Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Liberace

 
Have you ever heard of Liberace?  I've a reason for asking this, which I'll mention below.

I am just old enough to have seen Liberace during my lifetime.  When I was young, Liberace was at the tail-end of his career.  He was really more famous during my parents' generation (the 1950's).  Later on, during the 1960's-70s, Liberace was considered almost as a joke.  But his career had social significance.

Liberace was a flamboyant personality.  Back in the traditional Fifties, Liberace wore rhinestones, bright colors and capes.  Growing up, I was amazed that people didn't see this as code for being gay -- I mean, just look at him!  But the fascinating thing was that most of America accepted Liberace as a mainstream, popular entertainer without acknowledging his homosexuality.

Liberace was, of course, gay but he never admitted it.  He believed being open about that would end his career, even while he was giving every message short of a billboard in Times Square saying "I'm Gay!!"

I remember being around 8 years old when my mother, who was watching Liberace perform on TV, said with utter sincerity, "It's such a shame he hasn't found a nice woman and settled down."  I shook my head in disbelief.  "Mom...", I wanted to yell, "just look at him!"  But I didn't want to upset her so I remained quiet.

The truth is that Liberace was gay.  When he was in his 50s, he had an affair for several years with a teenage boy whom he hired as his  chauffeur (Scott Thorson).  This period in Liberace's life has just been made into a movie which will be shown on HBO this Sunday.  The most startling thing is the casting -- Liberace will be played by Michael Douglas and Thorson will be played by Matt Damon.  The film is made by noted director Steven Soderbergh.

If Liberace was before your time, you're probably wondering, what did he do?  Well, he was a concert pianist who played classical music.  But, more than that, he was a large personality.  Liberace attracted huge crowds who didn't go to his concerts for the music; they went to see him.  (In truth, he wasn't a great musician.)

Liberace also had his own TV show in the 1950s which was a big success.  It made him and the network unprecedented money and catapaulted Liberace to a level of celebrity he coasted on the rest of his life.  Interestingly, Liberace's fans were mostly all women.  At the height of his celebrity, he got 10,000 fan letters a week, almost exclusively from female fans.

Liberace died in the 1980s from AIDS.

Have you heard of Liberace?  What do you know about him?  Did you know he was gay?


31 comments:

  1. I remember Liberace. I thought he was always kind of funny the way he was so over-the-top. - look at those rings! I didn't even know about homosexuality at all until I was 13 and read a letter to Dear Abby about it - and then I couldn't believe it. I was so naive! But after that I understood that Liberace was gay. He was very brave, and always smiling. He must have had an incredibly strong character.

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  2. That's such a weird coincidence, I've just been uploading pictures from a book for my next post and one of them is of Liberace. I remember Liberace being on TV a fair bit in the 70's, but I was too young to be interested in anything other than all the glitter and sparkle surrounding him. He maybe wasn't as big a star in Britain as he was in America. I saw a programme about Freddie Mercury that said the same thing, that the general public just didn't see him as being gay even though he was pretty open about it. xx

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    1. Good point. Freddie Mercury was also very overt about this sexuality but most people didn't want to acknowledge it.

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  3. I loved Liberace as a kid - I remember seeing him on TV shows (maybe "The Love Boat"?). I thought he was so cool with all the flashy accoutrements. Never even thought about him being gay! He was another celebrity - Freddie Mercury comes to mind - who no one really clued in about. I mean, how could we not realize that?

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  4. I have definitely heard of him ... I thought he was gay but didn't know for sure ~ because as you said he never admitted it. He certainly was an interesting character.

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  5. I've always thought of Liberace as kind of the quintessential flamboyant-gay-type. It's never occurred to me, for even a second, that he might be anything else. But I was born a year or so after he died, so maybe my knowledge is a bit influenced by pop culture.

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  6. hi, I have never commented before but I do enjoy your blog! I had heard of Liberace and remember him more than his music, being from England I do love a well dressed man (I love his shorts/fringing number), we grew up with Danny La Rue (just fabulous)I think I knew of entertainers who were gay, but growing up in my home there were no comments about it, I don't think it was important x

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  7. My grandmother adored Liberace! I loved him too, if I'm being honest. I loved all of his flamboyance!

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  8. So strange, I was actually reading Liberace's wiki entry today! I just happened to read a piece on the BBC website about the biopic, and that's exactly the sort of thing that tends to send me down the Wikipedia rabbit hole.

    I do remember him, from my childhood, and my grandmother adored him, too! I can't say I was shocked to find out he was gay, but my grandmother sure was.

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  9. How cool that you remember this larger-than-life performer from your your early years. He passed when I was three, so I don't have any memories of him being alive at the same time I was, but I'm sure that had I been around when his show was on in the 50s, I would have tuned in (like so many other ladies of the day did).

    ♥ Jessica

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  10. I have heard of Liberace, but of course, I play piano. He had a Baldwin (He only played Baldwin and that's what kind of baby grand I have!) entirely covered in mirrors that sold for $46,750. I always knew he was gay and died of AIDS. I was after his time though, but it doesn't take a second look at a rhinestoned piano and matching suit to be in doubt about his sexuality these days.

