Humorous Quotes from Oscar Levant's
A Smattering of Ignorance
This should be a happy introduction to a character who, if he did not exist, could not be imagined. ~ S.N. Behrman
The methods of approach by the conductor vary as widely as the literary tempers of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
Like most conductors, he (Sir Thomas Beecham) fancies himself a wit; but in distinction to all others, his jokes are invariably good.
I have a special affection for the good doctor (Otto Klemperer) based on his chronological rejection of my compositions with a passionate sincerity that first impressed me immeasurably and then ripened into love.
From everything that occurred between us, I would say that Harpo found me a rather amusing person, though he was sometimes shocked by what he considered to be my bad manners. (It was not uncommon for this most celebrated madman to introduce me half-apologetically to a friend as if to prepare him for some outrageous insanity.)
His qualities were best epitomized on the occasion that I met George S. Kaufman in New York and asked if he had heard recently from Harpo. “How,” he asked, “how can you hear from Harpo? He can't write and he can't talk, so how can you hear from Harpo?”
Nightly when I returned from doing a broadcast in New York I would find wires from Harpo, urging me to come out and spend a few months in Hollywood. He even offered to pay half my fare, and I replied, that was fine, I’d go to Kansas City.
He (Randolph Churchill) came with the reputation of being even more than a London equivalent of me – the most bumptious, loudmouthed, impertinent person that English society has produced in our generation.
His (Eduard Steuermann's) favorite repertory piece, on these occasions, was the Goldberg variations of Bach, which he would play on the drop of a hint or with none at all.
Harpo and Susan subsequently adopted a baby, which elicited a wire from me: “Congratulations on your son. If he needs brother wire terms.”
As a youth, Harpo was a boy soprano in a quartet. When he fortunately lost his voice he found that silence was golden.
Favorite Long Quotes / Extracts...
I adjusted myself to the inconveniences of the upper berth, reflecting on
the artistic-economic progression by which Paderewski has a private car,
Gershwin a drawing room and Levant a sleepless night. At this moment my
light must have disturbed George’s doze, for he opened his eyes, looked up
at me and said drowsily, “Upper berth – lower berth. That’s the difference
between talent and genius.
He (Sam Pokrass) reminded me of the prize-fight manager of whom Dan Parker, savant of the Daily Mirror said, “His mother tongue is broken English.”
A favorite subject for the “Vorkapich mood” is honeymoons, in which a boat is seen pulling out of New York harbor, then there is a shot of the Savoy in London, the Champs Elysees in Paris, the pigeons at St. Peter’s in Rome and finally the Statue of Liberty. In this way the Will Hays office is appeased, and the audience is given to understand that a marriage has been consummated.
At least ten years ago Georges Auric wrote one of the best movie scores of all time for Rene Clair’s A Nous la Liberte. It was witty without being self-conscious, fresh without being eccentric, terse without being sparse – and all done with a small orchestra.
I kept hinting that these veins (of talent) could be tapped by the right woman, that I could go far with the proper girl. (I might go even farther with the wrong girl.)
As a hotel dweller I had acquired an imperishable respect for the maternal instincts of bellboys and elevator operators.
It is by this watch (one presented by George Gershwin) that I have been late for every important appointment since then.
I inquired, “Tell me, George (Gershwin), if you had to do it all over, would you fall in love with yourself again?”
During this period my life reached the fullest flower of its aimlessness.
I had always resented sleep as an intrusion on my nocturnal self-pity, and the necessity of rising at eight in the morning merely reduced from six to four the hours of tossing and sleeplessness induced by sedatives.
Somehow I could not separate its (tennis') objective from that of baseball, and the pop flies I batted over Beverly Hills could easily have been photographed for use as the locust holocaust in Good Earth.
Favorite Long Quotes / Extracts...
It is a tradition in pictures (one of the most stubbornly respected) that
nobody in the world goes to hear a movie score but the composer, the
orchestrator and other composers. As a kind of compensation, I suppose, they
hear every single sixteenth note in the score and are thereafter equipped to
discuss its most obscure subtleties. Frequently, however, they have to be
told what the picture itself is about.
In the hills near his (George Gershwin's) Hollywood home he had staked out a six-mile walk, whose daily execution seemed to me not only a feat in physical endurance but also an action traitorous to everything for which I stood.
If I should ever be empowered with high trust in the government – a career which I have not yet ruled out for myself – I should move at once to appoint Leonore Gershwin as Secretary of Private Relations for the Fine Arts – an American equivalent, if I misunderstand the term correctly, of the British Home Secretary.
I believe his (Edgar Varese's) hour of greatest triumph came four or five years ago when he conducted his “Ionization” – scored for thirteen percussion players – in tiny Carnegie Chamber Hall, where even a pin dropping causes a clatter.
It was the outcome of a little group of which I was a member, whose leitmotiv was bad manners.
Gershwin’s most celebrated lines to speak: “Sometimes what comes out of that piano frightens me.”
Considering that I am a person who lacks no possible human failing, I have been constantly amazed by Copland’s generosity.
It recalled to me the experience of Max Gordon and Noel Coward when that producer was negotiating for the right to Design for Living. Coward exacted such terms from Gordon that someone commented: “Only an artist could drive such a bargain. A businessman wouldn’t have the nerve.”
I also developed a fondness for conversational writing, after I discovered that if you wrote – My answer to her query was “No” – it did not take up nearly as much space as writing:
“What is your answer?” she asked.
“My answer,” I replied, “is no.”
He (Sigismund Stojowski) asked me what music I was going to play at a
student recital for which he was preparing the program.“I think I’ll play Debussy’s ‘Reflets dans L’Eau’ or ‘Poissons d’Or,’” I answered. He looked at me intently for a moment and then said, “Your piano
playing is not improving, but your French is.”
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