I want to respond to you privately. You should know I typically don’t respond to blurbs, articles, etc., written about my dad.
I don’t dispute my dad couldn’t sing; I take issue with the tone/emphasis which because of the internet tends to breed more articles, rarely correcting mistakes. I never felt you didn’t admire or appreciate my dad, that’s not the point.
I didn’t see the original production of “Guys & Doll’s”; I wasn’t born yet. I have obviously heard the cast album; I also saw my dad’s Minneola revival with Vivian; my mother recollects a lot; she saw the show hundreds of times, both here and in London, including the command perfomrance for the Queen!
One of the reasons I responded to your article is because I felt there was a surprising lack of attention to detail, not purposeful I am certain, not malicious, just lacking, with key points overlooked, never mentioned.
You mention you wrote 3 paragraphs on Sam Levene; actually 2 paragraphs and a sentence in 3rd paragraph.
In the 1st paragraph, you state erroneous vaudeville credit which hit a nerve & now acknowledge, wrong. By the way it is still there.
You mentioned “you can find no other misstatement of the facts”.
“The Sunshine Boys” did not open in 1973; it opened on Broadway, 12/20/72, with pre-Broadway tryouts in New Haven & Washington DC.
I remember the opening date well & was there. I know that date is close to 1973 but it is still not right.
In that paragraph, you also state my dad’s career was “capped off nicely in 1973, when he originated the role of Al Lewis”.
According to vocabulary.com, capped off means “finish or complete”. My dad performed until he died in 1980, maybe not every show amazing.
To be specfic, Sam Levene performed in the Broadway producton of “The Sunshine Boys” for about year & half, perhaps more. Then Sam Levene & Jack Albertsson did the national tour and after Los Angeles, Levene assumed role of Willie Clark with Ned Glass and sadly, Ned couldn’t learn the part so tour closed prematurely.
My dad then did “The Royal Family”, pre-Broadway in Brooklyn I recall in 1975 then Broadway & a national tour, the tv version.
“The Royal Family”, also co-written by Kaufman, received plenty of praise it for the revival’s theatrical superiority, including praise from Nathan Lane on Playbill & by Al Pacino in his autobiography; read what he says about my dad’s 50 year of theatrical history entrance.
My dad also performed in the closed out of town tryout of “The Prince of Grand Street” with Robert Preston; also did “The Merchant” with Zero which was very traumatic for him; summer stock of “The Goodbye People”, and then was in auto accident night before opening night of “Goodnight Grampa” & eventually in 1980 returned to Broadway for his 37th Broadway show in “Horowitz & Mrs. Washington”.
So while “The Sunshine Boys” is right; the date is wrong & his career hardly capped off. He also did several movies, including
“And Justice For All”, a fantastic movie called “The Last Embrace”, etc. Look I don’t expect you to get all of this, but I also don’t think you should have misleadng date info.
For the record, even though all of this annoyed me, I stayed away from making any comments about this, even though it was and is frustrating.
You correctly mention my dad only cast member with Broadway experience but state he “burst into stardom with “Three Men On a Horse”. For the record, my dad made his theatrical debut in 1927.
As stated in my formal rebuttal, at the time he signed for “Guys & Doll’s” he had already appeared in 18 Broadway shows, originated roles in 16 Broadway shows, including creating legendary roles in several historically important and key Twentieth Century Broadway plays, including: Gordon Miller in “Room Service”; Max Kane in “Dinner at Eight”; Patsy in “Three Men on a Horse” & Sidney Black in “Light Up the Sky”; only the latter was he Tony award eligible.
Yes, he was praised for “Three Men on a Horse”, but it didn’t just happen, there were other shows before that, some key ones actually and all usurped by the erroneous vaudeville credit, and I also think the link to Kaufman via “Dinner At Eight” important; there was another Kaufman show too before!
Curiously, you use a still photo of Sam Levene from “The Killers” yet state the still is from one of the two dozen films in which he appeared, between 1936–1950.
Why not use a “Guys & Doll’s” photo or his publicity photo?
Or label it correctly?
Don’t dispute what you say about my dad’s singing; I take issue with negative tone/emphasis which is not balanced. My dad made it very clear long before there was ever a script he couldn’t sing; repeatedly told Burroughs he couldn’t sing, tried to withdraw, and again wasn’t present for the stories, recollections, & presume neither were you.
I read your article many many times, scratching my head.
What is the point? Clearly you are free to write pretty much whatever you like, but think it should have balance.
With respect, since you probably did not see his original performance, and write a column with authority, am sure you will agree, it should be accurate, without exaggeration, without embellishment, especially since majority of input sourced from second hand articles/books, not first hand reporting.
My dad was a consummate actor as you say, frankly a great actor, yet you never touch on how authentic his performance was, nor how he really means the words when he sings “Sue Me”.
One of the key reasons Sam Levene’s performance is today viewed as the one to beat is because of a point you don’t mention. Surprisingly you NEVER mention the role of Nathan Detroit was actually written specfically for my dad, based on his life. Abe Burroughs spent hours with him and unlike the actors in “A Chorus Line”, my dad didn’t and doesn’t get any author’s royalty.
I also think there is a huge difference in creative contribution for actors who are a part of the original producion vs. actors who later play that same part in revivals, but that’s another article.
I have read many negative comments, negative reviews, heard negative things, and that’s ok. I felt the emphasis of not being able to sing was a bit one sided especially since you are writing a string of authortiy articles.
Why did the team bother to keep Sam Levene? Clearly the show was a huge hit and the “Guys & Doll’s” creative team was keenly aware Sam Levene couldn’t sing long before there was ever a script.
You write: “couldn’t everyone sing? At least a little?”
That just adds more fuel and not in a good way.
Read various “Guys & Doll’s” books by Burroughs, Alda, Feuer, even Peter O’Toole’s autobiography, comments by Hedda Hopper, Joseph Manckiewitz, Kitty Carlisle whom I knew well, and you realize my dad was giving a performance of a lifetime. And the original reviews don’t dwell on Sam Levene not being able to sing, but his performance which was very much liked. At the time, he was the toast of Broadway.
I loved him very much. And miss him too.
By the way Sam Levene was in “The Big Street” too and with a fairly big part!