• 28 August 1905
  •  Russia

Sam Levene


Sam Levene was the actor who originated "craps-shooter extraordinaire" Nathan Detroit in the seminal American musical "Guys and Dolls" on the Great White Way in the original 1950 production. Levene was not a good singer and had trouble staying in key, so his solo number "Sue Me" had to be written in one octave to compensate for his lack of pipes. Singing great Frank Sinatra played the Nathan Detroit role in the movie version of the musical Guys and Dolls (1955)) after producer Samuel Goldwyn cast non-singer Marlon Brando as Sky Masterston. Many critics noted that Sinatra -- who would not use the character's New York, ethnic accent when singing -- would have been perfect as Sky and rued the lack of "Jewish wry" the Italian-American crooner brought to the role, openly wishing that Levene had been cast as Nathan Detroit to Old Blue Eyes' Masterson. That was not meant to be, although 20 years later he would not be asked to reproduce another of his memorable roles on Broadway. Born in Russia on August 28, 1905, Sam Levene made his Broadway debut in 1927 in the melodrama "Wall Street", two years before "Variety" noted that the fabled temple of capitalism had "laid an egg". Fifty-three years later he appeared in his 32nd and last Broadway show, "Horowitz and Mrs. Washington", a flop that lasted but four performances. Along the way he was nominated for a Tony Award in 1961 as Best Actor in a Play for "The Devil's Advocate." Levene also starred in the original Broadway production of Neil Simon "The Sunshine Boys", playing Al Lewis to Jack Albertson's Willie Clark. However, the role in the 1975 movie (The Sunshine Boys (1975)) originally was earmarked for Jack Benny, who was replaced by his friend George Burns after Benny's death. Burns won an Oscar playing the role, another big one that got away from Levene. Levene made over 45 movies. He was brought to Hollywood to recreate his stage role as -- fittingly -- a gambler in Three Men on a Horse (1936), following it up with the first of two appearances as San Francisco police Lt. Abrams in the "Thin Man" series: After the Thin Man (1936) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941). His last film role was in the 1979 film ...and justice for all. (1979). The highlight of his movie career arguably are his turns in the hard-boiled film noir classics The Killers (1946), Brute Force (1947) and Crossfire (1947). He also appeared in one of the ultimate New York movies, the classic Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Sam Levene died of a heart attack on December 28, 1980. He was 75 years old.