Liberace's Very Extreme Makeover

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Think: grand piano, candelabra and sequined suit. As a new Liberace film premieres, WNYC’s Sara Fishko reminds us of his beginnings in this episode of Fishko Files…

Liberace performing Chopin in the 1950s.


Edward R. Murrow interviewed Liberace in 1956 on "Person to Person." On the program Liberace showed off his custom-built home, where he lived with his mother.

"Edward R. Murrow, the newsman celebrated for establishing TV journalism's gold standard, felt such disgust after interviewing Liberace that he 'stalked out of the studio to a nearby bar where he had three scotches before he was able to utter another word.'"
-Darden Asbury Pyron quoting Edward R. Murrow's biographer in "Liberace: An American Boy


Edward Rothstein, the New York Times' Cultural Critic at Large, wrote about Liberace in this July 2, 1984 New Republic article, "The King of Kitsch." You can read his article, here


For more on Liberace...

  • Liberace: The Ultimate Entertainer box set.
  • Behind the Candelabra premieres on HBO on May 26th. For more information, visit HBO's website.


WNYC Production Credits...

Mix Engineer: Wayne Shulmister

Associate Producer: Laura Mayer

WNYC Newsroom Editor: Karen Frillmann

Produced by:

Sara Fishko

Comments [2]

Silversalty from Brooklyn

A while back Jonathan Schwartz was playing a recent Tony Bennett duets CD and one of the tracks was with Lady GaGa. I may not remember the gist correctly but what I do remember was Schwartz suggesting that Lady GaGa had a decent voice but probably only saw her future career as a cabaret singer and she wanted more and so went with the extreme avant-garde styling - to great success.

Watching this video my impression is that it's a visual performance. The audio is secondary. The audio is meant to be loud - in your face - but that's so you watch him. His hand movements are very exaggerated. It's a dance for the hands. 'See how fast he plays. See how his hands fly around the keys, never missing a note. He could probably type "Now is the time .." at 2000 words per minute, without a typo!' That's the projection.

There's little attempt at phrasing - at making the melody a personal interpretation - at getting the viewer to become enraptured with the music rather than the spectacle.

But that's intentional. Whether or not he could play in a manner to affect listeners through the sound he produced is an open question. He doesn't even try.

And why should he?

I think Murrow's reaction is tacky (assuming the description is true). Just about everyone in the public eye has a persona that is more projection than reality. Murrow seemed to try to be the Humphrey Bogart of newsmen, and maybe that's the basis of the three drinks story.

Liberace had to have guts to make his career persona that of an exaggerated gay man.

A political blog had a video of Liberace a few weeks ago. This one has three women enthralled by his playing.

Unlike in the classical video, Liberace appears to genuinely enjoy playing ragtime.

Note the mirrored keyboard.

May. 16 2013 10:02 PM
Maris Bosquet from New Jersey

Liberace was my babysitter. I have a foggy memory of my mother sitting my sister and me in front of the television so we could watch his program while she did housework. At least I think it's a valid memory and not a nightmare.

May. 16 2013 09:29 AM

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