Saturday, January 28, 2023


Robert Levitt Jr is not famous today and lives a modest life, but he has the distinction of being the son of Ethel Merman. Born on August 11, 1945, his father, who died when he was twelve, was a successful businessman. His stepfather owned Continental Airlines, and pursued side ventures (like flying troops to Vietnam and flying bodybags home) that made him heaps of money in the late Sixties. Bob vividly remembers an argument in which his mother shrieked at his stepdad, “You use me to get to Nixon for your goddam contracts for your goddam war.”

Bob grew up in posh surroundings on Manhattan’s Central Park West. There was a friendly doorman, and an annual party for the building’s kids, who’d gather to watch the floats of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade at eye level. The family’s 21st story duplex boasted its own wraparound terrace, complete with lily ponds. Unfortunately, it also boasted what he calls a “Fascist” governess, who at bedtime made him recite the Lord’s Prayer in German.

None of Bob’s parental figures gave him much in the way of attention. Nor did they encourage him to develop a sense of empathy for those who had less: “You didn’t get involved with fans. At best you gave them an autograph. You didn’t get involved with the working class. At best you gave them a tip.”

During his mid-teen years, Bob was “spinning in my undeveloped, unparented juices.” When Merman went on the road as the star of Gypsy, he convinced her to let him live on his own, in a residence hotel on the Upper West Side. Needless to say, he didn’t bother with school attendance; he was too busy using his mom’s charge accounts to take cute young things in the Bye Bye Birdie cast to Sardi’s. Merman was angry, because she expected good behavior – but she never seemed much concerned about how he’d make his own way in life.

Fortunately, Bob slowly gravitated into theatre work, of the backstage variety. He got his first gig because of family connections, and deserved to be fired for a long list of screw-ups. But somehow he acquired kindly mentors, who’ve seen him through good times and bad. Today he spends long hours working for environmental causes and an award-winning charity called PlayWrite. He's tremendously proud of the homeless boy from the streets of L.A. who’s become his adopted son.

Ethel Merman, of course, was famous for her powerful singing voice. Didn’t he and she ever sing together? Well, yes. . . for a while their bedtime ritual (before she left for the theatre) was to duet on a ditty called “Play Ball.” The unspoken deal was that if any words came out wrong, they’d have to start again from the beginning. So he’d mangle the rhymes in hopes of having his mother to himself just a bit longer. Shrugs Bob, “That was our sharing, pretty much.”

Today Bob still mistrusts the rich. He firmly believes that once we come to see “wealth as surplus, fame as distraction,” the world will finally begin to heal itself...


  1. I agree with Robert

  2. Oh, please! I wonder how he lives on the trust fund he was left. And Merman and Six weren't together when Nixon was President.

    1. there was no trust fund-- and nothing was left to him

  3. David -
    I am trying to get a query to Mr. Levitt, Jr.
    Did you interview him yourself for this post? I'm doing a website and book on a WPA painter who painted a picture of Ethel as Panama Hattie, as seen in a photo of Ethel's apartment in ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST July 1979, and in the PERSON TO PERSON, 1955 tv Ethel interview found on youtube, where she is standing on the landing of her Denver home in front of the painting. I was wondering if Bob, Jr. and family kept the painting or if it was sold at the 1985 Christie's East auction. The artist is a William P. Hicks. I reached out to Ethel's friend Tony Cointreau and heard back from his publicist that he has no knowledge of it.
    Forgive this strange intrusion from left-field. I thought I'd give it a try. Great blog, BTW! Thanks!
    Artist project is