Liberace appearing on The Muppet Show with Rowlf the Dog, October 1978. Photo: ATV Studios, London / Courtesy of The Liberace Foundation and Museum
Pianist Liberace, also known as "Mr. Showmanship,"
set the standard for the glitz and glamour that symbolizes Las
Vegas. His flamboyant style, musical talent, and love for
entertaining made him a favorite in live performances, on
television, and in recorded music. He had fans worldwide and went
out of his way to tailor performances for them. By the time of his
death in 1987, he had become an American icon of popular culture.
His outrageous persona has influenced future performers. Among his
costumes, now at the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, were a fur King
Neptune costume; a red, white and blue hot pants costume; and one
of his favorites called the "lasagna" costume, which features a
cape that fanned out when he spun around.
Born in 1919 to musician parents, Wladziu Valentino
Liberace made his concert debut at age 11 as a piano prodigy in his
hometown of Milwaukee. At age 16, he appeared as a soloist with the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra. While broadening his classical career,
Liberace realized that he was confined to a limited audience by
concentrating on classical music. At 21, he was determined to
become the world's most versatile and entertaining pianist.
After watching a movie about Frederic Chopin in 1945,
Liberace made the candelabra his symbol, always on his piano during
performances. Within a few years, he had become an established
nightclub and hotel performer. He considered his first Las Vegas
engagement in 1944 at the Last Frontier Hotel as the start of his
career. After his first week at $750, his salary was doubled.
Liberace opened the Rivera Hotel in 1955 as the highest paid
performer at $50,000 a week. He also introduced Barbara Streisand
in her Las Vegas debut.
Liberace's television career began in 1952, as a
summer replacement for the Dinah Shore Show, followed by his own
live program, which debuted in Los Angeles as a one-half hour
weekly. By 1954, The Liberace Show was syndicated and televised in
217 U.S. cities and in 20 countries. Liberace read his own
thousands of fan letters, and it is from the public reaction
gleaned from those letters that he tailored his performances to
better please his audience. He also began his tradition of
philanthropy during the 1970s. He established the non-profit
Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts in 1977,
which has provided millions of dollars in college scholarships.
Since Liberace Museum opened in Las Vegas in 1979, Visitors from
all over the world have come to see its collection of his costumes;
pianos, including a rhinestone and a mirrored Baldwin; cars;
jewelry; and furnishings.
Documentation includes a 41-page report, photographs,
two audio tapes, a videotaped tour of the museum, brochures, and
other promotional materials.
Originally submitted by: Harry Reid, Senator Richard H. Bryan, Senator Shelley Berkeley, Representative (1st District) & Jim Gibbons, Representative (2nd District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.