Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Talk about glitter in Vegas
The flamboyant Las Vegas pianist known simply by his first name, Liberace, typically performed in a black tuxedo until he landed a gig in 1952 to play at the Hollywood Bowl.
To nearly everyone’s surprise, he walked on stage under bright lights at the packed California stadium wearing a custom-made white tux with long tails.
“He lit up like a Christmas tree,” said a guide named Barbara at a museum in Las Vegas, Nev., dedicated solely to the late showman.
The critics and others reacted after that Hollywood show by asking Liberace what he planned to wear at his next concert.
“That started the whole thing,” Barbara said of the outrageous sequin suits and fur capes he would later wear on stage, outfits that were not even outdone by the likes of Elton John.
In the center of the costume exhibit stands a mannequin donned in one of Liberace’s craziest, a flowing hot pink ensemble that includes a floor-length cape made out of turkey feathers died the same color.
Circling the room are more than a dozen of his other hand-sewn outfits crafted from such things as gold lame, chinchilla or platinum azurene mink.
Barbara is wearing an all-black pants suit contrasted by a silver rhinestone necktie and similarly studded over-sized ring on her right index finger. And she talks nonstop about Liberace as if she is his number one fan more that two decades after his death.
“He was one of the world’s greatest entertainers. He was a nice man. He cared deeply about his audience. It was secondary only to his family. He …,” she rattled on about the classically-trained pianist who was best known for playing the "Beer Belly Polka."
A trip to Sin City would be incomplete without a tour of this quirky museum at 1775 E. Tropicana Ave. It also holds some of his fancy pianos and fleet of Rolls Royces. One is painted red white and blue while another is covered in a mosaic made with mirrors the size of small squares.
The son of an Italian immigrant father and Police American mother died Feb. 4, 1987, at age 67 from complications of AIDs. But 11 years earlier, he created a foundation to preserve his memory in the city that helped to earn him enough money to own 17 houses that were each filled with over-the-top antiques and occupied by housekeepers and at least three dogs.
(That's the pianist in the early 1920s when he was known as Walter Liberace photographed with his brother and sister, George and Angelina)