Monday, December 26, 2011

Music Monday ~ OSCAR LEVANT ~ Unusual Capricorn-Type ?

Oscar Levant would have celebrated his 105th birthday tomorrow, 27 December. He died in 1972. He has been largley forgotten now, I guess, except among keen musicians, Gershwin fans and those keen on old movies, TV and radio shows. I needed a reminder of which face fit his name. Recalling the movie An American in Paris did the trick. Levant played a concert pianist, still struggling to make it in the business, good friend of Gene Kelly's character a US ex-pat and would-be artist living in Paris. (Photograph from Virtual History: Oscar between Georges Guétary and Gene Kelly.)

Oscar Levant, in real life was something of a renaissance man: pianist, composer, author, comedian, wit, and actor. His "shadow side": hypochondriac, neurotic, addicted to prescription drugs, spent time in mental hospitals. He was considered to be near-genius. His own comment on this: "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."

Levant was a brilliant pianist, his renditions of his long-time friend George Gershwin's compositions are considered second only to Gershwin's own. During his time in Hollywood he wrote/co-wrote music for 20 or so movies and several popular songs. Blame It on My Youth, one of his compositions from 1934 is now considered to be "a standard".

Levant's ascerbic quick-wittedness took him to radio and TV (in the 1950s TV was still in its infancy):
Levant began to make the circuit of radio and television shows where his biting wit delighted listeners across America. In 1950, he suffered a heart attack and subsequently developed an addiction to the pain medication, Demerol. Despite his exceptional musical skills and quick wit, Levant was plagued with lifelong uncertainty and depression. As his bouts with depression progressed, he turned these sad episodes into biting commentary about himself, drawing out his lack of self-confidence for the world to see.

In the early 1950s, Levant hosted his own television talk show with guests of the stature of authors Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood. He even brought his own psychiatrist, Dr. George Wayne, on the show from time to time. Television in its infancy was live. No one could be sure what Levant would do or say as the program progressed, and this show was often considered "must see TV" for everyone in Hollywood. His wit was notorious and, while he frequently used it against others, he more often used it against himself. Although Levant had the potential for becoming a success in this new medium, his increasing episodes of depression took their toll on his career. He recognized the affect his addictions had on his health and checked himself into Mt. Sinai Hospital each day after his show, but with little or no positive effects. He soon began to fade from the public's view.

In 1958, television host Jack Paar convinced Levant to appear on his program. For the next six years the composer appeared with regularity, amusing viewers with his neurotic satire. Levant both shocked and intrigued viewers with his open discussions about his neuroses and his addiction to painkillers. While his illnesses became more apparent with each appearance as his speech slowed, his wit remained as sharp as ever. FROM:

Born 27 December 1906 in Pittsburgh, PA at 11:45 PM (Astrodatabank).

Hey! Lookee here! A serious, steady Capricorn Sun conjunct eccentric Uranus! I could not have imagined a better signature for Oscar Levant! Who says astrology doesn't work? (Photograph from HERE).
Had Levant been born in a generation with Uranus well away from his Capricorn Sun, who knows what he'd have become? A straight-forward classical pianist/composer perhaps, or a novelist? Quirky Uranus irritates that serious Sun so much, is there any wonder he became neurotic and eventually depressive?

What else? Opposition to Sun/Uranus from Neptune conjunct Jupiter in Cancer - these two planets, conjoined, indicate an excess of creativity - or, alternatively propensity for addiction to something. The opposition to Levant's irritated Capricorn Sun must have produced even further irritation, and perhaps a choice of "outlet": using his a super-creative mind to its optimum, or deadening all feeling via drugs.

His Virgo ascendant didn't help at all. He would seek perfection, in his music and in life itself, thus bringing about yet more irritation.

Gemini Moon was a saving grace for Levant I think. His draw to communicate (Gemini) released some of that irritation safely, while entertaining an audience. Both Venus (music) and Mercury (communication, Gemini's sign of rulership) oppose Gemini Moon, more as balancing outlets here, rather than irritations. There's another indication of his outlet through communication too - a Yod (Finger of Fate) funneling "energies" of sextiled Sun/Uranus and aggressive Mars through - again, communcative Gemini Moon.

Sun's ruler, Saturn was in gentle, emotional Pisces (not terribly compatible, but indicating, maybe, a less rigid Capricorn-type) and in harmonious trine to Neptune/Jupiter, which, in turn were opposing Sun/Uranus - bit of a tangled yet inter-connected web there. I'm not surprised to learn that Oscar Levant had difficulty coping with life.

Below: Oscar Levant plays part of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor op. 23


Anonymous said...

GP: A very rich character indeed, you found there, T! What strikes me is his Grand Trine in Water signs (Mars, trine Saturn, trine Jupiter/Neptune).

Strange that Astrodatabank missed that one. But the point is that the Ruler of Capricorn, Saturn, being in Pisces and "worked upon" by a significant Mars and not less significant Jupiter/Neptune is considerably softened and probably, along with what you found in his artist's map, responsible for his life "on the fringes". And no wonder he was a friend and interpreter of George Gershwin, one of my favourite composers.

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Gian Paul ~~
It's an interesting chart isn't it!
A multi-faceted, multi-talented character, whose talents were as conflicting as some parts of his chart.
The sharpness of his wit, yet the emotional softness of that Grand Water trine, for instance.

Tried to find a video of him playing Gershwin - there are some but the sound is really bad, unfortunately.

anyjazz said...

I saw Levant several times on variety shows and talk shows back in the late fifties and early sixties. He was very quick witted and always nervous. He was also a brilliant pianist.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~ Yes, that fits what I've read.