As we've taken to the road for two consecutive weekends on mini-vacations, I have to mention that I've had occasion to note the best parts about taking roadtrips with Matthew:
- He never gets mad at me for insisting we visit the occasional Pocketknife Museum/antique mall/place where a famous playwright was born. Spoiler alert: I am ALWAYS insisting we visit the occasional Pocketknife Museum/antique mall/place where a famous playwright was born.
- He makes me laugh and gets us special coffee drinks, the better with which to bear the burden of long-term car captivity.
- He always does all the driving, sans complaint. I hate being in a car, much less driving, so this works in my favor on long trips.
- He lets me put whatever I want on the radio the WHOLE TIME. This could be anything from my marathon George and Tammy mix cd, to 1930's delta blues, to interminable audiobooks of my choosing.
As much as I love my family, I am the living veteran of dozens of family car trips that began, middle, and ended in circumstances fraught with tension, seat-kicking, and pregnant silences. I can't tell you how comforting it is to know that if we have to drive five hours south for a good time, I won't spend most of the five hours down there listening to a dramatic re-enactment of the old radio show The Bickersons, featuring me in a starring role.
Part four of my above list of praise figures into today's post, because it is all about the book we listened to on the way back from Atlanta, and finished on the way up to St. Louis. Folks, have you heard the good news about Liberace?
|What is with EITHER of these covers? Do you want me to not read the book, or what?|
Now, you might be thinking "What red-blooded American male would spend 5 hours in the car listening to a book-on-CD of Liberace's teenage boyfriend's life with the most twinkling of Vegas stars?" LUCKILY, the one I'm getting married to in September!
Scott Thorson's memoir, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, is an OLD SCHOOL catty celebrity memoir. Claws are out, ladies and gentlemen. Claws are out. Thorson, who spent a rough childhood bounced around foster homes, met the still-in-the-closet-though-who-ever-thought-he-was-not-openly-gay Liberace in 1976, when he was all of sweet seventeen. The famed pianist was taken by Thorson's blonde, impish good looks and immediately hired him as a "personal assistant". Thorson appeared in that powder blue livery you see on the original publication's cover as Liberace's on-stage "chaffeur". Do you know about the part of the Liberace stage show where the Big L would show up in a Rolls Royce ON THE STAGE? They didn't call him "Mr. Showmanship" for nothing.
|I am not kidding. See the video here, see around the three minute mark, |
complete with Thorson introduction!
Their relationship lasted five years, during which Thorson enjoyed incredible wealth and luxury. Liberace was famous during his career for the over-the-top nature of his personal and professional lives...why have one piano when you can have twenty? If one chandelier is fabulous, then forty chandeliers are forty times as fabulous! Nothing succeeds like excess, as another gay icon once said. Besides the fact that they owned something like twenty dogs at one time (?!), I have to say probably the most shocking part of the book is Liberace's insistence that Thorson get plastic surgery to...get this...LOOK MORE LIKE LIBERACE. "I want us to look like family!" he says, at one point even dangling the possibility of formally adopting Scott. Now, in the early 80's, when gay marriage was still a distant dream, maybe it would make sense to adopt your much younger lover in order to make sure a legally binding bond existed between the two of you, to make sure your loved one was not left destitute at the time of your demise. AND YET. I am still given a case of the heebies thinking about a man forty years his troubled, confused boyfriend's senior, blurring the younger man's sense of identity with the promise of "belonging". It all just seems too weird. Also, why would you get surgery to look like Liberace?! No shade intended, but he's no Cary Grant!
|Thorson post surgery. What is with that chin? That was one of the main things|
Liberace wanted him to have, a chin implant! And for what? (source)
The lion's share of the text is the regular "oh I never thought I could get used to THIS style of living" memoir you get from someone who was intimately acquainted with a famous celebrity. The thing that always gets me about these books is how SIMILAR the story arc runs. Celebrity meets civilian, woos civilian, introduces civilian to a life of luxury heretofore undreamed of, celebrity becomes controlling of civilian, civilian doesn't have enough time/opportunities to pursue own interests, celebrity and/or civilian get involved in drugs, the two break up, years later, the civilian writes a book. Thorson picked up a nasty drug habit a little before and definitely after the plastic surgery incident, where he was prescribed amphetamine cocktails to lose weight by Liberace's doctor, and just ran with it. The spin out that was precipitated by Thorson's increasing drug use, and Liberace's own infidelities, broke up the happy Thorson/Liberace home, but Scott wasn't going out without a bang. He initiated a groundbreaking, same-sex palimony case, the first of its kind, in 1982 against the entertainer, alleging that he had been promised salaries and long-term employment that abruptly ended when he and Liberace's relationship did. They settled out of court in 1986, and Liberace died the following spring. Sad, sad, sad.
|Doesn't he look kind of like a lamp here? (source)|
Reading this book through the lens of 2013, it's interesting to think of how deeply Liberace's fame dipped after his death. While he was consistently one of the highest paid and beloved floor acts of all time, making money hand over fist on packed venues and lucrative souvenir contracts, before this movie came into production, I just barely knew anything about him. He spent a lifetime creating, nurturing, and maintaining an image that, once he was gone, began immediately to fade into obscurity. His museum, once visited by tourists in droves in the early eighties', closed in 2010 due to low attendance. Isn't that strange? I think it's the specific burden of the stage performer-- had he been in the movies, there would still be footage to back up his iconic status, but the record releases and videotapes of his show are a paltry second-best to what I've heard of the "magic" he could create during one of his live performances. Even Thorson admits of his former lover that the man could make a room light up, and have each of the seats in his sold out shows feel like the front row at an intimate, command performance. I feel sorry for Liberace that his legacy, in 2013, depends on a dramatization of what must have been one of the most painfully public invasions of his closely guarded private life.
That said, I'm extremely interested to see the HBO movie based on the book. In the hands of director Steven Soderbergh, I'm sure some of those identity issues will come to light, along with a more sensitive reading of the whole story than perhaps Thorson's own account allows for.
So! What have you been reading lately? Have you seen the Liberace movie yet? Any thoughts on the glittering lifestyle of one of the world's most famous 20th century entertainers? Let's talk!
Gotta skedaddle, but I'll see you back here tomorrow (hopefully with some pictures of the stuff I bought last weekend)! Til then.