13 Fabulous Facts About Liberace

Terry Disney/Getty Images
Terry Disney/Getty Images

Known as Mr. Showmanship, Wladziu Valentino Liberace made millions of dollars entertaining audiences with his flamboyant performances. Although his epic materialism is often most remembered, there’s a lot more to Lee—as his friends called him—than rhinestone costumes and his love of candelabra on pianos. In honor of what would have been his 100th birthday on May 16, here are 13 facts about the entertainer.

1. Liberace was a child prodigy.

If YouTube existed in the 1920s, videos of a young Liberace expertly playing the piano would definitely have gone viral. Born in Wisconsin on May 16, 1919, Liberace started playing the piano when he was just 3 years old, and began proper lessons soon after. He quickly learned to play by ear, replicating the songs his older siblings were playing. It became obvious that he was a prodigy, and by the time he was 7, his father—himself a professional musician who once toured with John Philip Sousa's concert band playing the French horn—enrolled him at the Wisconsin College of Music.

2. Walter Busterkeys was Liberace's teenage stage name.

As a teenager, Liberace played piano in clubs, movie theaters, symphonies, and classical music competitions around Wisconsin and the Midwest. Because his full name—Wladziu Valentino Liberace—wasn’t the most stage-friendly name, he performed using the name Walter Busterkeys. But around 1940, he decided to go mononymous—he told people that it was because his idol, the Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski, only went by his last name.

3. Despite Liberace's success, critics disparaged his piano playing abilities. 

Liberace described his songs as classical music without all the boring parts. Because he incorporated aspects of pop music into his classical piano playing, classical music purists didn’t like him. And because his shows relied heavily on showmanship and spectacle—gimmicks, costumes, and jokes—critics disparaged his talent as a pianist, arguing that he opted for easy piano trills and showy techniques rather than artistry.

4. Liberace popularized the phrase "laugh all the way to the bank." 

In 1954, Liberace wrote a letter to a critic who had written a scathing review of his show. He (sarcastically) thanked the reviewer and said that he and his brother “laughed all the way to the bank” after reading it. 

5. Liberace's house really did have a piano-shaped pool. 

Liberace sits at a grand piano
Keystone Features/Getty Images

Because he was raking in the dough, Liberace’s homes featured elaborate designs and ostentatious furniture. His Sherman Oaks, California home, which he lived in with his mother in the 1950s, was no exception. The whole house had a music theme—musical notes on the iron fence, musical staffs above the front door, and his famed piano-shaped swimming pool. The pool had black and white piano keys painted on the concrete, making it look like a giant grand piano.

6. Liberace played a pair of twins on Batman in the 1960s.  

After his variety television show (called The Liberace Show) aired, he appeared in two episodes of Batman in 1966. Liberace portrayed a concert pianist and his evil twin, making for some delightfully campy viewing.

7. Liberace was an early champion of Barbra Streisand. 

In 1963, Liberace invited a 21-year-old Barbra Streisand to be his opening act for a month of shows in Las Vegas. He was a big fan of hers, but when his audience didn't respond to her after her first two nights, Liberace took matters into his own hands. In a move that was mostly unheard-of for marquee acts, he went on stage each night before her set to introduce her. He warmed the audience to her, and when they realized the young songstress had been personally chosen by Liberace, they paid more attention. Soon, Streisand was winning rave reviews.

8. One of Liberace's costumes almost killed him.

During a Pittsburgh show in late 1963, Liberace was rushed to the emergency room after collapsing. His costume, which he had cleaned himself with carbon tetrachloride prior to the show, leached the chemical into his skin, and he had been breathing it all day in an unventilated room. “By the time I got through my first number,” Liberace later wrote in his autobiography, “everything began going in circles … I had never felt so terrible in my life. I rushed offstage.” Although doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of surviving—he even received his last rites—he managed to survive the health crisis.

9. For decades, Liberace denied being gay. 

Liberace sitting on the hood of a 1960s car
Central Press/Getty Images

Although Liberace was gay and promiscuous in his private life, he publicly denied being a friend of Dorothy. When a newspaper and tabloid published articles implying he was gay in the late 1950s, he sued them for libel and won. Even after his former lover Scott Thorson sued him for palimony, Liberace denied that he was gay. When he died in February 1987 at age 67, his spokesman announced that Liberace died due to congestive heart failure, but the county coroner’s autopsy proved that he died of AIDS-related pneumonia.

