Among the many things I'm not good at, playing the piano is near the top of the list. Sure, I can peck out a one handed version of Heart and Soul with the best of them, and I'll admit to being a virtual virtuoso at Chopsticks, but despite these abilities, I remain unfullfilled. It is a skill I wish I possessed if only because you never know when you're going to come across an unused piano in need of playing. One of my most persistent non-naughty fantasies involves yours truly bringing life to an otherwise dull party through virtue of my incredible piano playing talents. I can picture it now: the previously jaded party goers gathered around a baby grand as I dazzle them with my repertoire of old standards and jazz classics as the party continues into the wee hours.
One of the qualities which first attracted me to my wife was her musical ability. Being a music teacher and piano accompanist, she is skilled in most instruments (I've never heard her play the bagpipes which is why I say "most"). When we were dating, she knew of my piano aspirations and blatantly used them to woo me with promises of teaching me how to play. She even presented me with coupons good for free piano lessons. "How adorable," I thought at the time. Little did i realize she was reeling me in like a marlin. Almost 13 years of wedded bliss later and I am no closer to being the Liberace of the 21st Century than I was when we met.
Speaking of Liberace. Where are the piano playing superstars of today? For those of you too young to remember him, Liberace was the kind of quirky iconic personality we especially love here at the Museum. That's right kids, before Cher and Madonna and Sting and Bono and Prince and ______ (fill in the single-named Pop Star of your choice) there was Liberace. Most important, he kicked ass on the piano. Known as much for his flamboyance and sequins as for his musical abilities, he was a fixture in Vegas and on television from the 1950's until his death in 1987.
As a public service to those unfamiliar with him, I now present some random Liberace Fun Facts:
At the height of his popularity in the mid 1950's there were over 160 Official Liberace Fan Clubs with more than a quarter of a million members.
In the 1956 Bugs Bunny cartoon Wideo Wabbit, Bugs impersonates Liberace (called Liverace in the cartoon).
Liberace is referenced in a classic episode of The Honeymooners; Alice wants Ralph to buy her a television and laments “I’m tired of looking at this icebox, this sink and these four walls – I want to look at Liberace!”
In the Chordette's 1954 hit Mr. Sandman, the singer requests the title character to send her a dream whose characteristics include "lots of wavy hair like Liberace."
In 1966 he guest starred on the live action Batman TV show, playing two villains, the evil pianist Chandell and his twin brother Harry (right). These episodes were among the highest rated of the entire series.
As popular as he was with his fans (mostly middle-aged women), Music critics didn't appreciate the Pop Culture Goodness that was Liberace. They felt he was too showy and not a serious musician. Did Liberace let this get him down? Hell no! His response is the now legendary and oft quoted "I cried all the way to the bank".
Not merely a performer, Mr. Showmanhip, as he came to be known, was a restraunter, author, philanthropist (the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts continues to provide scholarships and grants), founder of his own museum (dedicated to himself, of course) and owner of a Beverly Hills antique store.
When not playing to capacity crowds in venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl or Radio City Music Hall, Liberace was headlining in Las Vegas where he made $300,000 a week throughout the 70's. In addition, he made guest appearances on countless television shows including, Ed Sullivan, The Tonight Show, The Monkees, The Muppet Show and Saturday Night Live.
Liberace denied being gay and filed lawsuits against publications which hinted that he was. He died in 1987 due to complications from Aids, maintaining his heterosexuality to the end and explaining the drastic weight loss in the last months of his life as the results of a "watermelon diet"
The text under Liberace's photo on the cover of the July 1957 issue of Confidential reads "Why Liberace's Theme Song Should Be 'Mad About The Boy!'"
In closing, I present Liberace, sequins and all, in a typically understated performance of Tea For Two from 1969: