Heart (1944), a tenant in 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 as Police Lt. Abrams, William Powell as Nick, Myrna Loy as Nora, lobby card for MGM's After the Thin Man (1936)
Sam Levene as Police Lt. Abrams, (far right), William Powell as Nick,(center) lobby card for MGM's Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

Levene appeared in five RKO films, including The Mad Miss Manton (1938); Sing Your Worries Away (1942); The Big Street (1942) and A Likely Story (1947) plus Crossfire, the first B picture to receive a best picture nomination. Levene appeared in over 50 films, 14 at MGM, which include two appearances as Police Lieutenant Abrams in MGM's Thin Man series: After the Thin Man (1936), Yellow Jack (1938), The Shopworn Angel (1938), Married Bachelor (1941), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), Sunday Punch (1942), Grand Central Murder (1942), Whistling in Brooklyn (1943), I Dood It (1943), Shoe Shine Boy (1943 short), Dial 1119 1950, The Opposite Sex (1956), Designing Woman (1957) and The Champ (1979). Levene appeared in six films for Universal Pictures:  ‘’Destination Unknown (1942); Gung Ho! (1943);  ‘’The Killers’’ (1946); ‘’Brute Force’’ (1947); Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) and Kathy O'.

Levene was the only member of the original 1934 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 motion picture debut of Burt Lancaster, who just a year prior was professionally credited as Burton Lancaster when 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, Levene, Lancaster's co-star in the 1946 Broadway melodrama A Sound of Hunting, agreed to represent him; eventually the two actors became lifelong friends. Together Lancaster and Levene fielded offers from David O. Selznick, 20th Century-Fox and Hal B. Wallis, who had a deal at Paramount Pictures, ultimately introducing Lancaster to Harold Hecht, his long-time agent and Hollywood film production partner. Burt Lancaster remembered Levene by speaking at the West Coast memorial organized by the actor's son.

Levene film career includes a who’s who of Hollywood actors and directors, including Anthony Quinn: A Dream of Kings (1969); 4 films with Burt Lancaster: The Killers (1946), Brute Force, (1947), Three Sailors and a Girl (1953) & Sweet Smell of Success (1957); Humphrey Bogart: Action in the North Atlantic (1943); 2 films with Henry Fonda: The Big Street (1942) & The Mad Miss Manton (1938); Robert Ryan: (Crossfire); Vincent Minnelli: Sing Your Worries Away (1942); two films with Myrna Loy & William Powell as Police Lt. Abrams: ‘’After the Thin Man’’ (1936) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941); Gregory Peck: Designing Woman (1957); two films with Red Skelton:  Whistling in Brooklyn (1943),I Dood It (1943); Al Pacino: …And Justice for All (1979); his final film role.

Radio[edit]

For most of his early film and Broadway stage career, Sam Levene straddled an active schedule with starring roles in a range of productions on all radio networks, including comedic performances and skits along with dramatic and comedy roles in important plays and adaptations on leading series. Levene co-starred with Orson Welles in two productions of Orson Welles' The Campbell Playhouse (radio series), first as Lefty in 'Burlesque, 2/17/39 and five weeks later, 3/34/39 as Owen O'Malley in Twentieth Century (play). Levene starred in nine productions for Theatre Guild on the Air; two radio versions of Three Men On A Horse,the first adapted by Arthur Miller aired January 6, 1946; the second aired June 1, 1947 with David Wayne joining the cast as Erwin.

Levene reprised his film role as Dave Woods, the reporter in Elia Kazan's Boomerang for Theatre Guild on the Air; and appeared as Moody, the fight manager, in Golden Boy by Clifford Odets opposite long-time co-star June Havoc and Dana Andrews whom Levene had just worked with filming Boomerang. For Suspense radio, Levene reprised his film role as Samuels, the murdered Jewish soldier, in Crossfire, 4/10/48.

