Saturday, July 25, 2020


Wladziu Valentino Liberace was born in Wisconsin on May 16, 1919.  God, no wonder he shortened his name.  He was born into a family of musicians.  His father, an Italian immigrant, had played the French horn in theatres, but he paid his bills as a laborer.  His mother had been a concert pianist in Poland, but ironically found music lessons for her son to be a luxury.  This was after all, during the Great Depression.

By age 4, Liberace was already playing the piano, at which he was a natural.  A few years later, he attended a concert in Milwaukee featuring the Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski.  He was instantly inspired.  "I was intoxicated by the joy I got from the great virtuoso's playing," Liberace recalled.  "My dreams were filled with fantasies of following his footsteps...I began to practice with a fervor that made my previous interest in the piano look like neglect."

He started making a name for himself when he was just 18, when he entered a formal music competition.  Although he didn't win, he was praised for his flair and showmanship.  It started his career and within a few years he was touring around his home state of Wisconsin. It was in the town of La Crosse just a few years later that he would first play "Three Little Fishes," the tune that would become his signature song.

By the 1940s, he was working the clubs in New York City.  He signed with the Radisson and Statler Hotel chains, which increased his exposure.  He also began appearing in "soundies," the precursor to music videos (minus the profanity and half-naked women). It got him noticed, and by 1945, Variety was impressed, describing him as a cross between Cary Grant and Robert Alda (Alan's father).

He arrived in Hollywood in 1947.  Within a few years, he'd be appearing in films, including 1950's South Sea Sinner with future soap opera star MacDonald Carey and 1955's Sincerely Yours.  Click on each title to see a clip from the respective film.  The latter film was a flop at the box office, and it largely killed his big-screen ambitions.

In the early 1950s, Liberace eschewed radio, recognizing  television as the dominant medium.  He appeared on a number of variety programs, such as The Kate Smith Show and The Jackie Gleason Show, but he found their formats limiting, particularly when it came to his screen time.  In response, he started his own series, appropriately titled The Liberace Show.  It ran in syndication for 17 years.   Here's the first episode in its entirety.

He's probably best remembered for his years headlining in Las Vegas however, where he took up permanent residence.  During his decades-long career there, he earned the nickname "Mr. Showmanship" and introduced a host of new acts to America, including an up-and-coming singer named Barbra Streisand.  Known around town for his exotic outfits and his flamboyant lifestyle, he once described himself as "a one-man Disneyland."

He died on February 4, 1987 at the age of 67.  In his final years, he battled numerous health conditions, including emphysema, coronary artery disease and most significantly, HIV.  Ultimately, his cause of death was listed as pneumonia.

He was entombed at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills with his mother Frances and his brother George.

Here's a close-up shot.

Rest in peace, Chandell.

  • Liberace never publicly admitted his sexuality, but he often defended it.  In 1956, he sued London's Daily Mirror newspaper for libel when it claimed he was a homosexual, winning $200,000.  In 1982, he was sued by a former chauffeur who said the two had been lovers, a claim Liberace denied under oath.  The $113 million lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court for $75,000 and three dogs.  In 2011, more than 20 years after his death, Liberace's longtime friend Betty White put the issue to bed, when she told the gabbers on The View that she would often accompany him to public events in order to downplay his sexuality.  When Joy Behar remarked that there was no hiding the fact that Liberace was gay, White replied "Not. At. All."

  • Liberace had a twin brother who died at birth.  Ironically, he would later portray twin brothers, one good, one evil, on the 1960s Batman TV show.  It was the highest-rated episode of the entire series.  Here's a clip.  Personally, I liked Catwoman.

  • On November 22, 1963, Liberace was found unconscious in his Pittsburgh dressing room after "accidentally" inhaling dry cleaning fumes from his recently pressed costume.  He later reported that he probably would have died had his entourage not come in to tell him of President Kennedy's assassination that day.  He did however, suffer kidney failure as a result of the incident.

  • In 1979, Liberace opened his own museum in Las Vegas, which operated for more than 30 years.  When it closed in 2010, The Liberace Foundation tried re-opening it on the Las Vegas strip, but negotiations ultimately failed.  Today, many of his cars and artifacts are on display at various Vegas attractions.

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