The following quote is just too, well, fabulous – to use an overworked gay adjective – not to bring it out of the celluloid closet to coincide the HBO’s planned May airing of “Behind the Candelabra,” its sequined salute to the most flamboyant entertainer of the 20th Century.
So, for what it’s worth, enjoy this $22,000 printed bit of English poisoned hemlock: “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-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.”
Who else? The recipient of this 1956 put down is glitter-and-be-gay, musical/entertainer/ high camp Vladziu Valentine Liberace. His off-quoted rejoinder to Cassandra (aka William Connor) who published the eventually deemed libelous taunt in the British paper, “Daily Mirror,” is something of a rhinestone gem: “What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank.”
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time in this fairy tale of sorts Liberace could deny that he was gay and sue Cassandra and the “Daily Mirror,” but sue Liberace did. And won! The printed insinuation of homosexuality is in the wording “fruit-flavored.” A jury decided that “fruit” implied gayness and that Cassandra and company had best pay up.
Twenty-seven years later a lawsuit of another kind – a palimony suit – to the off-key tune of $113 million, was brought against Liberace by Scott Thorson, whom Liberace met when the comely lad was 16, courted, hired as chauffeur, recruited into showbiz performances, alledgedly bedded – and, maintained Thorson, six years later at 22 – dumped him. Settlement: $95K. Liberace died of AIDS-related causes in 1987.
The HBO “Behind the Candelabra” will air all the glittery and sordid details, with Michael Douglas as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as Scott Thorson. (Whether a flamboyant Douglas can tickle Matt’s fancy, or a free-wheeling Matt can fondle Douglas’s keyboard sharps and flats remains to be seen.)
My own personal “encounters” with Liberace are two. The first concerns my grandmother, who herself played the piano and, earlier in her long life, church organ. The year was 1954, her last year alive. My folks had black-and-white TV, and Liberace’s weekly syndicated show was a big event for my grandmother. One hour before the program, Granny powdered her face, brushed her long silver-grey hair, put on her best dress, and sat happy in anticipation before the set.
For Lottie Lee Alexander watching “my darling Libby,” as she called him, was a courtship of sorts. When Liberace looked her way and smiled, she’d smile back. When he waved, she’d wave back. After each number she’d clap softly. And sigh audibly. It was a musical bit of friendly, in-house showmanship. We hadn’t the heart to tell Granny that TV reception did not include viewing by Liberace into our living room.
My own encounter with the great showman was at Detroit’s famous Diplomat Bar, sometime in the 1960s. Liberace, in town for a sell-out concert, stopped with friends to take in the Dip’s famous drag show. (As once did Ethel Merman. Another story.)
I watched Liberace intently from a table or two away. Surprise of surprise. His manner was subdued and – I kid you not – masculine. Relaxed. Almost butch. Certainly not fruit flavored. (Or, libelous for that matter.)