Other notable Theatre Guild on The Air appearances included performing the role of "Banjo" with Fred Allen as Sheridan Whiteside in George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's The Man Who Came To Dinner and recreating his original Broadway performance as Sidney Black, the producer, in Moss Hart's Light Up The Sky. Levene frequently appeared on Fred Allen's Texaco Star Theatre doing sketch comedy in a segment known as "Allen's Alley". Sam Levene along with twelve major stars, including Helen Hayes, Fredric March and Ralph Bellamy created 13 episodes of Lest We Forget, a series of radio programs that directly addressed prejudice and discrimination. Created by the Institute for Democratic Education and Boston University Radio Institute, Sam Levene starred in Hey Cabbie, an episode that unabashedly addresses anti-Semitism. Levene along with Edward G. Robinson and Frank Sinatra made a series of radio appearances in We Will Never Die, a memorial program dedicated to the two million Jewish dead of Europe; performed around the country at major venues, including Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Bowl, this extensive production was co-authored by Ben Hecht and Kurt Weill and directed by Moss Hart. On a lighter note, Levene made a New Year's Eve appearance on The Big Show (NBC Radio), December 31, 1950 with Tallulah Bankhead and Jose Ferrer; Levene performed with Bankhead, satirizing the difficulty buying tickets to his then standing room only Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls.

Jewish Heritage[edit]

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, 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 eleven or other actors auditioned too" and afterwards, DeMille called Levene and said "Of all the actors who auditioned, you're the best". Levene replied, "I thanked him and said 'Did I get the part?"

"No" said DeMille, who told Levene "I'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?" "Yes" said DeMille "I thought you'd like to know!," Levene reminisced saying "I lost the role twice!"Paul Kelly (actor)

Sam Levene was one of the few actors who had a Jewish name in the 1930s and 1940s; notably in The Purple Heart (1944) Levene played the role of Lt. Wayne Greenbaum, a level headed, brave New York bred Jewish lawyer who is defender and spokesman for a group of eight aviators brought to trial when they are downed in Japanese held territory; in Crossfire (1947), Levene was cast as Samuels, a Jewish civilian who was murdered at the start of the film; in a 1947 personal appearance, Levene said Crossfire is a powerful denunciation of anti-Semitism and naturally I played the Jew and naturally I was killed." Cy Feuer, co-producer of the original Broadway production of Guys and Dolls (1950) said[17] in a New York Times interview "Sam Levene was the ultimate Jew," referring to the original Nathan Detroit. "It was perfect casting. He created the character by living." Unanimous raves greeted[18] Sam Levene for his portrayal of the skeptical but good-hearted Jewish doctor, Dr. Aldo Mayer, in the 1961 Broadway production of "The Devil's Advocate". In a review of "The Devil's Advocate" for the New York Herald Tribune, theatre critic Walter Kerr wrote "Mr. Levene is genial true. As a Jewish doctor who must forever feel himself an outsider in the Catholic Italian hills...Sam Levene is superb in a role of many colors and nothing is more helpful than the tension of his unyielding integrity. There is bite as well as bravura elsewhere."

Levene lost the role of Nathan Detroit to Frank Sinatra in the film version. "You can’t have a Jew playing a Jew, it wouldn’t work on screen", producer Samuel Goldwyn argued, explaining[19] he wanted Frank Sinatra rather than Levene — who had originated the role — to play the part of Nathan Detroit in the film version even though film director Joseph L. Mankiewicz wanted Levene, the original Broadway star. Joseph L. Mankiewicz said[20] "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". Levene will break your heart when you listen to him sing 'All right, already, I’m just a no-goodnick . . .' on the original Guys and Dolls cast recording of 'Sue Me'".

Fordham Professor of Music Larry Stempel, author of Showtime: A History of the Broadway Musical Theater, said[21] if given a choice, he would cast 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.


Awards[edit]

In 1960 Levene was awarded the prestigious Actors Fund Medal of Honor, at the time, the second actor awarded the honor; Levene's son Joseph K. Levene donated the medallion to the Sam Levene archives at MCNY, The Museum of the City of New York.[citation needed]

On April 9, 1984, Levene was posthumously[22] inducted in the American Theatre Hall of Fame;[23] his son, Joseph K. Levene, accepted the American Theatre Hall of Fame award from Dorothy Loudon 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?"[24]

In 1998, the 1950 Guys and Dolls Decca original cast album and the original Broadway cast, Robert Alda, Vivian Blaine, Sam Levene, Isabel Bigley and Pat Rooney, Sr. were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Although Levene has two songs on the original Guys and Dolls cast album, his portrayal of Nathan Detroit in the landmark musical is so popular Levene's legendary performance appears on over 38 Guys and Dolls albums and compilations.

Levene never received a Tony Award; by the time the Tony Award's were established in 1947, Levene had already created roles in 16 original Broadway shows, including legendary performances in the original Broadway productions of Dinner at Eight (1932), Three Men on a Horse (1935), Room Service (1937) and Margin For Error (1939).

