By Ben Welter
Which adjective – colorful or flamboyant — best describes Liberace, the pianist born in West Allis, Wis.? It’s pretty much a toss-up, if a Google search is any measure, so I’ll use both.
In the 1950s, the colorful and flamboyant entertainer had to sue a London tabloid to protect a secret and preserve his career. In a mean-spirited piece, the Daily Mirror implied that Liberace was a homosexual (and “the biggest sentimental vomit of all time”). He testified that he was not a homosexual and won the case — and a $22,400 judgment — in June 1959. It’s not clear how the paper defended itself or whether truth was a valid defense under British law. Liberace is credited with coining the phrase “I cried all the way to the bank” in connection with the case.
The three photos below appeared in the Minneapolis daily papers between 1951 and 1971. The captions are the originals, warts and all.
|LIBERACE, American pianist, wore a big grin as Londoners surrounded him to cheer his victory in a libel action against London Daily Mirror and its columnist William Connor. In a 1956 column, Connor implied Liberace was a homosexual. Liberace was awarded $22,400. After the court victory, the touring pianist went on in his regular performance at the Cheswick Empire theater in London. The court said Connor’s column did not represent fair comment. (AP Wirephoto; June 18, 1959)|
|PRACTICE: Solomon Wasserman, 11, 1636 Sheridan avenue N., got a bit of advice on how to play the piano from Liberace, now appearing at the Minnesota Terrace of the Hotel Nicollet, before the two presented a show there. Solomon was named winner over 50 other youngsters in a contest held by the Liberace Talent club. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Jack Gillis; March 29, 1951)|
|STAR-SPANGLED: Liberace set ‘em back on their heels Thursday night at the State Fair Grandstand Show. Wearing a star-spangled red, white and blue HotPants outfit, the showman-pianist, at one point in the performance, strutted onstage twirling a baton and the audience of 10,000 exploded into applause and laughter. The veteran entertainer set the tone of the evening when he first walked onstage, wearing a 23-carat gold-trimmed Russian waistcoat over an Argentine gaucho outfit and diamond rings. Said Liberace: “Well, look me over. I don’t dress this way to go unnoticed.” He didn’t. (Minneapolis Star photo by Peter Freeman; Sept. 3, 1971)|