Leonard Litman, a longtime Variety correspondent who ran two top Pittsburgh entertainment venues in the 1940s and ’50s that attracted stars such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Bill Haley’s Comets, died July 30 in Pittsburgh of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 88.
Litman owned Lenny Litman’s Copa, a nightclub that flourished in the city’s downtown from 1948 to 1959. A sampling of the Copa’s headliners included Johnny Mathis, Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Rudy Vallee, Pearl Bailey, even Bela Lugosi. Earlier, he ran the influential Mercur’s Music Bar.
After the Copa closed in 1959, Litman continued to promote concerts and made a brief foray into sports in the 1960s when he and his brothers invested in an American Basketball League team.
Litman worked as the Pittsburgh correspondent for Billboard magazine from 1948 to 1960 and as a correspondent for Variety for decades. A Damon Runyon character, he was totally immersed in show business.
His career took off after writing a piece about cowboy entertainer Hoot Gibson. That led to a long relationship as Gibson’s press agent, promoter and friend. He wound up in Hollywood working as a press agent and promoter for boxers and several circuses.
During World War II, he served in the Navy until war’s end in 1945. After the war he returned to Pittsburgh and with brothers Archie and Eugene purchased Mercur’s Music Bar. Some of the performers who appeared there included Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Ethel Waters and George Shearing. The club operated until 1948.
That year, he and his brothers bought the old Villa Madrid and turned it into the Copa. The nightclub booked such performers as Fitzgerald and Vic Damone.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Rosslyn Leiber Litman; a daughter; his brother Eugene; and a sister. A son predeceased him in 1993.