In a 1996 New York Magazine letter to the editor, Joseph K. Levene thanked film critic David Denby stating [25] “my father, the late great Sam Levene, has received many kudos illuminating his career as an actor, none recalled the passion for the theater more clearly than David Denby's comment in his review of Everyone Says I Love You: Sam Levene playing Nathan Detroit in the original Guys and Dolls couldn’t sing a note but his gruff toneless outbursts could break your heart. Levene was not cautious and that made all the difference. Joseph K. Levene said: "There were no Tony's in his career but thanks for the Denby".


On December 28, 1980, Levene died of a heart attack in New York City.

Complete filmography[edit]

Broadway performances[edit]

Wall Street (1927)

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

April 20, 1927 - May 1927
Jarnegan (1928)

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

September 24, 1928 - January 1929
Tin Pan Alley (1928)

Telephone Troublehunter
Originated role, original Broadway production, 69 performances

November 1, 1928 - December 1928
Street Scene (1929)

Forrest
Replacement original Broadway production, 601 performances

January 10, 1929 -

June 1930

Headquarters (1929)

Isadore Lipwitz
Originated role, original Broadway production, 15 performances

December 4, 1929 - December 1929
This Man's Town (1930)

Rosso
Originated role, original Broadway production, 8 performances

March 10, 1930 -

March 1930

The Up and Up (1930)

Solly
Replacement, original Broadway production, 72 performances

September 8, 1930 - November 1930
Three Times the Hour (1931)

Cooper
Originated role, original Broadway production, 23 performances

August 25, 1931 - September 1931
Wonder Boy (1931)

Schwartz
Originated role, original Broadway production, 44 performances

October 22, 1931 - November 1931
Dinner at Eight (1932)

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

October 22, 1932 -

May 6, 1933

Yellow Jack (1934)

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

March 6, 1934 - May 1934
The Milky Way (1934)

Gabby Sloan
Replacement, original Broadway production, 63 performances

May 8, 1934 - July 1934
Spring Song (1934)

Milton
Originated role, original Broadway production, 40 performances

October 1, 1934 - November 1934
Three Men on a Horse (1935)

Starring as Patsy
Originated role, original Broadway production, 835 performances
Recreated role in film of same name, motion picture debut
Recreated role of Patsy in 10 month 1944 USO tour, 3 radio productions, 1969 all-star Broadway revival & Broadway musical version

January 30, 1935 - January 9, 1937
Room Service (1937)

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

May 19, 1937 -

July 16, 1938

Margin for Error (1939)

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

November 3, 1939 -

June 15, 1940

A Sound of Hunting (1945)

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

November 20, 1945 - December 8, 1945
Light Up the Sky (1949)

Starring as Sidney Black
Originated role, original Broadway production, 214 performances
Recreated role of Sidney Black on TV production, radio, first 1940 U.S. national tour, 1970/1971 & 1975 national tour productions with Kitty Carlisle, Moss Hart's widow.

November 18, 1948 -

May 21, 1949

Guys and Dolls (1950)

Starring as Nathan Detroit
Originated role, original Broadway production, 1,200 performances
Sam Levene starred in first UK production at the Coliseum, 555 performances, and first Las Vegas production at the Royal Nevada, twice daily.

November 24, 1950 - November 28, 1953
The Hot Corner (1956)

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

January 25–28, 1956
Fair Game (1957)

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

November 2, 1957 -

May 10, 1958

Make a Million (1958)

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

October 23, 1958 -

July 18, 1959

Heartbreak House (1959)

Starring as Boss Mangan
Broadway revival, 112 performances

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

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

March 2–19, 1960
The Devil's Advocate (1961)

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

March 9, 1961 -

June 17, 1961

Let It Ride (1961)

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 (1963)

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

October 15, 1962 -

April 20, 1963

Cafe Crown (1964)

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

April 17–18, 1964
The Last Analysis (1964)

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

October 1–24, 1964
The Impossible Years (1965)

Starring as Dr. Jack Kingsley
Replaced Alan King, original Broadway production, August 22, 1966,
322 performances
In 1967, Sam Levene starred in first U.S. national tour.

