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a towering, glittering icon from an era now past mumbles a barely heard farewell as he slips out the back door...
September 18, 2010 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Perhaps it's best my grandmother didn't live to see this day: the Liberace Museum, located in the besequined showman's old stomping grounds of Las Vegas, is closing, and that would have saddened her. Maybe it's time for all of us to brush up on our early Liberace history. And let's hear the sparkling man, resplendent in gold, take Mack the Knife through some changes. Farewell, Liberace.
posted by flapjax at midnite (66 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Liberace, previously.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:40 AM on September 18, 2010


If only his brother George was here!
posted by Bromius at 8:43 AM on September 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


No.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:45 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also mentioned on Jordan, Jesse, Go!, my preferred source for Liberace Museum news. Previous discussion made the museum and its staff sound sweet and totally worth a visit, so I'm sorry to still be on the wrong side of the planet to get there.
posted by carbide at 8:47 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Liberace, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
posted by .kobayashi. at 8:50 AM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


First the Stardust and now this -- Vegas is fuckin' sad anymore. No sense of history.
posted by vorfeed at 8:51 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


No.

Haha! I reckon you may indeed be surprised to see this post on the much reviled purveyor of almost pathologically unswinging, absurdly bombastic piano barrage, from a jin-yoo-wine music fan such as myself, fourcheesemac. And I feel your pain. But I must say, he is interesting to me as a personality. There was something sincere, I do believe, and something very pure, in the heart of this most superficial of entertainers.

Always hated his playing, though. Ever since I was a little boy watching my grandmother watch him on TV.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:54 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think its fitting to pose the question of whether Lady Gaga is the Liberace of our age in all aspects of her being and whether she'll have her own museum in Las vegas some day?
posted by Xurando at 8:56 AM on September 18, 2010




No.

Yes.
posted by blucevalo at 9:01 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Looks like the sequins hit the fan!

What an amazing pianist, I had forgotten. After while you just remember the glitz, but not the talent. Thanks for reminding me.

My high school choir teacher, a devout Baptist, pointed out to us that Liberace was not just talented, but a truly gifted showman, with a real talent for entertainment.
posted by Xoebe at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2010


How sad. I've always had a fondness for Liberace, though I've never really been sure exactly why.
posted by Gator at 9:12 AM on September 18, 2010


I think one should get to don a glitter suit once they reach a certain level of mastery, no matter what the profession.
posted by mazola at 9:24 AM on September 18, 2010 [9 favorites]


I'm surprised that Vegas hasn't somehow spawned a small industry of Liberace impersonators like it has for Elvis. I guess it takes a lot less to stand with a microphone and sing like Elvis than it does to sit in front of a piano and play like Liberace (he really was a gifted musician).

Still, it seems like that could have been (could still be?) something which would attract an audience. Or maybe not -- he's probably been out of vogue too long for it to be the kind of institution that the Elvis thing is.
posted by hippybear at 9:27 AM on September 18, 2010


The Burt Reynolds museum ain't feeling so good either.
posted by mazola at 9:28 AM on September 18, 2010


.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2010


That deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love?

I have often wondered about the extent to which his fans were conscious of whether his effeminacy signified homosexuality, and whether people like Flapjax's granny were all 1950's fag hags?

Perhaps they were the closeted 1950's equivelant of Gaga's Little Monsters?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2010


The Liberace museum really is fabulous, it's a great place to go visit in Vegas when it's still too early to be drinking. Er, was a good place, fuck. The location was horrible, though, a real pain in the ass to get to from the Strip. Unfortunately Liberace's style of performance doesn't really fit into the New Vegas, so I guess none of the strip casinos would be interested in hosting the collection. Also in another 20 years everyone who remembers Liberace is going to be dead.
posted by Nelson at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2010


Just over 20 years ago, my (then) wife and I took a trip to see the museum on our whistle-top tour of the US. We'd hoped for an afternoon of 'so kitsch it's kool' laughter and 'hip' 20-something cynicism. We arrived at the same time as a coach-load of blue- and silver-haired ladies. Their absolute love for and reverence of the man, and the way they described to us how Liberace had soundtracked the highs and lows of their lives, made us both feel like utter shitheels.

