Liberace photograph with hand written personalized message, signature and drawn piano picture - Dated January 31, 1955
Wladziu Valentino Liberace (May 16, 1919 – February 4, 1987), better known by only his last name Liberace was a famous American entertainer and pianist. During the 1950s–1970s he was the highest paid entertainer in the world.
Liberace studied at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
Liberace, known as "Lee" to his friends and "Walter" to family, was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb, to Frances Zuchowska (August 31, 1892 – November 1, 1980), a Pole, and Salvatore ("Sam") Liberace (December 9, 1885 – April 1, 1977), an immigrant from Formia, Italy. He had a twin who died at birth and he was born with a caul, which in his family, as in many societies, was taken as a sign of genius and an exceptional future. Liberace's father was a musician who played the French horn in bands and movie theaters but sometimes had to work as a factory worker or laborer. While his father encouraged music in the family, his mother was not musical and thought music lessons and a record player to be luxuries they couldn't afford, causing angry family disputes. Liberace later stated, "My dad's love and respect for music created in him a deep determination to give as his legacy to the world, a family of musicians dedicated to the advancement of the art".
Liberace began playing the piano at four and while his father took them to concerts to further expose the children to music, he was also a taskmaster demanding high standards from the children in practice and performance. Liberace's prodigious talent was in evidence early. He memorized difficult pieces by age seven. He studied the technique of the famous Polish pianist and later family friend Ignaz Paderewski and at eight, he met Paderewski backstage at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. "I was intoxicated by the joy I got from the great virtuoso's playing. My dreams were filled with fantasies of following his footsteps…Inspired and fired with ambition, I began to practice with a fervor that made my previous interest in the piano look like neglect."
The Great Depression was hard on the family financially. The early-teenage Liberace also suffered from a speech problem and from the taunts of neighborhood children who mocked his avoidance of sports and his fondness for the piano and for cooking. Liberace focused fiercely on his piano playing and blossomed under the instruction of music teacher Florence Kelly who guided his musical development for ten years. He gained experience playing popular music in theaters, on local radio, for dancing classes, for clubs, and for weddings. He played jazz with a school group called the "Mixers" in 1934, then other groups later. Liberace also performed in cabarets and strip clubs, and even though his parents did not approve, he was earning a tidy living during hard times. For a while he adopted the stage name "Walter Busterkeys". He also showed an interest in draftsmanship, design, and painting, and he became a fastidious dresser and follower of fashion. By now, he already showed the knack of turning his eccentricities into attention-getting virtues and he grew more popular at school, though mostly as an object of comic relief.
Liberace's early- to mid-1980s Christmas costume, worn at the Las Vegas Hilton and Radio City Music Hall. Designed by Michael Travis, with fur design by Anna Nateece, the costume is one of many at the Liberace Museum.In a formal classical music competition in 1937, Liberace was praised for his "flair and showmanship". At the end of a traditional classical concert in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1939, Liberace played his first requested encore, "Three Little Fishes", which he played in the style of several different classical composers. The 20-year-old played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on January 15, 1940, at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, performing Liszt's Second Piano Concerto under the baton of Hans Lange, for which he received strong reviews. He also toured in the Midwest.
Between 1942 and 1944, Liberace moved away from straight classical performance and reinvented his act to one featuring "pop with a bit of classics" or as he also called it "classical music with the boring parts left out." In the early 1940s, he struggled in New York City but by the mid- and late 1940s, he was performing in night clubs in major cities around the United States, largely abandoning the classical concertgoer. He changed from classical pianist to showman, unpredictably and whimsically mixing serious with light fare, e.g., Chopin with "Home on the Range." For a while, he played piano along with a phonograph machine on stage. The gimmick helped gain him attention. He also added interaction with the audience—taking requests, talking with the patrons, cracking jokes, giving lessons to chosen audience members—and began to pay greater attention to such details as staging, lighting, and presentation. The transformation to entertainer was driven by Liberace's desire to connect directly with his audiences, and secondarily from the reality of the difficult competition in the classical piano world.