October 13, 1965 -

May 27, 1967

Nathan Weinstein, Mystic, Connecticut (1966)

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

February 25–26, 1966
Three Men on a Horse (1969)

Starring as Patsy
Recreated role of Patsy which Levene originated in 1935 Broadway production
Revival of Broadway production, 104 performances

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

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

February 2, 1970 -

April 18, 1970

The Sunshine Boys (1972)

Starring as Al Lewis
Originated role, original Broadway production, 540 performances
Sam Levene starred in first U.S. national tour, initially as Al Lewis & later as Willie Clark

December 20, 1972 -

April 21, 1974

Dreyfus in Rehearsal (1974)

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

October 17–26, 1974
The Royal Family (1975)

Starring as Oscar Wolfe
Broadway revival, 233 performances

December 30, 1975 -

July 18, 1976

Horowitz and Mrs. Washington (1980)

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

April 2–6, 1980

Television appearances[edit]

Date Program Network Title Character
6/14/1949 The Ford Theatre Hour TV Light Up the Sky Sidney Black
12/19/1950 The Milton Berle Show TV Season 3 Episode 14 Himself
1/27/1952 The U.S. Royal Showcase TV Vivian Blaine and Sam Levene
Season 1 Episode 3
Himself
3/27/1954 Medallion Theatre (Chrysler Medallion Theater) CBS The Alibi Kid
5/26/1954 Douglas Fairbanks Presents Rheingold Theatre TV Johnny Blue
Season 2 Episode 26
Sam
6/22/1954 The United States Steel Hour American Broadcasting Company Fearful Decision
Season 1 Episode 18
Reporter McArdle
12/11/1955 The Colgate Comedy Hour TV Salute to George Abbott
Season 6 Episode 10
Himself
4/8/1957 Studio One (American TV series) CBS The Playwright and the Stars
Season 9 Episode 26
Ben Weber
6/10/1957 Studio One (American TV series) CBS The Mother Bit
Season 9 Episode 35
Ben Selig
9/11/1957 Kraft Television Theatre NBC Television The Old Ticket
Season 10 Episode 51
Lou Winkler
12/26/1957 Tonight starring Jack Paar NBC Television
Season 1, Episode 108
Himself
3/9/1958 Omnibus (American TV program) NBC Television Mrs. McThing
Season 6 Episode 25
Eddie
11/25/1958 Tonight starring Jack Paar NBC Television
Season 2, Episode 61
Himself
12/14/1959 Play of the Week NET Television The World of Sholom Aleichem
Season 1 Episode 10
Mendele
4/21/1960 The Ed Sullivan Show CBS
Season 13 Episode 47
Dramatic Reading
11/16/1960 The Aquanauts CBS Night Dive
Season 1 Episode 9
tenant Maharis
11/17/1960 The Witness (TV series) CBS Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter
Season 1 Episode 7
Louis Buchalter
12/15/1960 The Untouchables (1959 TV series) American Broadcasting Company The Larry Fay Story
Season 2 Episode 9
Larry Fay
1/22/1961 The Ed Sullivan Show CBS Season 14 Episode 15 Dramatic Reading
1/14/1962 Directions TV Sam Levene interviews Dore Schary Himself
2/27/1962 The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson NBC Television Season 1, Episode 106 Himself
10/25/1962 The Joe Franklin Show WWOR-TV Interview Himself
11/5/1962-11/9/1962 Password (game show) TV Joan Fontaine vs Sam Levene;
5 episodes
Himself
12/22/1962 Jerry Lester WWOR-TV Interview Himself
4/14/1963 Jerry Lester WWOR-TV Interview Himself
4/28/1963 17th Tony Awards WWOR-TV Presenter Himself
1/5/1965 The Les Crane Show American Broadcasting Company Season 1 Episode 41 Himself
1/11/1965 The Les Crane Show American Broadcasting Company Season 1 Episode 45 Himself
1/18/1965 The Les Crane Show American Broadcasting Company Season 1 Episode 50 Himself
2/8/1965 The Les Crane Show American Broadcasting Company Season 1 Episode 65 Himself
11/1/1965 The Merv Griffin Show NBC Television Season 3, Episode 41 Himself
11/1/1965 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre NBC Television A Small Rebellion Season 3 Episode 13 Noel Greb
10/30/1969 What's My Line? CBS Season 20 Episode 30 Himself
2/15/1970 The Ed Sullivan Show CBS Season 23 Episode 21 Dramatic Reading
12/26/1973 The Dick Cavett Show American Broadcasting Company Season 2 Episode 47 Himself
12/28/1973 What's My Line? CBS Season 5 Episode 180 Himself
11/9/1977 Great Performances PBS The Royal Family Oscar Wolfe

