My night with Liberace

May 24, 2013

I rarely cross picket lines. But on July 23, 1985, it would have taken more than than a covey of animal rights activists enraged by Liberace’s very public closet full of furs to keep me from his Kennedy Center concert.

Eager to see the vampy, campy “Mr. Showman,” I reserved 20 seats in the first two rows and filled them with friends whom I urged to dress up . Way up. The gents in tuxes, the women in gowns. I chose a slinky black jumpsuit, blue satin coat and several pounds of rhinestones. The rest of the packed house — overwhelmingly white, female and 50ish or older — was far more restrained. Forgive the alliteration but we’re talking a sea of pastel polyester pantsuits.

Liberace, wearing his shiny rings and dress, is shown 1987. (AP Photo)
Liberace, wearing his shiny rings and dress, is shown 1987. (AP Photo)

My second row aisle seat cost 35 bucks, steep for an underpaid reporter, but worth it even if Liberace did not arrive onstage in the bejeweled Rolls that wowed ‘em in Vegas. He did, however, twirl himself out of a sumptuous white fox wrap and hand it to a stagehand, the valet role formerly played by the star’s drug-addicted, boy-toy Scott Thorson, who was dumped by the star in 1982. Currently in prison, Thorson is back in the news with Sunday’s HBO airing of his autobiography, “Beyond The Candelabra,” starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas.

But enough about them. This is about “Lee” and me.

Toward the end of the first act, Liberace descended into the audience in search of a dance partner. Our eyes locked and moments later we were gliding across the stage in a perfect foxtrot. All too soon he led me to the piano and pulled out some special swag: A white scarf with his face at one end, his signature at the other; an LP autographed in gold; and a fake rose that smelled an awful lot like taxicab deodorizer. He escorted me back to my seat, whereupon I hissed at my pals for failing to take at least one photo of this magical moment. I know, I know… it lives in the camera of my pre-YouTube-and-cellphone heart.

En route to the bar at intermission I was waylaid by several Liberace fans. In some weird groupie way, I was the closest they would get to their idol. One promptly accused me of being a ringer. Another wanted her picture snapped with me. Others ogled my bling.

Amid the recent Liberace hype, I’ve thought a lot about those women. Did they, in 1985, believe Liberace’s ridiculous assertions that he was hetero?  Did they care two years later that he died of AIDS?  Do they fret now that the Boy Scouts just made history as more states legalize same-sex marriage and pro athletes announce their orientation?  Who knows?

I’m just sorry my divine dance partner’s furs were out the closet for decades, even if their owner was not.


This film image released by HBO shows Michael Douglas, left, as Liberace, and Matt Damon, as Scott Thorson in a scene from “Behind the Candalabra,” a film being shown at the Cannes Film Festival. (AP Photo/HBO, Claudette Barius)

Former Washington Post staffer Annie Groer writes widely about culture and politics, and is at work on a memoir.

Annie Groer is a former Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com writer and columnist specializing in politics, culture and design. She has also written for the New York Times, Town & Country, Washingtonian and More, and is at work on a memoir. Follow her @AnnieGroer.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle
Next Story
David Beard · May 24, 2013