Sam Levene (1936)
August 28, 1905
|Died||December 28, 1980 (aged 75)|
New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, Queens|
|Spouse(s)||Constance Kane (1953-?) (divorced)|
|Children||Joseph K. Levene |
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 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 "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.
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, 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.
Levene made his Broadway stage debut 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 a week to recreate his original Broadway performance on film.
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 (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; 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 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 "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."
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, "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 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 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". 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 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. 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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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 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 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 "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 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.
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.
On April 9, 1984, Levene was posthumously inducted in the American Theatre Hall of Fame; 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?"
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  “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".
- The Talk of Hollywood (1929) - Film Buyer (uncredited)
- Three Men on a Horse (1936) - Patsy
- After the Thin Man (1936) - Police Lt. Abrams
- Yellow Jack (1938) - Busch
- The Shopworn Angel (1938) - 'Leer'
- The Mad Miss Manton (1938) - tenant Brent
- Golden Boy (1939) - Siggie
- Married Bachelor (1941) - Cookie Farrar
- Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) - Police Lt. Abrams
- Sing Your Worries Away (1942) - Smiley Clark
- Sunday Punch (1942) - Roscoe
- Grand Central Murder (1942) - Inspector Gunther
- The Big Street (1942) - Horsethief
- Destination Unknown (1942) - Victor
- Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
- I Dood It (1943) - Ed Jackson
- Gung Ho! (1943) - Transport (Leo Andreof)
- Shoe Shine Boy (1943 short) - Lucky
- Whistling in Brooklyn (1943) - Creeper
- The Purple Heart (1944) - Lt. Wayne Greenbaum
- The Killers (1946) - Police Lt. Sam Lubinsky
- Boomerang (1947) - Dave Woods
- A Likely Story (1947) - Louie
- Brute Force (1947) - Louie Miller
- Crossfire (1947) - Samuels
- Killer McCoy (1947) - Happy
- The Babe Ruth Story (1948) - Phil Conrad
- Leather Gloves (1948) - Bernie
- Guilty Bystander (1950) - Capt. Tonetti
- With These Hands (1950) - Alexander Brody
- Dial 1119 (1950) - Dr. John D. Faron
- Three Sailors and a Girl (1953) - Joe Woods
- The Opposite Sex (1956) - Mike Pearl
- Designing Woman (1957) - Ned Hammerstein
- Sweet Smell of Success (1957) - Frank D' Angelo
- Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957) - Howard Rysdale
- A Farewell to Arms (1957) - Swiss Sergeant (uncredited)
- Kathy O' (1958) - Ben Melnick
- The World of Sholom Aleichem (1959 TV movie) - Mendele
- Act One (1963) - Richard Maxwell
- A Small Rebellion (1966 TV movie) - Noel Greb
- A Dream of Kings (1969) - Cicero
- Such Good Friends (1971) - Uncle Eddie
- Atlantic City Jackpot (1976) - Lou Maurice
- God Told Me To (1976) - Everett Lukas
- The Royal Family (1977 TV movie) - Oscar Wolfe
- The Champ (1979) - Uncle Eddie (uncredited)
- Last Embrace (1979) - Sam Urdell
- Us Two (1979)
- ...And Justice for All (1979) - Arnie
|Wall Street (1927)
William Thompson, Asst. District Attorney
|April 20, 1927 - May 1927|
Guest at Leedman's Party
|September 24, 1928 - January 1929|
|Tin Pan Alley (1928)
|November 1, 1928 - December 1928|
|Street Scene (1929)
|January 10, 1929 -
|December 4, 1929 - December 1929|
|This Man's Town (1930)
|March 10, 1930 -
|The Up and Up (1930)
|September 8, 1930 - November 1930|
|Three Times the Hour (1931)
|August 25, 1931 - September 1931|
|Wonder Boy (1931)
|October 22, 1931 - November 1931|
|Dinner at Eight (1932)
Starring as Max Kane
|October 22, 1932 -
May 6, 1933
|Yellow Jack (1934)
|March 6, 1934 - May 1934|
|The Milky Way (1934)
|May 8, 1934 - July 1934|
|Spring Song (1934)
|October 1, 1934 - November 1934|
|Three Men on a Horse (1935)
Starring as Patsy
|January 30, 1935 - January 9, 1937|
|Room Service (1937)
Starring as Gordon Miller
|May 19, 1937 -
July 16, 1938
|Margin for Error (1939)
Starring as Officer Finkelstein
|November 3, 1939 -
June 15, 1940
|A Sound of Hunting (1945)
Starring as Pvt. Dino Collucci
|November 20, 1945 - December 8, 1945|
|Light Up the Sky (1949)
Starring as Sidney Black
|November 18, 1948 -
May 21, 1949
|Guys and Dolls (1950)
Starring as Nathan Detroit
|November 24, 1950 - November 28, 1953|
|The Hot Corner (1956)
Starring as Fred Stanley
|January 25–28, 1956|
|Fair Game (1957)
Starring as Lou Winkler
|November 2, 1957 -
May 10, 1958
|Make a Million (1958)
Starring as Sid Gray
|October 23, 1958 -
July 18, 1959
|Heartbreak House (1959)
Starring as Boss Mangan
|October 18, 1959 - January 23, 1960|
|The Good Soup (1960)
Starring as Odilon
|March 2–19, 1960|
|The Devil's Advocate (1961)
Starring as Dr. Aldo Meyer
|March 9, 1961 -
June 17, 1961
|Let It Ride (1961)