Radio appearances[edit]

Date Program Network Title Character
2/17/1939 Orson Welles The Campbell Playhouse (radio series) CBS Radio Burlesque
adapted from play by Arthur Hopkins & George Manker Watters
Lefty
3/24/1939 Orson Welles The Campbell Playhouse (radio series) CBS Radio Twentieth Century (play)
adapted by Charles Bruce Millholland
Owen O’Malley
5/25/1940 Lincoln Highway NBC Radio Three Thousand Miles to Glory
4/9/1941 Texaco Star Theatre with Fred Allen CBS Radio Shortcut to a Nervous Breakdown Himself
7/21/1943 We Will Never Die NBC Radio Hollywood Bowl, Broadcast live Himself
11/21/1943 CBS Radio Algie and Gus
12/24/1943 Christmas Roundup CBS Radio Romance in the Roaring Forties
Sam Levene narrates story by Damon Runyon
Himself
2/28/1944 The Screen Guild Theatre CBS Radio Three Men on a Horse Patsy
1/6/1946 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Three Men on a Horse Patsy
11/17/1946 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio The Man Who Came To Dinner Banjo
11/24/1946 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Burlesque
adapted from play by Arthur Hopkins & George Manker Watters
Lefty
12/6/1946 Lest We Forget These Great Americans Radio Hey Cabbie Institute for Democratic Education syndication Cabby
12/8/1946 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Golden Boy Moody
1/1/1947 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Three Men on a Horse Patsy
4/10/1948 Suspense Radio CBS Radio Crossfire Samuels
3/27/1949 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio June Moon Fred Stevens
9/25/1949 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio The Gentle People
12/17/1950 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Boomerang Dave Woods
12/31/1950 The Big Show (NBC Radio) NBC Radio Variety Show hosted by Tallulah Bankhead Himself
4/15/1951 Theatre Guild on the Air ABC Radio Light Up the Sky Sidney Black
1952 The Human Heart Radio Series Radio Too Careful
12/20/1957 The Barry Gray Show Radio Interview Himself

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19801230&id=c54cAAAAIBAJ&sjid=42cEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4805,7505194&hl=en
  2. ^ "Nathan Detroits through Time". Utah Shakespeare Festival. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  3. ^ "History ~ Vaudeville and Broadway | Make 'Em Laugh | PBS". Make 'Em Laugh. 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  4. ^ Lane, Stewart F. (2017-04-26). Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476628776.
  5. ^ "Sam Levene". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  6. ^ Lane, Stewart F. (2017-04-26). Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476628776.
  7. ^ "Fair Game".
  8. ^ "Television This Week: Of Special Interest". The New York Times. November 6, 1977. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
  9. ^ December 29, Steve Sailer •; Comments, 2013 • 400 Words • 80. "Business Strategy 101". The Unz Review. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  10. ^ Loesser, Susan (2000). A Most Remarkable Fella: Frank Loesser and the Guys and Dolls in His Life : a Portrait by His Daughter. Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 9780634009273.
  11. ^ Inc, Nielsen Business Media (1945-05-26). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
  12. ^ "Sam Levene Caricatures at the Hirschfeld Foundation".
  13. ^ ""Guys and Dolls" Hirschfeld caricature, 1950 original Broadway production published in The New York Times, 11/19/50".
  14. ^ ""Guys and Dolls: The Fabled Musical of Broadway"".
  15. ^ "Al Hirschfeld Foundation: Three Men On A Horse, original Broadway production starring Sam Levene".
  16. ^ "Celebrating Broadway Long Runs. Al Hirschfeld Foundation".
  17. ^ The New York Times
  18. ^ Bordman, Gerald (1996-11-21). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1930-1969. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195358087.
  19. ^ RickeyJune 3, Carrie; Images, 2018Getty. "Hollywood: Where Jews Don't Get To Play Jews". The Forward. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  20. ^ Mankiewicz, Joseph L. (2008). Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781934110249.
  21. ^ "Impertinent Questions with Larry Stempel". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  22. ^ "Theatre Hall of Fame".
  23. ^ The New York Times
  24. ^ https://www.facebook.com/SamLeveneActor/about?lst=100000113719498%3A1169866891%3A1520816190&section=bio&pnref=about Facebook]
  25. ^ "New York Magazine". December 23, 1996.
"The Campbell Playhouse". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-04-04.
"The Campbell Playhouse". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-04-04.

External links[edit]