    I have to disagree with you though and say that he was a very talented pianist. Sure he focused a lot on pomp and show, and he's not the greatest, but talented none the less. I mean who else could play piano like that with 5 pounds worth of rings on both hands?! There's a reason people don't play piano with jewelry on! haha

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    1. Here's one of my favorites where you can focus more on the piano playing and not the show:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5S0NSibikU

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    2. Thanks for the input, Jess. To be honest, I don't have the ability to judge anyone's musical skill.

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  11. I was born mid-fifties, so yes, I grew up watching Liberace on TV too. He was fun, funny, made people feel playful, and he could play that piano like a crazy dude!

    I of course figured he was gay and never thought much about it. He was just HIMSELF and seemed to project a personality who enjoyed life and his talent.

    As a much older adult (and gay) when I think about his life in those times I am sure that he suffered much. I wonder what his life would be like now if he were performing as an "out" musician and entertainer. More peace and happiness, I'm sure.

    He always struck me as a kind soul, sweet and gentle.

    I am planning to watch the HBO special too.

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  12. i had heard of liberace but had never seen a photo and did not realize he was famous in the 50's. for some weird reason i thought he was much older. no idea where i got that from.

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  13. I have only heard the name. I knew nothing about him, so this was all very interesting to learn!

    I think many must have known he was gay, but some people are so loved, so charismatic, so wonderful for who they are, even the bigoted, judgemental masses will overlook the obvious.

    Maybe one day, they won't just overlook, but accept.

    I grew up in a VERY opened minded house. My biggest concern at age three wasn't why two men were together, but who would wear the wedding dress if two of them got married. My kid-self was VERY concerned about The Dress.

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    1. You weren't alone in this thought! It's a common kid-question.

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  14. Interesting! I always learn something new from reading your blog. :)

    Liberace's story actually reminds me of a Korean actor. He was on a children's show that's similar to Sesame Street and also had a "flamboyant personality" on the show. He eventually came out as gay and was fired from the show. He's the first openly gay actor in Korea. I think he's mostly a restauranteur now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Seok-cheon

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  15. I'd heard of him but I was under the impression he was some sort of designer :P stupid me

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  16. I did not know about him...but looking at his pics here..it is clear..that he is GAY!! :)

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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  17. Love!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

    www.goodbadandfab.com
    personal style and fashion musings of a LA fashion lawyer living life in the fab lane!

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  18. I totally know who Liberace is and remember watching him on the Muppet Show. I don't think I knew what "gay" was back then. I think people felt that he, and Elton John, were just flamboyant. Or you just didn't talk about homosexuality back then - too taboo.

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    1. Funny you should mention this. Elton John said that Liberace was the first gay man he ever saw on television and that seeing Liberace gave him courage. When Elton John finally came out, I couldn't believe people were surprised but they were. He seemed so obviously gay to me from the outset.

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  19. Oh how awesome! I first discovered him while listening to a Nina Simone song "My baby just cares for me", she says something about his smile, so I had to ask my parents who he was. It wasn't until I got bored and googled him later to see what he looked like. Great post!

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  20. Certainly i recall Liberace - and his quote " they can say all they want, i laugh all the way to the bank..." I had no idea he was gay or that he died of aids, I only knew he was an outstanding performer.

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  21. I remember Liberace very well. What I remember most about him, besides his genius as a pianist, is how many people commented on how generous he was towards others. He seemed a good soul to me, which ultimately is what counts.
    I'm not homophobic - just idiot-phobic ;-)

    Spashionista (Alicia)

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  22. Hey Ally, I do remember Liberace and just this week Graeme and I mentioned him but I can't remember the exact reason or context why. I would have bet my bottom dollar he was gay - I have a a keen 'gadar' and of course, he was letting the world know just short of standing on the rooftop and shouting it out loud. I'd liken George Michael and Freddie Mercury to him not quite as flamboyant but the signs were always there. Happy Friday to you.

    I enjoyed this post.

    Hugs
    Wendy
    http://simplysassystyle.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. Liberace is in the air -- because of the upcoming movie, there are lots and lots of newspaper and magazine articles written about him. I've seen a half-dozen.

      Some people, like you and me, have sharp gadar; others, like my mother and my wife, don't. I never understood why they couldn't see what is so obvious to us. Do you have any idea why that is?

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  23. I had heard of him and did know he was gay. My mom used to talk about him sometimes, and I also saw a Celebrity Ghost Stories episode about Debbie Gibson receiving contact from him. :) At least he had the courage to be as flamboyant as he wanted, but it's always sad when people feel they have to hide. I think I would be interested in seeing the movie.

    I have to add that I think I was the only person on earth who did not think Clay Aiken was gay. haha I had such a huge crush on him that I probably just didn't want to believe it. Looking back now, I'm like, well, that was obvious. But I still think he's adorable, and his voice still transports me to another world. ;) When he made his big announcement, I felt so proud of him.

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  24. You and I are both old enough to know that back in the 1950s and 1960s the term "gay" had a different meaning than it does today. If it referred to anything it referred to the last decade of the prior century.

    Back then a more fitting reference would have been the one noted by the above comment about Freddie Mercury, "Queen".

    PAT

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