Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace Film


Some thoughts about Liberace and Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film Behind the Candelabra about the famed entertainer

Behind Candelabra Liberace movie

I was reading the recent issue of Entertainment Weekly the other day and there was an interesting article inside – that’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen that inside that mag, but that’s another story.

The article in question was about director Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra. Michael Douglas plays the flamboyant entertainer and Matt Damon plays his young lover. Apparently this was not the easiest film to get studios interested to make, so forgoing a theatrical release Soderbergh and company took to HBO which is where it will make its premiere on May 26.

I’m looking forward to seeing this. Not only is there a lot of heavy duty talent involved behind the camera, the world of Liberace is just such a fascinating strange one to explore I can’t see how you could make a boring film about him. Although that seemed to happen in 1988 with the TV Movie Liberace – or at least that how I’ve heard it been described.

It’s not that I’m a big Liberace fan. I remember seeing him on TV and knew who he was when I heard he died, but I was in a different world at that time. If it wasn’t MacGyver or James Bond-related I didn’t care. Actually it doesn’t seem like I’ve expanded my world that much….

Liberace Mr ShowmanshipLiberace’s music and stage show I would never have thought twice about. It was obvious he was a good piano player and he seemed like a nice friendly guy on stage, but it just wasn’t my thing. I probably never would even have remembered him if it hadn’t been seeing the over-the-top presentation in his shows.

Whether you like Liberace or not, that’s one thing that was pretty unforgettable. It was these extravagant performances that gave him the nickname Mr. Showmanship. I suspect his fans were just as engrossed by his outfits and his opulent lifestyle as his musical talents – well, probably even more by those mile-long feather boas and his shiny jewelry.

These showy performances and the way they were embraced by his devoted fans is also compelling. When I watch old clips of his shows I find it hard to believe how he amassed such a fortune from it.

I could understand him being very successful. His act was tailor-made for Las Vegas, but it was like Liberace was earning a whole different level of income than ever imagined. I would never have predicted that his act would be so successful. I see it as such a superficial wacky spectacle that would wear thin pretty fast. Apparently it didn’t though.

Then you got the stuff he spent all that money on. There was some wild stuff he was buying. When I see clips of inside his homes a lot of it looks so tacky. I understand everyone has their own taste, but honestly I look at some of the stuff Liberace owned and I can’t even believe time was spent making it let alone someone actually wanting to own it.

Liberace BathtubGarishly decorated pianos, wacky bathtubs and that’s not even getting into his wardrobe. I always thought Michael Jackson spent money on garbage, but Liberace put him to shame.

I can easily understand why they had a museum dedicated to Liberace’s belongings. It’s a shame that the Liberace Museum closed a few years ago. Soderbergh’s film would have surely made attendance increase with this renewed interest in him from this upcoming movie.

His homosexuality and the fact he kept it a secret throughout his career is also something that surprises me. He even would go so far as suing newspapers and magazines for making allegations and everyone just backed away from doing it anymore.

His sexuality didn’t seem to bother his fans. Which I find even stranger since back during his time homosexuality was viewed as being such a taboo subject it wouldn’t seem like something that would go hand in hand with being one of the most successful entertainers of the 20th century. But no one batted an eye.

I always heard most of his fans were women in their 40’s and 50’s. Which kind of makes sense. That seems like the perfect demographic who would be eating up all the glitz and glamor Liberace gladly served up to them in his shows.

I always figured it went kind of like this – a couple are vacationing in Vegas back in the day. The husband wants to hit the casino, play some craps, grab some drinks, maybe sneak off to see some showgirls or something. His wife isn’t into that so she goes off to see Liberace perform. The husband is fine with this, thinking what possible trouble could she get into watching Liberace. It will keep her happy and occupied while he goes off to have fun.

Liberace and His FansI doubt the husband ever thought her evening will be anything but a harmless outing and things couldn’t possibly get out of hand at a Liberace show.

It’s not like when girls would go see Tom Jones and would start throwing their underwear up on stage. Or was it like that? Some of Liberace’s fans seemed pretty obsessed with him. If anyone was ever at a Liberace show and can confirm underwear was thrown up on stage please let me know. Either men or women’s underwear, it doesn’t matter.

I can’t imagine that his fans weren’t aware that something might be going on with Liberace’s sexuality. Just based on his stage performances and lifestyle it was probably the worst kept celebrity secret ever!

It almost sounds like a made up story that his female fans supposedly went crazy when it was announced Liberace was engaged in 1953. They sent him thousands of protest letters before the engagement was eventually called off – most likely it was a publicity stunt.

Every Valentine’s Day he would be buried under thousands of Valentine’s cards from women? Wow. It’s like he was Elvis or a Beatle or some teen heartthrob – I just can’t picture that, even in his early years. I once asked my gay friend if he thought Liberace was gay and he answered, “he was gay squared’. Hey, he said it I didn’t!

Liberace EngagedLiberace suffered no backlash and just did his thing. Some of ‘his thing’ was pretty weird! I was reading how Liberace hired a plastic surgeon to make his companion Scott Thorson look more like a younger Liberace. So the guy had a nose job, a chin implant, like pretty crazy stuff.

Anyway, hopefully Soderbergh’s film will be good. I’m looking forward to it. At the very least it might educate people with the word ‘candelabra’. I’ve already heard from two people who had no idea what it meant.

It’s a given that the film will prompt some renewed interest in Liberace. I wonder if anyone will talk about his most famous television acting gig playing the villain Chandell on Batman. Plus, his guest starring on the Muppet Show. Those two projects were the extent of my familiarity with who Liberace was when I was little.

A clip from the 1988 TV movie Liberace


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