Everything I know about Liberace, I learned from YouTube.
In anticipation of Michael Douglas’s turn as the flamboyant pianist in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, I went down a rabbit hole of clips of Liberace’s performances from the 1940s through the ’80s. Though Liberace’s lover and companion Scott Thorson makes a brief appearance in the background of one scene, there’s no insight into their personal lives to be found.
Here’s what I did find: a kaleidoscope of sequined jackets, rotating platforms, blinged-out pianos, famous friends, baubles, fountains, polkas, sentimental flourishes, lazy jokes, a menagerie of props and puppets, and a surprising number of no-frills classical performances.
The biggest surprise was that I love it all: The fake seagulls that float above the smoke-machine fog as he sweeps through “Misty.” The way his knees bounce when he announces he’s about to play a polka like the old days in Milwaukee. The way he warmly explains that he’s going to play “Mack the Knife” as a waltz, a music box, a bossa nova and a boogie woogie – as if drawing a map so we’ll stay with him the whole way through.
I thought Liberace would be easy to ridicule, but I can’t make fun of someone who so earnestly wanted us to be entertained. In that spirit, here’s a string of gems from my Liberace YouTube binge.