Liberace Mr. Showmanship

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.

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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), who was of Polish descent, 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 his children to concerts to further expose them 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.liberacefeature21[1]

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, meeting him 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.

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 success in the supper-club circuit, where he was often an intermission act, his ambition was to reach 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.

Liberace once 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 his 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.

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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.

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