Thursday, May 1, 2008

Graduate: Jerry Levitan

Published in North York Post: May 2008.

He met 'the Walrus'

Oscar-nominated grad does it all

Report Card
Student: Jerry Levitan
Graduated: William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate, 1972
Best Subject: History
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Children's Entertainer/Lawyer

This year, when I Met the Walrus received an Oscar nomination, it reminded people of a simpler time when a 14-year-old could sneak into a rock star's hotel room to procure an intimate interview. For Jerry Levitan, who was that 14-year-old, the experience has been paying dividends since his high school days at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate.

"I was always seen as the guy who hung with John Lennon," the North York native says. "I wasn't a braggy kid, but it painted me as a person who's a little off the normal path early on. Girls started seeing me as more than 'funny Jerry.'"

Meeting Lennon didn't just change the two-year school president's social life, but his career path as well. The Lennon interview convinced him to emulate his hero, Pierre Trudeau, and enter politics. This meant leaving the stage behind for the constitutional courts.

"I'm the guy who started the Sunday shopping challenge in the early 80s to challenge constitutionally the Sunday laws (that prevented Sunday shopping)," Levitan says. "So that started my career, and I started getting involved in politics."

Despite being asked several times by the Liberal Party, Levitan was never able to find the right time to enter the race. Eventually he decided to let go of his dream of being a politicians, which left him to contemplate a big question.

"So, what am I? Just a lawyer?" Levitan remembers asking himself. "I never enjoyed being a lawyer, and that I would be defined that way for the rest of my life was an upsetting thing to me."

At the age of 34, Levitan decided to cut back on his law practice and take acting classes. In addition to doing commercial work, Levitan became "a rather busy B actor."

His resume includes starring as former Governor Jesse Ventura's alien boss in Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe, a pimp loan shark that cuts off people's fingers with garden shears in Little Devils: The Birth, and the head of the New Jersey FBI anti-terrorism unit that involved "running around with a gun."

While he would go on guest-star on The West Wing, Levitan had another re-evaluation of his life four years ago after his second divorce. He closed his praw practice, only taking on liquor law work for nightclubs like The Guvernment, and began writing songs, including one for his two-year-old daughter. One day, I Mother Earth manager Bob Luhtala heard the song and convinced Levitan to do a children's album.

"Literally that day, I left the studio and got an old 1920's top hat, an old bow tie, red rimmed glasses and I created 'Sir Jerry,'" Levitan says.

The Sir Jerry guise has been a big hit. It was while working on Sir Jerry's first music video that Levitan had the idea to make a short animated film about his interview with Lennon. He worked with animator Josh Raskin to produce I Met the Walrus.

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