I learned a lot that afternoon about humility, hubris and respect for the tastes of others. Sad now that other young folks might not get to learn those humbling lessons in the same way, from Liberace.
posted by punilux at 9:31 AM on September 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


The Liberace Museum, once a tourist attraction on a par with the Hoover Dam

In both attendance and sheer volume of material!
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:33 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still fondly remember my visit there three years ago. My Liberace "Stars and Stripes Forever" magnet is prominently displayed on my refrigerator.
posted by candyland at 9:44 AM on September 18, 2010


I weep a single, diamond-encrusted tear.
posted by The Whelk at 9:47 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe someday a giant casino will get built that will recreate the old Las Vegas strip and there will be a spot for some of this stuff.
posted by zzazazz at 9:51 AM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


A Veags-theme casinos in Vegas itself?

I love the bar-themed bar.
posted by The Whelk at 10:01 AM on September 18, 2010


Liberace, is the great american success story, and a kind of operatic queerness that just doesn't exist anymore. This makes me genuinely sad.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2010


They could replace it with the Michael Jackson Museum
posted by Flashman at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2010


We arrived at the same time as a coach-load of blue- and silver-haired ladies. Their absolute love for and reverence of the man, and the way they described to us how Liberace had soundtracked the highs and lows of their lives, made us both feel like utter shitheels.
I had to chuckle at this, because it reminded me of a friend's visit to Graceland some 20 years ago. She'd been in the general area on business anyway and decided to kill a day by seeing the legendarily tacky Elvis shrine. She was prepared to snigger her way through the tour, but the busload of blue-haired men and women quickly shamed her into silence. Every one of them had an Elvis story (some had met him in person, one had a TCB belt buckle the King had given their dying son when he visited him in the hospital) and they all viewed each garish room in hushed reverence. Oddly enough, this same friend who thought Graceland was kitschy really loved Liberace. His over-the-top costumes were "part of his personality" and his campy stage persona was "sweet - it shows he's a nice person deep down."
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:31 AM on September 18, 2010


They have a picture of me up in the gift shop for some reason I never could figure out. I will totally miss this place.
posted by yodelingisfun at 10:59 AM on September 18, 2010


I've been there twice. I really feel that nothing quite says Vegas like the Liberace museum.
posted by ob at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2010


I bought a mug there. Actually, I wanted a cup of coffee, but the nice lady there told me that I would get free refills every time I came back and I felt bad. I haven't been back and the mug is cracked.
posted by ob at 11:13 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liberace gets pulled over for playing too fast.

That's Bob Einstein, AKA Super Dave Osborne, playing the cop in that clip.

Does anybody care? No? Okay, never mind.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:26 AM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I remember watching Liberace on "The Mike Douglas Show" when I was a kid. I don't think there's an equivalent of "The Mike Douglas Show" today: an utterly irony-free zone where you were encouraged to be interested in EVERYTHING, from Eubie Blake to the latest teen idol, from Jane Goodall to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I remember Alan Alda preparing a bread recipe he learned from a book by Edgar Cayce. Douglas was either completely clueless, or acted as if he were, but you could throw any celebrity in front of him, and he would gamely ask the obvious questions. With Liberace, he asked: what was up with the sparkly hot pants? Liberace assured him, the audience of adoring blue-haired ladies, and me watching at home that he just loved pretty things, and we all believed it. I look back and marvel that we were so naive, but *I* at least had the excuse of being 11.

The nice thing about being 11 watching the "Mike Douglas Show" is that one didn't judge, one accepted a thing on its merit. Liberace was just so happy.
posted by acrasis at 11:36 AM on September 18, 2010 [7 favorites]


There were giants back in those days and we are not going to see their likes again.
posted by Postroad at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I both love and hate to say I believe Prince Poppycock is the LIberace of the new millenium.
posted by txmon at 11:50 AM on September 18, 2010


My mother and I were huge fans of "Liberance!" That's how we interpreted his name from his signature which was shown at the beginning of his tv show and this was the only way we had to identify him.
Looking back I can't fathom why we were so crazy about him but my husband says his mother felt the same way.
I'm thinking that in our case he was so unlike the men that we knew in that he seemed like a kindly, soft spoken, gentle person. We were dumbfounded that a man like that existed. So very much unlike the men we lived with - dad and three older brothers were hot tempered Irishmen with hair triggers on those tempers and we had to tiptoe around them for "peace" in the house.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 12:15 PM on September 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


My coworker always agonizes about how whenever she's in Vegas, it's always with someone who categorically refuses to take her to the Liberace Museum. I'd better tell her to get her ass up there post haste. Either that or I'll pass on those over-the-top piano and candelabra rings I got at their gift shop to her.
.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2010


Jeez, you'd think Circus Circus would host it at least.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2010


I really wanted to hear who made those jackets.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 1:21 PM on September 18, 2010


I weep a single, diamond-encrusted tear.
If you only weep one, weep a big one.
posted by hortense at 2:11 PM on September 18, 2010


"I have often wondered about the extent to which his fans were conscious of whether his effeminacy signified homosexuality, and whether people like Flapjax's granny were all 1950's fag hags?"

