Show Business: In Search of Frenzy

During his Army physical, a psychiatrist inquired: "Do you think you can kill?"

"I don't know about strangers," replied the draftee. "But friends, yes."

For more than four decades, Oscar Levant slew his friends—with insults, wisecracks and backchat. When he died at 65 last week, Levant had become a Hollywood legend: the Oscar that no one could win.

It was an image that Levant nurtured like a hothouse nightshade. The son of a Pittsburgh jeweler, he dropped out of high school at 15 to seek a concert pianist's career in New York. He caromed from dance...

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