In 1943, he appeared in a couple of Soundies (the 1940s precursor to music videos). He re-created two flashy numbers from his nightclub act, "Tiger Rag" and "Twelfth Street Rag". In these films he was billed as Walter Liberace. Both "Soundies" were later released to the home-movie market by Castle Films. In 1944, he made his first appearances in Las Vegas, which later became his principal performance venue. He was playing at the best clubs, finally appearing at the celebrated Persian Room in 1945, with Variety proclaiming, "Liberace looks like a cross between Cary Grant and Robert Alda. He has an effective manner, attractive hands which he spotlights properly and, withal, rings the bell in the dramatically lighted, well-presented, showmanly routine. He should snowball into box office." The Chicago Times was similarly impressed: He "made like Chopin one minute and then turns on a Chico Marx bit the next."
During this time, Liberace worked tirelessly to refine his act. He added the candelabrum as a signature prop and adopted "Liberace" as his stage name, making a big point in his press releases that it was pronounced "Liber-Ah-chee". He dressed in white tie and tails to be better seen in large halls. Besides clubs and occasional work as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist, Liberace also played for private parties, including those at the Park Avenue home of millionaire oilman J. Paul Getty. By 1947, he was billing himself as "Liberace—the most amazing piano virtuoso of the present day." He had to have a piano to match his growing presence, so he bought a rare, over-sized, gold-leafed Blüthner Grand, which he hyped up in his press kit as a "priceless piano". (Later, he would perform with an array of extravagant, custom-decorated pianos, some encrusted with sequins and mirrors.) He moved to North Hollywood, California in 1947 and was performing at local clubs, such as Ciro's and Mocambo's, for Hollywood stars such as Rosalind Russell, Clark Gable, Gloria Swanson, and Shirley Temple. He didn't always play to packed rooms, and early on he learned to perform with extra energy to sparser crowds, in order to keep up his own enthusiasm.
Liberace created a very successful publicity machine which helped rocket him to stardom. In 1950, he performed for music-loving President Harry S. Truman in the East room of the White House. Despite his great success in the supper-club circuit, where he was often an intermission act, his ambition was to reach even larger audiences as a headliner and a television, movie, and recording star. Liberace began to expand his act and made it more extravagant, with more costumes and a larger supporting cast. His large-scale Las Vegas act became his hallmark, expanding his fan base dramatically, and making him wealthy in short order.
His New York City performance at Madison Square Garden in 1954, which earned him a record $138,000 for one performance, was more successful than the great triumph his idol Paderewski had made twenty years earlier. By 1955, he was making $50,000 per week at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and had over 200 official fan clubs with a quarter of a million member fans. He was making over $1,000,000 per year from public appearances, and millions from television. Liberace was frequently covered by the major magazines and he became a pop culture superstar, and he also became the butt of jokes by other comedians and by the public.
Music critics were generally harsh in their assessment of his piano playing. Critic Lewis Funke wrote after the Carnegie Hall concert, Liberace's music "must be served with all the available tricks, as loud as possible, as soft as possible, and as sentimental as possible. It's almost all showmanship topped by whipped cream and cherries." Even worse was his lack of reverence and fealty to the great composers. "Liberace recreates—if that is the word—each composition in his own image. When it is too difficult, he simplifies it. When it is too simple, he complicates it". His sloppy technique included "slackness of rhythms, wrong tempos, distorted phrasing, an excess of prettification and sentimentality, a failure to stick to what the composer has written".
Liberace once proudly stated, "I don't give concerts, I put on a show." Unlike the concerts of classical pianists which normally ended with applause and a retreat off-stage, Liberace's shows ended with the public invited on-stage to touch the maestro's clothes, piano, jewelry, and hands. Kisses, handshakes, hugs, and caresses usually followed. A critic summed up his appeal near the end of Liberace's life: "Mr. Showmanship has another more potent, drawing power to his show: the warm and wonderful way he works his audience. Surprisingly enough, behind all the glitz glitter, the corny false modesty and the shy smile, Liberace exudes a love that is returned to him a thousand-fold."
In contrast to his flamboyant stage presence, Liberace was a conservative in his politics and faith, eschewing dissidents and rebels. He believed fervently in capitalism but was also fascinated with royalty, ceremony, and luxury. He loved to hobnob with the "rich and famous", acting as star-struck with presidents and kings as his fans behaved with him. Yet to his fans, he was still one of them, a Midwesterner who had earned his success through hard work—and who invited them to enjoy it with him.