Sometimes it's just about great piano playing, and not about the artist's sexual preference.
posted by Sukiari at 2:23 PM on September 18, 2010


I am seriously wondering if I can get to Vegas to see the museum before it closes - I've always had a soft spot for that lovely, outrageous, talented man.
posted by tristeza at 2:58 PM on September 18, 2010


Hah, my granny too flapjax :)

Michael Douglas is supposed to play him in the movie. Of course the cancer may change all that.
posted by puny human at 3:04 PM on September 18, 2010


Are there some Liberace fans here who can explain what it is that they like so much about him?
posted by grouse at 3:19 PM on September 18, 2010


Michael Douglas is supposed to play him in the movie.

Ew.
posted by Gator at 3:24 PM on September 18, 2010


Wow, all that clothing that has to go back into the closet.
posted by Tube at 4:03 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


What did I like about Liberace? He knew how to put on a show.

Here's my favorite Liberace story, which I learned, I believe, at the Museum from a movie about him. A friend of his -- a pretty normal, working class guy from Milwaukee, as I remember -- had some financial troubles and went to Lee. He wanted a loan, he explained. He had just gotten married, and they were moving in together, but he was too broke to be able to get furniture, and wanted to borrow just as much as it would take to get himself started.

"I'll take care of it," Lee said.

So the guy goes to his new place, and Liberace had furnished the entire place, no expectation of ever being repaid. Beyond that, he had furnished it Liberace-style -- velvet curtains, gilded faux antiques, plaster of paris cupid statues, candelabras, what have you.

When I first heard that story, it seemed irritating to me. After all, you want to be able to decorate your own place, and Liberace's taste were not, shall we say, typical of working class Milwaukee.

And then I thought, what could be more fun? You bring people over, they look around, and finally say, Jesus, who's your decorator?

Liberace. Liberace is my decorator.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:07 PM on September 18, 2010 [20 favorites]


In the late sixties Liberace went to Trinidad to recruit a cadre of steel drum players to tour with him as The Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band. Years later I worked alongside one of those guys as a welder. He said that Liberace was a great guy, “a vary sweet mon”... but that the trailer he traveled with was a bit much. It was lined, wall to wall and floor to ceiling, with mirrors.

When I was a kid my family watched Liberace every Sunday. I’ve often wondered since how adult middle America of that era really, really reconciled his flaming personality with their, at least on the face of it, stolid morality. Then again, I’m still wondering how the biggest TV show for Kids and the entire family back then could star a little kid named Beaver Cleaver.
posted by Huplescat at 4:30 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Liberace was unironically fabulous.
posted by davidpriest.ca at 5:19 PM on September 18, 2010


he was a package that coud'nt be wrapped.
posted by clavdivs at 5:37 PM on September 18, 2010


More.

It is sad to see something associated with Liberace become such spectacle.
posted by mazola at 5:45 PM on September 18, 2010


How did the old ladies of virtue reconcile his flaming fabulousness? Cognitive dissonance, the mode of choice for deciding that a person who is obviously gay is not actually gay, just "flamboyant" and a "confirmed bachelor."

When you have a puritanical, repressive atmosphere, even if you approve of it in principle, you do get tired of the grimness. God-fearing sober straight white people are boring as hell. Then a Liberace type comes along, and suddenly there's color, magic, happiness. You don't want to give it up. And in those days, by never admitting he was gay, he gave his repressed fans an out-they could just choose to believe he wasn't gay. Problem solved.
posted by emjaybee at 6:01 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]




I think white-bread america tolerating a bit of odd behavior from musicians isn't exactly confined to Liberace.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:55 PM on September 18, 2010


Human nature is pretty constant. If, looking back, the Liberace phenomenon seems strange to us now, I can’t help but wonder what people will make of us 40 years from now.
posted by Huplescat at 8:55 PM on September 18, 2010


The fantastic Mark McLaughlin documentary, Rewind America [2] (which I've seen a few times on the Documentary Channel) has a lengthy segment on the Liberace museum. It's a disappointment that the museum is closing, but at least there's a well-done movie 'tour' of the museum that immortalizes his fascinating collection of costumes and glitzy knick-knacks.

