Liberace: In the Candelabra Lit Closet

Liberace 1954 magazine cover

In Your Dreams

Next to Rock Hudson, Liberace was Sue Ellen Wolinski’s absolute dream date. Liberace was just so fabulously different from any other fellows she had ever met. A wonderful pianist, yes. But, OH! so much more.

Come Wednesday night in the 1950s, wild horses couldn’t pull this perky miss away from her Philco when the master entertainer’s hit TV show was on. Along with 30 million other viewers, Sue Ellen sat transfixed, convinced the heart-throb was gayly winking just to her.

With that infectious smile and wavy hair he was just dreamy. Well dream on Sue Ellen, because only in your dreams would Liberace be available to you.

In the 2013 HBO biopic “Behind the Candelabra” the story of Liberace in the 1970s starring Michael Douglas,  focuses on his 6 year relationship with the much younger Scott Thorson.

But in the 1950’s Lee Liberace was the heart-throb of millions of housewives and teenage girls, Receiving 10,000 fan letters per week, he was deep in the closet, albeit one lit by the glow of a candelabra.

No matter what nasty rumors hinted at Liberace’s sexual orientation, one important fact stands out like a sore thumb, or should I say, like a dazzling candelabra: the ladies loved and adored their pianist. To even hint to the girls that “My Liberace” was given to anything but heterosexual hunkiness would be an invitation to have your head handed to you- and not on a silver platter.

Liberace performs  Bumble Boogie

Girl Loves Boy. Boy Loves Boy…Boy, Oh Boy

When Liberace closed his TV show crooning his signature song,“I’ll Be Seeing You,” Sue Ellen took him at his word.

And in fact in the fall of 1954, it came to pass.

That September, Sue Ellen was in seventh heaven when she came face to face with the dreamboat himself. Making an appearance in her hometown of  Miami for the opening ceremonies of a new branch of the First Federal Savings and Loan Association, Liberace was nearly crushed to death by a tidal wave of ten thousand eager women who crowded the bank for a glimpse of there idol.“The women acted like wild animals,” one policeman reported after he had helped fight them off from nine in the morning till 6 at night.

In the midst of the crowd, Sue Ellen locked eyes with Liberace.

The lucky lady, was certain he was  staring intently at her, winking his famous wink …attracted, she was sure, by the shimmering beauty  revealed in her freshly shampooed hair. Closing her eyes she imagined the two of them in the Miami moonlight the handsome hunk, reveling in the fragrant silken softness of her Luster Creme tresses, tenderly touching her smooth glistening locks as he murmured: “Dream Girl, where have you been all my life?”  In her revere she never even noticed  the handsome young man with the long lovely  lashes standing right behind her for whom the wink was surely intended.

Sweet Dreams

Gals like Sue Ellen were helped along by the publicity machine furiously churning out puff pieces on the flamboyant star,  fanning the flames of romantic possibility with the light-in-the-loafers-lothario.

In December 1954 a cover story In TV World Magazine announced- Liberace Tells: What I want in a Woman!”

Mid-Century Housewives, career girls and teenagers alike  pored through the magazine article that like all the other hundreds of fluff pieces fueled their hopes and dreams while fueling Liberace’s career.

What I Want in a Woman

“Its quite obvious how women feel about him,” the article in the magazine begins.”The big question, is how does he feel about them?”

One and only one person could supply the answer: the maestro himself. And so a journalist named Peer Oppenheim paid him a visit at the television studio on Wilshire Boulevard where his television series was filmed.

Liberace, we learn, has been engaged 3 times and out of approximately 2,000 fan letters he gets each week, about a dozen come from hopefuls of all ages who propose to become Mrs Liberace as soon as possible.

“What do I think of women? I think they’re pretty wonderful,” said Liberace, and almost in the same breath confessed how important it is to have them on his side.

“In most instanced directly or indirectly, they have the last word- in politics, in business and particularly as far as music and entertainment is concerned. I have studied the lives of famous composers and musicians pretty thoroughly and found that in each case women have played a prominent part in their success. Did you know that Liszt turned his piano sideways so women could see his profile?”

Still, in the days of Liszt and Chopin women showed their affection a little more subtly than by tearing off buttons, ripping jackets snitching ties as souvenirs or trying to break into the houses of their heroes all hours of the day and night.

“Doesn’t that sort of demonstrativeness ever bother you?”Liberace is asked.

“Oh no. They usually don’t get out of hand too much. I seem to have…well, a restraining influence over them. No matter how wildly they behave before I get to the scene, they usually calm down when I arrive.” he answers coyly.

There are some qualities in women Liberace likes better than others, and a few he can’t stand at all- artificiality, for instance.

“I have nothing against lipstick and powder. But I don’t like false eyelashes and that sort of thing.”

(Clearly he had no problem with a dash of lip stick and rosy rouge applied to his own countenance either)

The reader learns that he got his first disillusioning shock through a girl to whom he was once engaged. She was a performer, and for stage effect, had to use strong make up and bright eye-catching clothes.

For professional purposes Liberace has no objections.

But apparently away from her work, Mr Showmanship thought she should dress in a simpler more conservative, less attention-getting manner.(obviously not to compete with his own sequined spangled outfits)

“When we walked along the street together, people used to stare at her. But they were just gawking at her gaudiness, and there was no admiration in their eyes.”

He tried to change her, and when he didn’t succeed, broke the engagement.

Home and Hearth

He believed women should be domestically inclined, yet not the “hausfrau-type” who feel obliged to slave over a hot stove all day.

“When I get married, if I can afford it, I want my wife to have servants. But at the same time, I want her to take a personal interest in anything that concerns the house, and supervise all domestic activities,” he declared firmly.

(During the 1950s through the 1970s he was the highest paid entertainer in the so we can assume he could well afford a servant …especially a houseboy or two.)

According to Liberace, the biggest trouble with women was “that if they are not married at an early age, they get frantic, for fear of becoming ‘old maids. Most women seem to think that once they turn 30, they start losing their looks and their charm. I feel that they have so much more to offer then,” he says convincingly. “As a matter of fact I think most women are much more attractive in their thirties.”

 (He may prefer mature women but clearly liked his boys young)

Thirty three himself, he claims he wants to marry a woman in her thirties because “She is more mature than a younger girl, has more to talk about, and is more on an equal basis with me.”

He has no sympathy for women who let themselves go once they are married, who no longer care about their appearances or the impression they make.

As a final thought: “I don’t care for glamorizing either.”

(Said the flamboyant Mr. Showmanship known for his excesses to the max)

“Looks are of secondary importance to me. It’s the understanding a woman can show, her kindness, her thoughtfulness. ( Especially understanding when you step out with a man) “Not every woman can be beautiful, but everyone can make herself desirable.”

That’s what Liberace wants, Gals!

Related Posts:

Locked in the American Dream Closet

Unintentionally Gay Ads- Does He or Doesn’t He?

The Gay Bachelor and the Bride




    How can this be dear Americans :


  2. Pingback: Unintentionally Gay Ads-Does He or Doesn’t He? | Envisioning The American Dream


    If it is happening all over then President Obama should sort it out, because one might as well forget about the AMERICAN DREAM altogether. Liberace was a perfect example of someone who embraced that dream to its ultimate and he was only one of miliions and millions of people who went to the States for a better life and to give something to the country.

    I think this person says it all from a British angle but it can be said for any nation with a cultural heritage worth protecting and Liberace’s home is a national treasure and a cultural icon :

    He was also, as I say above a great anglophile and I mentioned this angle in the British newspaper article above, about Liberace’s ATV show in England during the late 1960’s. Here’s another one :


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