In the next phase of his life, having earned sudden wealth, Liberace spent lavishly—incorporating materialism into his life and his act. He designed and built his first celebrity house in 1953, with a piano theme appearing throughout, including a piano top shaped pool. His dream home with its lavish furnishings, elaborate bath, and antiques all throughout, added to his appeal. He leveraged his fame through hundreds of promotional tie-ins with banks, insurance companies, automobile companies, food companies—even morticians. Liberace was considered a perfect pitchman, given his folksy connection with his vast audience of housewives. The sponsors would obligingly send him complimentary products, including his white Cadillac limousine. He reciprocated enthusiastically, "If I am selling tuna fish, I believe in tuna fish." The critics would have a field day with his gimmicky act, his showy but careless piano playing, his non-stop promotions, and his gaudy display of success but he always had the last laugh, as immortally preserved by the famous quotation, first recorded in a letter to a critic, "Thank you for your very amusing review. After reading it, in fact, my brother George and I cried all the way to the bank." In an appearance on The Tonight Show some years later, Liberace re-ran the anecdote to Johnny Carson, and finished it by saying "I don't cry all the way to the bank any more - I bought the bank".
In 1956, Liberace had his first international engagement, playing successfully in Havana, Cuba. He followed up with a European tour later that year. Always a devout Catholic, Liberace considered his meeting with Pope Pius XII a highlight of his life. In 1960, Liberace performed at the London Palladium with Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. (this was the first televised "command performance", now known as "The Royal Variety Show" for Queen Elizabeth II).
On July 19, 1957, hours after Liberace gave a deposition in his $25 million libel suit against Confidential magazine, two masked intruders attacked his mother in the garage of Liberace's home in Sherman Oaks. She was beaten and kicked, but her heavy corset may have protected her from being badly injured. Liberace was not informed about the assault until he finished his midnight show at the Moulin Rouge. Guards were hired to watch over Liberace's house and the houses of his two brothers.
Despite successful European tours, his career had in fact been slumping since 1957. But Liberace built it back up by appealing directly to his fan base. Through live appearances in small town supper clubs, and with television and promotional appearances, he began to regain popularity. On November 23, 1963, he suffered renal failure from accidentally inhaling excessive amounts of cleaning fluid and nearly died. Told by doctors that his condition was fatal, he began to give away his possessions but then recovered after a month.
Re-energized, Liberace returned to Las Vegas, and, upping the glamor and glitz, he took on the sobriquet "Mr. Showmanship". As his act swelled with spectacle, he famously stated, "I'm a one-man Disneyland." The costumes became more exotic (ostrich feathers, mink, capes and huge rings), entrances and exits more elaborate (chauffeured onstage in a Rolls-Royce or dropped in on a wire like Peter Pan), choreography more complex (involving chorus girls, cars, and animals), and the novelty acts especially talented juvenile acts including Australian singer Jamie Redfern and Canadian banjo player Scotty Plummer. Barbra Streisand was his most notable new adult act, early in her career.
Liberace's energy and commercial ambitions took him in many directions. He owned an antiques store in Beverly Hills, California and a restaurant in Las Vegas for many years and even published cookbooks, the most famous of these being Liberace Cooks, with co-author cookbook guru Carol Truax, which included "Liberace Lasagna" and "Liberace Sticky Buns". The book features recipes "from his seven dining rooms" (of his Hollywood home). In addition, he had a line of men's clothing, a motel chain (Liberace Chateau Inns), a shopping mall, and other enterprises.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Liberace's live shows were major box office attractions in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Hilton and Lake Tahoe where he would earn $300,000 a week. He maintained homes in both places.
Always kind to animals and children, Liberace incorporated them into his shows and helped talented youth through his Liberace Foundation, whose works still continue.
Unlike Jack Benny, Liberace mostly bypassed radio before trying a television career, thinking radio unsuitable given his act's dependency on the visual. Despite his enthusiasm about the possibilities of television, Liberace was disappointed after his early guest appearances on The Kate Smith Show and Cavalcade of Stars. He was particularly unhappy with the frenetic camera work and his short appearance time. He soon wanted his own show where he could control his presentation as fully as he did in his club shows. His first show on local television in Los Angeles was a smash hit, earning the highest ratings of any local show, which he parlayed into a sold out appearance at the Hollywood Bowl. That led to a summer replacement television show in place of Dinah Shore.
