Monday, May 27, 2013

Behind the Candelabra

For those who grew up in the early days of television, the Liberace show was de rigueur watching. Being a Midwesterner, he combined the down-home manners of the region with Las Vegas glitz & flamboyance into quite a weekly spectacle. His shy, diffident brother George played the violin & his proud mama’s appearances added just the right touch of homespun to way over-the-top schmaltz.

And now to learn from the new biographical movie, “Behind the Candelabra” that our man was quite a shyster & a phony working us all like damn fools. He denied being gay in his lifetime & litigated furiously against any who even suggested he was--though as little kids, we knew he was gay before we knew what sex was. The movie is based on the biography of his exploitative relationship with a much younger chauffeur-companion named Scott Thorson.

It’s no news he was conservative politically & religiously all his life, that he loved the Papacy despite its views of homosexuality & even performed for Pope Pius XII, a sympathizer of the Nazis. He loved capitalism & all the pomp & luxury it bought him. That was all evident in his TV schtick but especially in the numerous companies he shilled for, including banks, insurance, car, & food companies, & most appropriately of all, morticians.

But the most unkindest cut of all? To learn he groveled like a starstruck Justin Bieber fan when he hobnobbed with politicians & royalty--even once doing a special command performance for Betty Windsor. (They must have had to get one of those Beefeaters to wipe the slobber off the keyboard.) She must have envied his royal attire & should certainly consult his stylist!

He was no great shakes as a pianist or singer but for a generation reared on schmaltz & the Mitch Miller chorus he sounded like haute culture to us. This poster is how I remember the Liberace TV persona of my childhood, long before he began abusing cosmetic surgery to hide the sycophancy becoming etched in his face. The film may have less value in exposing how Liberace had us all fooled than it has in revealing the power of TV & film to shape public opinion & convince us all to love that which oppresses us.

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