(Incidentally, I think questions like 'Are there some Liberace fans here who can explain what it is that they like so much about him?' are really harsh. I'm not Liberace's number one fan, but I appreciate him as a true entertainer and as a perfectly likeable man who brought joy to many people. What's so wrong with that? And what's your problem with him? Is it just that he was flamboyant? I mean... What *I* want to know is why Americans like mind-numbing reality tv, crappy Lady Gaga-type pop music, seriously not funny Judd Apatow movies, and.. um.. pretty much everything that's popular in this country today. It just seems crazy to me that Liberace could be singled out as a low in American popular culture?!???)
posted by Mael Oui at 9:32 PM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think white-bread america tolerating a bit of odd behavior from musicians isn't exactly confined to Liberace.

That's true. I was watching that VH1 100 Greatest Artists thing that was on last week. Little Richard was on the list, and I realized that I always took him and his persona for granted. One of the guys from Hanson made a comment like 'it must have taken a lot of courage to be Little Richard' during the 1950s, and that's actually really true.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:47 PM on September 18, 2010


Michael Douglas is supposed to play him in the movie. Of course the cancer may change all that.

God, I hope not...this is just too good of a piece of casting to be true. The only way it could have been better is if it was Kirk Douglas playing Liberace, but the Kirk Douglas of about 1960.

I think Elton John is the Liberace of our era, unless there's some other flamboyant pianist I'm not aware of; also, Liberace gives a genuinely comedic performance as a funeral home coffin salesman in 1965's The Loved One. Doesn't camp it up at all, although Rod Steiger was flamboyant enough in that movie for 50 Liberaces.
posted by motown missile at 10:34 PM on September 18, 2010


I was hoping that Alec Baldwin would play Liberace.

As you were.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:46 AM on September 19, 2010


My Liberace Museum story: I also expected it to be a kitschy joke, and the fact that it looked like a strip mall didn't help. But then the sheer reverence and love of the docents for the man quickly changed my mind. And the stories they told: about how the Queen of England asked Liberace for the cape he wore in the performance he did for her- and he simple said "No!" The man said "No!" to the Queen of England! And of course he didn't say that the reason he refused is that his cape weighed a hundred pounds- it would crush her if she tried to wear it. Behind the foppish exterior was a man who exercised intensely just to wear his costumes.

I don't think we'll ever see that combination of showmanship, glitz, talent and grace again.
posted by happyroach at 10:52 AM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think questions like 'Are there some Liberace fans here who can explain what it is that they like so much about him?' are really harsh.

You are reading way too much into my question.
posted by grouse at 10:54 AM on September 19, 2010


A Vegas-theme casino in Vegas itself?

I've been saying this for years! I've been a few times, for conventions and such, but it's never what I want it to be.

I went to the Liberace Museum twice, and the old ladies who ran the place were the sweetest people ever. They just seemed thrilled that we were there. I'm sad that I won't be able to replace my now ratty t-shirt, it's one of my favorites.

(Mr. Arkham is sad that he won't be able to steal the World's Largest Cubic Zirconia, Batman-villain-style.)
posted by JoanArkham at 4:39 PM on September 19, 2010


Can we get it moved to Milwaukee, where it belonged all along?
posted by mimi at 7:17 PM on September 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


You are reading way too much into my question.

That's probably true. I'm pretty touchy and opinionated about anything pop culture-y. Sometimes the rants spill out of my Andy Rooney head and onto public forums. As you were!
posted by Mael Oui at 9:25 PM on September 19, 2010


The worst thing is I can actually SEE Alec Baldwin as Liberace, and it somehow it all makes sense!
posted by Mael Oui at 9:31 PM on September 19, 2010


The worst thing is I can actually SEE Alec Baldwin as Liberace, and it somehow it all makes sense!

Maybe as Charles Nelson Reilly (of whom he does a brilliant impression), but Michael Douglas would definitely be a better Liberace than Alec Baldwin.
posted by motown missile at 9:59 PM on September 19, 2010


It really stinks that the Liberace Museum is closing because a bunch of greedy creeps seem to have bled his foundation dry to benefit themselves during the bubble. For shame. (See mazola's link above.) This was such a sweet and literally awesome institution. I'll never forget spotting Lee's rhinestone-encrusted tool box under his rhinestone-encrusted Rolls, and just falling over laughing.
posted by Scram at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2010


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