When I was boy, about 10 or so, my mom and dad were active in the local country club and went to lots of dances and events on Saturday nights. A lady friend of the family, Burtell Turner, often did the baby-sitting chores for me and my younger siblings. The young ones went to bed early, but I was allowed to stay up and watch TV with Burtell. There were two things she loved to watch – wrestling and Liberace, so every Saturday night I was exposed to not only to tag team and midget wrestlers, but also to one of the greatest entertainers of my lifetime: Wladziu Valentinmo Liberace.
Born in 1919 to working class immigrants, Liberace, or Lee as he was called by family and friends, was a child prodigy at the piano. He began playing at age 4 and by age 7 had memorized scores of difficult pieces. His career included stage and movie appearances, but he hit his stride – and the big time – with The Liberace Show in the mid-1950s. He would become the highest paid entertainer in the world with TV, Vegas and international performances.
Liberace was frequently criticized as being much too prissy and with over-the-top costumes of feathers and sequins. He merely answered: “I cry all the way to the bank.” He once told Johnny Carson, “I no longer cry all the way to the bank any more – I bought the bank.”
Liberace had a huge following. He was adored by women. He kept a constant conversation with his guests in the audience, but when it came time to play his piano – a rare, over-sized, gold-leafed Blüthner Grand – he was all business.
Liberace’s brother George, was a frequent guest on the show, lighting the candelabrum on the grand piano. Lee’s mother was always on the front row. Liberace ended each performance with, “I’ll be seeing you.”
He was an incredible entertainer and a fantastic pianist. Looking back, I don’t remember much about the wrestling matches on Saturday nights in the 1950’s, but who could ever forget the incredible Liberace.