The fifteen minute network television program, The Liberace Show, began on July 1, 1952, but did not lead to a regular network series. Instead producer Duke Goldstone mounted a filmed version of Liberace's local show performed before a live audience for syndication in 1953, and sold it to scores of local stations. The widespread exposure of the syndicated Liberace series made the pianist more popular and prosperous than ever. His first two years earnings from television netted him $7,000,000 and on future re-runs he earned up to 80% of the profits.
Liberace learned early on to add "schmaltz" to his television show and to cater to the tastes of the mass audience by joking and chatting to the camera, as if performing in the viewer's own living room. He also used dramatic lighting, split images, costume changes, and exaggerated hand movements to create visual interest. His television performances featured enthusiasm and humor.
Liberace also employed "ritualistic domesticity", used by such early TV greats as Jack Benny and Lucille Ball. His brother George often appeared as guest violinist and orchestra director, and his mother was usually in the front row of the audience, with brother Rudy and sister Angelina often mentioned to lend an air of "family". Liberace began each show in the same way, then mixed production numbers with chat, and signed off each broadcast softly singing "I'll Be Seeing You". His musical selections were broad, including classics, show tunes, film melodies, Latin rhythms, ethnic songs, and boogie-woogie.
The show was so popular with his mostly female television audience that he drew over thirty million viewers at any one time and received ten thousand fan letters per week. His show was also one of the first to be shown on British commercial television in the 1950s, where it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons by Lew Grade's Associated TeleVision. This exposure gave Liberace a dedicated following in the United Kingdom. Homosexual men also found him appealing. According to author Darden Asbury Pyron, "Liberace was the first gay person Elton John had ever seen on television; he became his hero."
Liberace also made significant appearances on other shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, the Edward R. Murrow program Person to Person and on the shows of Jack Benny and Red Skelton where he often parodied his own persona. A new Liberace Show premiered on ABC's daytime schedule in 1958, featuring a less flamboyant, less glamorous persona, but it failed in six months, as his popularity began slumping. Liberace received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 for his contributions to the television industry. Liberace continued on television as a frequent and welcomed guest on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in the 1960s, with memorable exchanges with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Muhammad Ali, and later with Johnny Carson. He was also Red Skelton's 1969 CBS summer replacement with his own variety hour, taped in London (co-produced by Skelton and Lew Grade's production companies). In 1966, he appeared in two highly-rated episodes of the US television series Batman. During the 1970s, his appearances included guest roles on episodes of Here's Lucy and Kojak. In a cameo on The Monkees he appeared at an avant-garde art gallery as himself, gleefully smashing a grand piano with a sledgehammer as Mike Nesmith looked on and cringed in mock agony.
Liberace was also the guest star in an episode of The Muppet Show. His performances included a "Concerto for the Birds" and an amusing rendition of "Chopsticks". In the 1980s, he guest starred on television shows such as Saturday Night Live (on a 10th-season episode hosted by Hulk Hogan and Mr. T), and the 1984 film Special People.
The huge success of Liberace's syndicated television show was the main impetus behind his record sales. From 1947 to 1951, he produced about 10 disks. By 1954, it jumped to nearly 70. He released several recordings through Columbia Records including Liberace by Candlelight (later on Dot and through direct television advertising) and sold over 400,000 albums by mid-1954. His most popular single was "Ave Maria", selling over 300,000 copies. From 1955 on, his recordings and sales declined steadily.
His albums included standards of the time, such as Hello Dolly, but also included his own versions of works from Chopin and other classical greats. In his life he received 6 gold records. As successful as his recording career was, however, it never reached the level of popularity of his live shows.