10. Betty White was Liberace's close friend.

In 2011, Betty White revealed to CNN that when they were starting their careers, sometimes the television producer whom they were both working with would have Liberace escort her to events (which many have interpreted as White acting as a beard for the closeted Liberace). White recalled an incident when he accompanied her to a movie premiere one windy night, and instead of reaching his hand out to help her get out of the car, Liberace was focused on keeping his hair in place. She called him a sweetheart and a “great and dear personal friend.”

11. Liberace published a cookbook.

Liberace owned Tivoli Gardens, a restaurant in Las Vegas, and he turned his love of food into a successful cookbook. 1970’s Liberace Cooks! featured recipes for pierogi, squid casserole, braised oxtails, and even calves’ brains in black butter.

12. His first (and only) starring film role was a massive failure. 

Sincerely Yours was a 1955 film starring Liberace as a successful concert pianist who goes deaf. But the movie, distributed by Warner Brothers, was a huge flop. It was so bad that at the 1982 Academy Awards, Liberace joked that “I’ve done my part for motion pictures—I’ve stopped making them.”

13. He invented a disappearing toilet.

Liberace designed a retracting toilet that folded into the wall of a bathroom. “There's just no reason why you should walk into a bathroom and see a toilet," he told Rolling Stone in 1981. "It's unglamorous.” Although he had a patent on the rotating toilet, it didn’t take off.

Stranger Things Fans Can Now Buy a 6-Foot-Tall Demogorgon Sprinkler

BigMouth Inc., Amazon
BigMouth Inc., Amazon

Some fans watch a show and then talk about it. Others create art inspired by it. Others develop far-out theories. But sometimes, fans go even further than that—like when pool accessory company BigMouth Inc. revealed its massive Stranger Things-inspired, inflatable Demogorgon sprinkler, which is now available for any fan to purchase.

The sprinkler, the perfect gift for those wishing to combine their love of sci-fi monstrosities and thorough lawn irrigation, stands 6 feet tall and can be connected to any standard hose, allowing it to spurt water from its horrifying open face, according to House Beautiful. And for fans thinking it can only be found in the far corners of the internet, fear not: the sprinkler is available now at Target and on Amazon.

If you want a less flashy way to show off your Stranger Things fandom this summer, BigMouth Inc. also sells a plethora of other novelty items based on the show, like an Upside Down-themed pool tube, Scoops Ahoy floating cupholders, and a float based on one of Eleven’s trademark waffles. (See all the options on Amazon here.)

This marks the latest in a series of collaborations for the hugely successful Netflix series. Prior to its release, Stranger Things teamed with both H&M and Nike to release clothing and shoes inspired by the series. It also collaborated with Coca-Cola to produce a limited edition collection of New Coke cans inspired by a moment in the third season.

We’re glad there’s a plethora of Stranger Things merchandise available, even the terrifying Demogorgon sprinkler—it sounds just ridiculous enough to buy right away. It's available at Target or Amazon for $100.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

Three Major Game of Thrones Stars Submitted Themselves for Emmys After HBO Chose Not To

Gwendoline Christie and Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones.
Gwendoline Christie and Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones.
Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

HBO dominated the 2019 Emmy nominations, which were announced earlier this week, with a record-breaking 32 nominations for Game of Thrones's highly contentious final season alone.

Ten of Game of Thrones's nominations came via the acting categories, several of which were hardly surprising: Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke landed nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress in a Drama Series, respectively. Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams will compete against each other in the Outstanding Supporting Actor and Actress categories. What did come as a surprise, however, were the first-time nominations for Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, and Carice van Houten—not because they didn’t deserve them, but because HBO didn't submit them for consideration.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO confirmed that the network did not enter the three actors for consideration by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This means that the actors’ representatives shelled out the $225 entry fees themselves.

While this might seem unfair, self-submissions are a pretty common practice. As Game of Thrones has many, many characters, all of them played by great actors, it's simply not possible for the network to enter every one of them. As it stands now, four of the six nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress are Game of Thrones co-stars (van Houten was nominated in the Guest Actress category), while three of the Outstanding Supporting Actor nominees are from Westeros.

Whether they made it onto the official ballot because of HBO or not, Game of Thrones fans are ecstatic that Allen, Christie, and van Houten are finally getting the Emmy recognition they deserve. Can one of them triumph? We'll just have to wait until September 22 to find out.

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