×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Marvin Levy: The Road From Tex and Jinx to ‘Close Encounters’

It’s been more than 40 years since publicist and newly minted Governors Award honoree Marvin Levy began his close association with Steven Spielberg, but their adventures together only constitute one of acts in the Levy saga.

From the time Levy graduated from NYU in 1949, the affable but no-nonsense communications pro has been somewhere near the center of showbiz gravity.

“I was always a fan of the Broadway musicals starting in high school, and by college we were regularly scoring tickets for opening nights and showing up in tuxedos. We’d see epic shows like ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ and ‘Brigadoon,’ and being naughty boys, we’d go to the backstage door dressed in our tuxes and they’d let us in and we’d get word of where to go for the cast parties.”

When asked if a Variety column item from 1954 — “Marvin Levy and Gordon Morris penned the special material for thrush Didi Douglas’ new nitery act” — was written about him, Levy laughed and confirmed he was the Marvin Levy credited.

“I’ll be honest. I don’t remember the work, but it had to be me because Gordon Morris was my fraternity brother from NYU,” he says.

Levy does remember another colorful stint in the showbiz trenches of Manhattan around that time. “I worked for Tex and Jinx McCrary, who practically started the TV talk-show format. They had a midday TV show and a late-night radio show as well as a Sunday afternoon radio show and a column in the New York Herald Tribune. I had to help them prepare for interviews, so one day I’d be prepping for a chat with General Clark, who led the capture of Rome in World War II. The next day it would be the head of the New York Stock Exchange.

“I was one of three people they had doing research: the other two were William Safire and Barbara Walters! And I’ll tell who was about the best pre-interview gig I ever had: Variety editor Abel Green. He had the best stories and knew the best people and everything he said sounded like it was written in boldface.

“Then I met the woman who remains in my mind as second only to the greatest woman and the love of my life, my wife. I met Audrey Hepburn, who had her first stage role in ‘Gigi.’ Years later I saw her again at the premiere of Richard Lester’s ‘Robin and Marian,’ and I still remember and agree with what Jack Valenti called her: ‘Our National Treasure.’”

It wasn’t long before Levy began his more than seven decades-long career working for the major studios, starting with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s New York offices in the mid-’50s. If Levy was unflappable by the time he began his association with Spielberg on the 1977 sci-fi classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” perhaps it’s because of those formative years on the junket circuit for Metro. In those waning days of the studio system, there was still enough star power to electrify the public and power the public’s imagination and hunger for Hollywood fantasies.

“I worked on the junket for ‘Raintree County’ with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in 1957. That was going to be MGM’s new ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but it didn’t live up to those expectations.”

If Levy’s early innings prepared him for the reality of blockbusters that failed to ignite at the box office, they also confirmed the wisdom of his choice of careers. And if Levy’s early career experiences sound like escapades from a Hollywood Golden Era musical, it only got better.

“At MGM, it was my job to take the stars to El Morocco. I wasn’t starstruck, but my wife and I were just dating and they had a terrific trio there. I remember spending time with Debbie Reynolds, who was just terrific. And Glenn Ford was a really good guy. And Shirley MacLaine was and is wonderful.

“And outside of Steven [Spielberg], probably the most interesting guy I ever worked with was Warren Beatty at Columbia. He had a penthouse at the Beverly Wilshire, and if you ever went into a meeting with Warren unprepared, it would not be a nice experience. He was incredibly prepared for every detail of publicity and everything else on a movie.”

Having spent the first half of his life in New York showbiz and the second half in sunny Southern California, could I possibly force the ever diplomatic Mr. Levy into making a choice?

“They’re totally different. Both great. But one thing is for sure: the New York mentality stays with you all your life. There’s no place like it.”

More Film

  • Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive

    Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Director Was Cheated Out of an Oscar Nomination

    “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” screenwriter Nicole Holofcener offered a blunt assessment of the lack of Academy Awards recognition for director Marielle Heller, and women directors everywhere. “I feel Marielle was cheated and I feel badly about that,” Holofcener said backstage after winning a Spirit Award for screenplay with Jeff Whitty. Holofcener was originally attached [...]

  • Stephan James as Fonny and Brian

    2019 Indie Spirit Awards Winners: Complete List

    The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards took place on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif., with Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” taking the top prize for best feature along with best director for Jenkins. Ethan Hawke and Glenn Close took the prizes for best male lead and best female lead, respectively. Bo Burnham took [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Hated It! How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Gripe About the Oscars

    Watching the Academy Awards telecast, then grousing about it the next day, has become a hipster parlor game — it’s what the Complete Oscar Experience now is. The complaints are legion, and we all know what they are, because we’ve all made them. The show was too long. The host bombed. His or her opening [...]

  • Boots Riley arrives at the 34th

    Boots Riley: Spike Lee Yelled at Me After 'BlacKkKlansman' Criticism, But We're Good Now

    “Sorry to Bother You” director and musician Boots Riley, who wrote a scathing criticism of Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” for its positive representation of law enforcement, said that he and the “Do the Right Thing” auteur are good now. But it took some time (and drama) to get there. Last year, Riley called Lee’s Oscar-nominated “BlacKkKlansman” [...]

  • Dr. Donald Shirley (Mahershala Ali, right)

    Read Variety's 1957 Review of 'Green Book' Pianist Don Shirley

    “Green Book” viewers who are not totally versed in the ways of ’50s and ’60s jazz may come away from the heavily Oscar-nominated movie wondering just how well known and respected the film’s central musical figure, Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali), really was in his heyday. The answer: revered enough to have picked up [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content