Sam Levene became an actor because he wanted to prove that he had enough poise to be a salesman. To hone his skills, the dress-cutter auditioned at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts--and got a scholarship. He made his Broadway debut in 1927 and, within a decade, was recreating his roles on the silver screen. Building his reputation as a screen heavy, Levene landed the part of Lieutenant Abrams in "After the Thin Man," the second outing of Dashiell Hammett's investigatory lovebirds, and reappeared in their fourth film, "Shadow of the Thin Man." He proved to be a mainstay of crime dramas, and appeared frequently with Burt Lancaster. They worked together in such classics as "The Killers," the stunning expansion of a story by Ernest Hemingway; the prison thriller "Brute Force"; and "Sweet Smell of Success," which probed yellow journalism's seedy underbelly. But Levene continued to work on stage, where he created the legendary role of Nathan Detroit, the gambler-hero of "Guys and Dolls." Despite having a singing voice so poor that his big number was written in a single octave, his performance was so well-regarded that, when Frank Sinatra nabbed the role in the movie version, there were doubts that he'd live up to Levene. The would-be salesman also played a washed-up vaudevillian in Neil Simon's Broadway hit "The Sunshine Boys," and made his final screen appearance in "...And Justice for All," a courtroom drama starring Al Pacino.
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