Harold Leventhal, who died in October at 86, had the charisma of an election worker but an Oscar-bait bio: son of a widowed L.E.S. janitor, high school Communist, factory worker fired for union activity, song plugger for Irving Berlin, and manager of the Weavers, Arlo Guthrie, and Peter, Paul and Mary. The appearance of his clients for a 2003 tribute at Arlo’s annual Thanksgiving show at Carnegie Hall inspired Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind and now a concert doc, itself named for director Jim Brown’s 1982 film about the Weavers. In an unprecedented cinematic coup, Leventhal scores an executive producer credit for his own epitaph.
Watching Brown’s engaged but measured hagiography in the wake of Guest’s massacree is like reading the Times after The Onion, particularly when Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey are on-screen (“How many times can you sing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ or ‘If I Had a Hammer’?,” asks Mary Travers, who thankfully doesn’t), but it’s impossible not to be moved by the Weavers. Leventhal saved their careers when, at the height of the blacklist, he booked them at Carnegie for Thanksgiving 1955. You can still see in their eyes what it meant to them, not to mention the nascent folk scene, which galvanized into a movement that night. They won’t be the last octogenarian rock band, but they may turn out to have been the best.