15 September 2009

A sharper Wit

Awhile back I was musing on black and white television and the old variety shows.  In addition to those, there were the early talk shows such as Jack Paar and  Steve Allen among others.  What was distinctive about them was that people came on to talk.  They might have been hyping a motion picture, stage appearance, or book, but mainly they talked and they did it with wit, charm and a vocabulary that could have served a masters thesis in English.  Stories were frequently risque in the best sense of that word ... suggestive but not blatantly dirty.  Language danced and flirted.  It didn't assault.

One guest who was always welcome was Oscar Levant.  He might look as if he were permanently half asleep and the cigarette dangling from his mouth was an invitation to disaster, but oh could that man talk.  The man was so sharp that a zinger could go between someone's ribs without them feeling a thing until the audience started laughing hysterically.  From 1958 to 1960 he even had his own show featuring some of the biggest names in music, motion pictures, and theater.  There are very poor quality kinescope clips of the show on You Tube but are worth viewing for Fred Astaire as his guest.    Today you can only get a tiny taste of his ascerbic and musical abilities in films such as "An American In Paris" or "The Band Wagon".

Concerto Scene from American in Paris

Oscar had been a musical prodigy, but seemed to prefer just noodling around until he really needed to play to accompany an Al Jolson or Fred Astaire, then watch out!  The man could play everything from boogie woogie to classical and do it perfectly.  In addition to playing, he composed.  While many songs are still performed from time to time, one has become a classic.  So here is Blame It On My Youth.


Linda said...

They don't make talk shows or celebrities like they used to, that's for sure!

Wouldn't it be great to have some wonderful talent such as his but be happy to just "noodle around" most of the time?

Travis said...

I didn't know his name! What a musician.

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Call me thick, but I don't see what Oscar Lavant has to do with Ruby Tuesday...but...what do I know...

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

I remember watching Oscar Levant live when I was a very young teen ager..perhaps 14 years old. He and his wife..I think it was his wife..would sit at his piano..and they would talk and he would play a few bars now and then. Even at that young age I appreciated his talent. The smoke would be so thick sometimes that I don't see how they were able to breath...or anyone else for that matter. I have seen him in a few movies...but his TV show was where I became really familiar with him. My Grandparents used to watch him and that is where I would go after school to watch TV. We didn't own one in those days..and the Grands were one of the few that did have one.
And yes, I did enjoy reading about him. But I actually felt like I knew him long ago. I was sad when he died. He WAS witty, but much of it went way over my head as I was too young and his wit too sharp for me to grasp. However, wit in those days, if it were risque, had to be very, very carefully vailed or they would be called on it...so..many things had double meanings and to a youngster sometimes didn't make sense. :) Which was the way it was supposed to be. Only sharp thinking adults grasped the meaning.
Anyway...I am glad you posted it.
I mean, accidents do happen! :):)