The Ballad of John, Yoko and Jerry Levitan

By Michael Rappaport

Back in 1969, when Jerry Levitan was a bright-eyed, brash 14 year-old Beatles’ fan, he posed as a reporter and talked his way into an exclusive interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who were holed up in Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, during the couple’s “bed-in” for peace period. Thirty-eight years later, Levitan produced a short animated film based on the audiotape. On Feb. 24, Levitan was at the Academy Awards in L.A., where “I Met the Walrus” was nominated for best animated short film.

In an interview with The Lawyers Weekly, the day after the Oscars, Levitan was still flush with excitement from the big night. “We were seated seven rows behind Jack Nicholson,” gushed Levitan, who attended the Oscars with his wife. “When we walked in on the red carpet, in front of us was Penelope Cruz and behind us was Cate Blanchett.”

Although Levitan didn’t win, his spirits weren’t dampened. “After the awards were over, I walked up to Jack Nicholson and said, “Hey Jack I’m an Oscar loser.” And he lifted up his sunglasses and said, ‘well let me take a look at you then.”
Beyond producing an Oscar nominated short animated film,
Levitan has acted in TV and films, recorded two albums for children, wrote a book on the legal system, fathered four children ages 6 to 27 and carved a profitable niche practice for himself as a lawyer in Toronto representing clients in liquor licence disputes.

Where does he find the time and money to juggle and fund so many pursuits?

“It’s not easy. But being a lawyer allows me to pay for many of these ventures,” Levitan explains. When he decided to transform his life-changing encounter with John and Yoko Lennon into an animated short film, Levitan paid more than half of the cost of production out of pocket.

“About $30,000 was my own money and $20,000 was a grant from BRAVO! Fact [a foundation that assists Canadian filmmakers],” Levitan says. “One of the things in Hollywood that everyone was astounded at is that a film that was nominated for an Oscar cost only $50,000 to make!”

Three years ago, Levitan decided to record a few songs that he wrote for his youngest daughter Jaimie, when she was two years old. As his alter ego, children’s entertainer “Sir Jerry,” Levitan produced two albums, both self-financed.

In 1996, Prentice-Hall Canada tapped Levitan to write The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Winning Everyday Legal Hassles in Canada. He wrote the book in under a month. “There was a four week stretch where I would come home and bang away on my computer,” Levitan says. “It’s as much a sarcastic and humorous book as an educational book.”

Levitan has landed acting roles in films and TV series beginning in the early 90’s, including an appearance on an episode of the hit series “The West Wing” in 2005.

In between acting gigs, recording albums and making films, Levitan has practised law. After graduating from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1979, Levitan sought to make a name for himself as a litigator. His career took off at Robins Appleby & Taub LLP, when he represented Videoflicks Ltd. in the early 80’s in a constitutional challenge to Ontario’s Sunday shopping laws, which required most retailers to close on Sundays. The legal battle went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1990, Levitan left Robins Appleby & Taub to form his own litigation boutique. In recent years, he represented the teachers of Ontario in their defamation suit against former Premier Mike Harris, Russell “Cashman” Oliver’s defence against Time Warner, and the Kingsville students who were strip searched by their vice principal and teacher.

A few years ago, he decided to scale back his practice and concentrate mainly on liquor licence disputes, so he could pursue other interests.

Today, Levitan has developed a reputation as the “go to guy” in Ontario for bars and restaurants in liquor licence disputes with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario or facing police charges.

As Levitan’s hero might say in regards to his long and winding career paths, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”