LiberaceOn the cusp of watching Michael Douglas and Matt Damon get it on doggie-style (or so we hear) as the late Liberace and his former lover, Scott Thorson, in Behind the Candelabra, it seems shocking -- laughable, even -- that there was ever any doubt about the orientation of a man made famous for such glittery flamboyance he'd put a peacock to shame. But, either out of denial, willful ignorance or some combination thereof, the ladies loved Liberace. And for many, their crushes were just as romantically-inclined and verged on such over-the-top antics as what we've come to associate with bands like The Beatles or the Rolling Stones.
Mr. Mickey's grandmother was one such Liberace groupie. He tells us:
My grandma Boardman lived in Anderson, Indiana, and I never saw her be enthusiastic about anything ever in her entire life. My dad was an only child and no one else in her extended family spoke to her. Interestingly enough, she was a groupie for Liberace. She would drive cross-country to see him perform. She would even drive five or six hours to see him perform at the Rosemont Horizon, which was fifteen minutes from my house. She didn't tell us she was coming or stop to see us. I never got to talk to her about her Liberace fascination because I think it would have brought us closer together. I have a sinking suspicion that she had no idea he was gay.From the get-go, female fans were passionate about the pianist and even a publicized libel suit against a British journalist who had implied in an article that the entertainer was homosexual (a suit Liberace won), didn't diminish his allure in the eyes of female fans. Below, a historical look back at women having irrational crushes on the king of glitter.
Michael Douglas in character as Liberace in Behind the CandelabraLadies Love Cool Liberace.
"Liberace, a piano player in Hollywood, has been described as the 'Casanova of the keyboards' and, according to assorted reports, makes some feminine hearts go flutter flutter." -- New York Times, August 14, 1953
"I recently took a trip to New Jersey to see Liberace, and the two buses were filled with women." -- New York Times, May 24, 1973
Oddly, Dudes Didn't Immediately Warm Up to Him.
"Nor have I seen elderly men show any performer the worshipful attention the ladies give Liberace or Arthur Godfrey." -- New York Times, May 1, 1955
One Girl Even Fainted When She Met Him.
"As Liberace emerged from London's Palladium after his triumphant first show, a 17-year-old girl distinguished herself by fainting; when she came to, he was solicitously kneeling over her. She promptly fainted again." -- Time Magazine, October 15, 1956
And You Needed to Dress to Impress:
"A 21-year-old woman is found guilty of stealing $14 to buy a pair of shoes so she can look 'nice' at the stage door waiting for her idol, Liberace." -- Chicago Tribune, April 26, 1985
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in character as Liberace and Scott Thorson in Behind the CandelabraIt Wasn't Only the Young Women, Either -- Grandmothers Like Mr. Mickey's Had Crushes, Too.
"My grandmother had little time for, still less patience with, the frivolities of popular entertainment. A woman of fierce opinions, deep faith and formidable girth, she'd badgered her way out of Czarist Lithuania shortly after the turn of the century...But she loved television. Adored it. Paid it rapt homage at weekly trysts with New York variety show host Ed Sullivan, veteran comic Milton Berle, Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen -- and, most of all, Liberace." -- Baltimore Sun, June 11, 2000
"'Women especially loved him because he was the right combination of glamour and sensitivity,' says singer Julie Budd, a friend since 1975, when she toured with him as a 17-year-old prodigy." -- People Magazine, February 16, 1987
"You are the man all mothers would like their sons to be," one woman wrote. "Loving and artistic, you take care of your mother. You are nice, warm, gentle, polite, considerate and still have a sense of humor."...Liberace's Good Son persona overlapped with that of Model Man, but this icon, in turn, conjured images, willy-nilly, of Ideal Lover. Thus, a vaguely incestuous devotion simmered behind the affection of the mother and grandmother fans.-- From Liberace: An American Boy by Darden Asbury Pyron
Of course it's not so crazy to think that fifty years ago, many were willing to play into the myth that Liberace was straight. Obviously it was taboo and potentially career/life-ruining to be openly gay during Liberace's era, but it was also a period where both fans and media had more respect for the privacy of celebrities than we do today. Whether that respect had to do with a comparatively tamer, pre-Internet, pre-TMZ media culture or because celebrities still maintained a deity-like status left over from Hollywood's Golden Age, it was easier for stars to keep their private lives private and to have more control over the information about them that was released to the public. It's not difficult then to imagine many fans thinking, "if Liberace says he's straight and even won a libel lawsuit that suggested otherwise, why should we think any differently?"
Similarly, Liberace asserting his "straight-ness" in interviews or with beards gave women permission to continue idolizing him without having to support someone whose life was at odds with the normative values of the time, which, in turn, might have "reflected poorly" on the fans themselves and their values.
Moreover, even in more recent, tolerant times, there have been performers whose charisma and talent have incited massive fangirl crushes despite obvious hints that the non-threatening dreamboat might be batting for the other team (Exhibit A: Late '90s Ricky Martin).
Celebrity-dom is also ultimately about artifice and the creation of a persona. And, sometimes, with a persona as outrageous as Liberace's, the fantasy created onstage may be able to subsume any curiosity about what happens off it. Delving too deeply into Liberace's personal life would only have exposed him as a flawed person, which would've spoiled the crystal-encrusted fairytale. (Gay or straight, who wants to imagine someone known for being chauffeured onstage in a bejeweled Rolls-Royce engaging in such mortal behaviors as fighting with a lover about infidelity or watching lots of porn?) And so, ultimately, it was likely a perfect storm that created this Liberace phenomenon, one that mixed a bygone era of celebrity media culture and homosexuality taboos with fantasy, the result of which Grandma Boardmans everywhere drove six hours to get a glimpse of their precious Liberace without stopping to say 'hi' to their grandkids.
And yet. Those diamond mink capes. C'mon!