A peacock on the wing? Peter Pan? The return of Batman? No, it’s Liberace in the sky with diamonds, still flying high 23 years after he first twinkled to the top.
“People who keep coming back to see me,” he says, “deserve something different each time.” And this season’s difference really burns the old candelabra at both ends. Liberace’s bejeweled 185-pound bulk dramatically arpeggios 20 feet above his see-through Steinway into a breath-stopping exit finale. The old cocktail tinkler is, at 56, still the hottest two-armed bandit on the casino circuit. Right up there with Sinatra and Presley, he commands $125,000 a week.
It isn’t all take-home (Liberace owns seven of them), for he pays for all those gem-studded costumes and wears six a show costing up to $60,000 per. Actually, it was one of his phantasmagoric capes which inspired his current aerial gimmick. “I lifted my arms to show the audience the lining,” he recalls, “and suddenly I felt airborne. My manager, Seymour Heller, said I could really fly if I wanted to, and we got the local expert.” Then, to complement that circus wire-rigger, Liberace had his friend Debbie Reynolds, who once played a levitating ghost in a stage musical, “coach me so I wouldn’t hang there like a slab of beef.”
Liberace’s other obsession these days is the museum he created out of his 26-room Hollywood Hills mansion and such toys as the piano on which George Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue. For a month, a tour limoed in so many loads of rubberneckers at $5.95 apiece (his cut is earmarked for a Liberace Foundation for young musicians) that neighbors’ petitions shuttered the operation. A zoning fight is next.
Wladziu Valentino Liberace, as his Polish-Italian parents christened him, as usual took comfort from his cabaret proceeds and the counsel Mary Pick-ford once gave him: “Never read what the critics write, just check the box office.” As Lee (which only his friends call him) smirks, “You know that bank I used to cry all the way to? Well, I finally bought it.”