Even before his arrival in Hollywood in 1947, Liberace wanted to add acting to his list of accomplishments. His exposure to the Hollywood crowd through his club performances led to his first movie appearance in 1950 in South Sea Sinners, a South Pacific potboiler, in which he played "a Hoagy Carmichael sort of character with long hair". Liberace also appeared as a guest star in two compilation features for RKO Radio Pictures. Footlight Varieties was an imitation-vaudeville hour released in 1951 and a little-known sequel, Merry Mirthquakes (1953), featured Liberace as master of ceremonies.
He was at the height of his career in 1955 when he starred in the Warner Brothers feature Sincerely Yours with Dorothy Malone, playing 31 songs. The film (about a concert pianist who loses his hearing) was a commercial and critical failure, which was attributed in part to his having been overexposed on television. The film later became successful as a staple of movie programming on television in the late '50s and early '60s.
In 1965, he had a small part in the movie When the Boys Meet the Girls starring Connie Francis, essentially playing himself. He received kudos in 1966 for his brief role as a casket salesman in the film adaptation of The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh's satire of the funeral business and movie industry in Southern California. It was the only film Liberace made in which he did not play the piano.
In 1966, Liberace also appeared in the highly popular 1960s TV show Batman with Adam West and Burt Ward, playing a dual role as evil pianist Chandell and his gangster-like twin Harry in the episodes "The Devil's Fingers" and "The Dead Ringers".
In 1970, Liberace appeared on an episode of "Here's Lucy," in which Craig (Desi Arnaz Jr.) borrows a candelabra for a high school club initiation.
Liberace's fame in the United States was matched for a time in the United Kingdom. In 1956, an article in The Daily Mirror by veteran columnist Cassandra (William Connor) mentioned that Liberace was "…the summit of sex—the pinnacle of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Everything that he, she, and it can ever want… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love," a description which did everything it could to imply he was homosexual without actually saying so. Liberace sued the newspaper for libel, testifying in a London court that he was not a homosexual, and had never taken part in homosexual acts. He won the suit, partly on the basis of the term fruit-flavoured, which was held to impute homosexuality. The $22,400 (£8,000) damages he received from The Daily Mirror led Liberace to repeat his catchphrase. "I cried all the way to the bank!" The catchphrase inspired the title of Crying All The Way To The Bank, a detailed report of the trial based on transcripts, court reports and interviews, by the former Daily Mirror journalist Revel Barker.
He fought and settled a similar case in the United States against Confidential. Rumors and gossip magazines frequently alleged behavior that strongly implied that he was a homosexual. A typical issue of Confidential in 1957 shouted, "Why Liberace's Theme Song Should Be 'Mad About the Boy!'"
In 1982, Scott Thorson, Liberace's 24-year old bodyguard, limo driver, and alleged live-in boyfriend of five years, sued the pianist for $113 million in palimony after an acrimonious split-up. Liberace continued to publicly deny that he was homosexual and insisted that Thorson was never his lover. In 1984, most of Thorson's claim was dismissed, although he received a $95,000 settlement. Later in the decade, Thorson emerged as a pivotal witness in the prosecution of reputed gangster Eddie Nash in the 1981 quadruple murder of the Wonderland Gang.
Confusion over Liberace's true sexuality was further muddled in the public's mind by his public friendships and romantic links with actress Joanne Rio (whom he claimed he nearly married), skater Sonja Henie, aging Hollywood icon Mae West, and famous transsexual Christine Jorgenson. Many publicity releases and women's magazine articles attempted to counter the homosexuality rumors by portraying Liberace as "the perfect all-around man any woman would be thrilled to be with... He's so considerate on dates... He never forgets the little things that women love… He makes you feel that when you are with him, well, you really are with him." Another article was entitled "Mature Women Are Best: TV's Top Pianist Reveals What Kind of Woman He'd Marry".
Liberace's final stage performance was at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City on November 2, 1986. His final television appearance was on Christmas Day that same year on the The Oprah Winfrey Show TV talk show. He died at the age of 67 on February 4, 1987 at his winter home in Palm Springs, California due to complications from AIDS. His obvious weight loss in the months prior to his death was attributed to a "watermelon diet" by his longtime and steadfast manager Seymour Heller. He had been in ill health since 1985 with other health problems including emphysema from his daily smoking off-stage, as well as heart and liver troubles. How and when he became HIV-positive was not made public. He is entombed in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
History from OldCompany.com
stock certificate research service).