Starring as Patsy
|October 12, 1961 - December 9, 1961|
|Seidman and Son (1963)
Starring as Morris Seidman
|October 15, 1962 -
April 20, 1963
|Cafe Crown (1964)
Starring as Hymie
|April 17–18, 1964|
|The Last Analysis (1964)
Starring as Philip Bummidge
|October 1–24, 1964|
|The Impossible Years (1965)
Starring as Dr. Jack Kingsley
|October 13, 1965 -
May 27, 1967
|Nathan Weinstein, Mystic, Connecticut (1966)
Starring as Nathan Weinstein
|February 25–26, 1966|
|Three Men on a Horse (1969)
Starring as Patsy
|October 16, 1969 - January 10, 1970|
|Paris Is Out! (1970)
Starring as Daniel Brand
|February 2, 1970 -
April 18, 1970
|The Sunshine Boys (1972)
Starring as Al Lewis
|December 20, 1972 -
April 21, 1974
|Dreyfus in Rehearsal (1974)
Starring as Arnold
|October 17–26, 1974|
|The Royal Family (1975)
Starring as Oscar Wolfe
|December 30, 1975 -
July 18, 1976
|Horowitz and Mrs. Washington (1980)
Starring as Samuel Horowitz
|April 2–6, 1980|
|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
|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
|6/22/1954||The United States Steel Hour||American Broadcasting Company||Fearful Decision
Season 1 Episode 18
|12/11/1955||The Colgate Comedy Hour||TV||Salute to George Abbott
Season 6 Episode 10
|4/8/1957||Studio One (American TV series)||CBS||The Playwright and the Stars
Season 9 Episode 26
|6/10/1957||Studio One (American TV series)||CBS||The Mother Bit
Season 9 Episode 35
|9/11/1957||Kraft Television Theatre||NBC Television||The Old Ticket
Season 10 Episode 51
|12/26/1957||Tonight starring Jack Paar||NBC Television||
Season 1, Episode 108
|3/9/1958||Omnibus (American TV program)||NBC Television||Mrs. McThing
Season 6 Episode 25
|11/25/1958||Tonight starring Jack Paar||NBC Television||
Season 2, Episode 61
|12/14/1959||Play of the Week||NET Television||The World of Sholom Aleichem
Season 1 Episode 10
|4/21/1960||The Ed Sullivan Show||CBS||
Season 13 Episode 47
|11/16/1960||The Aquanauts||CBS||Night Dive
Season 1 Episode 9
|11/17/1960||The Witness (TV series)||CBS||Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter
Season 1 Episode 7
|12/15/1960||The Untouchables (1959 TV series)||American Broadcasting Company||The Larry Fay Story
Season 2 Episode 9
|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;
|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|
|2/17/1939||Orson Welles The Campbell Playhouse (radio series)||CBS Radio||Burlesque
adapted from play by Arthur Hopkins & George Manker Watters
|3/24/1939||Orson Welles The Campbell Playhouse (radio series)||CBS Radio||Twentieth Century (play)
adapted by Charles Bruce Millholland
|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
|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
|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|
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June 2016)
- "Nathan Detroits through Time". Utah Shakespeare Festival. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
- "History ~ Vaudeville and Broadway | Make 'Em Laugh | PBS". Make 'Em Laugh. 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
- Lane, Stewart F. (2017-04-26). Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476628776.
- "Sam Levene". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
- Lane, Stewart F. (2017-04-26). Jews on Broadway: An Historical Survey of Performers, Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Producers, 2d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476628776.
- "Fair Game".
- "Television This Week: Of Special Interest". The New York Times. November 6, 1977. Retrieved 2016-09-23.
- December 29, Steve Sailer •; Comments, 2013 • 400 Words • 80. "Business Strategy 101". The Unz Review. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
- 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.
- Inc, Nielsen Business Media (1945-05-26). Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc.
- "Sam Levene Caricatures at the Hirschfeld Foundation".
- ""Guys and Dolls" Hirschfeld caricature, 1950 original Broadway production published in The New York Times, 11/19/50".
- ""Guys and Dolls: The Fabled Musical of Broadway"".
- "Al Hirschfeld Foundation: Three Men On A Horse, original Broadway production starring Sam Levene".
- "Celebrating Broadway Long Runs. Al Hirschfeld Foundation".
- The New York Times
- Bordman, Gerald (1996-11-21). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1930-1969. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195358087.
- RickeyJune 3, Carrie; Images, 2018Getty. "Hollywood: Where Jews Don't Get To Play Jews". The Forward. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
- Mankiewicz, Joseph L. (2008). Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Interviews. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781934110249.
- "Impertinent Questions with Larry Stempel". National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Retrieved 2019-10-13.
- "Theatre Hall of Fame".
- The New York Times
- https://www.facebook.com/SamLeveneActor/about?lst=100000113719498%3A1169866891%3A1520816190§ion=bio&pnref=about Facebook]
- "New York Magazine". December 23, 1996.
"The Campbell Playhouse". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-04-04. "The Campbell Playhouse". Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-04-04.
- Sam Levene on IMDb
- Sam Levene at the Internet Broadway Database
- Sam Levene at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Sam Levene at Playbill
- Sam Levene at MCNY, The Museum of the City of New York
- Sam Levene at American Film Institute
- Sam Levene at Al Hirschfeld Foundation
- Sam Levene at Find a Grave
- Sam Levene on Flipboard
- Sam Levene on Spotify
- Sam Levene on Broadway World
- Sam Levene on Rotten Tomatoes