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The Book of the Week is “Behind the Candelabra, My Life With Liberace” by Scott Thorson with Alex Thorleifson, published in 1988.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in May 1919, the pianist who became known as Liberace (he used his family’s last name as his stage name) had three younger siblings. The father abandoned the family when he was an adolescent. However, Liberace was his mother’s favorite. Upon seeing that he had piano-playing talent, she had him practicing all the time, instead of socializing with his peers. She also practiced spousification. He began to get paid for his musicianship at fourteen, playing with a band in saloons.
Piano concerts were only the setting for Liberace’s performances. His witty verbal jousts, audience participation, makeup, ten or more changes of glittery costumes, jewelry galore, and flamboyant props and sets– were par for the course.
According to the book (which appeared to be credible although it lacked an extensive list of detailed sources, and an index), Liberace was very emotionally needy. Once he became rich and developed Peter Pan syndrome, he felt the need to flaunt his high-on-the-hog lifestyle. As an adult, he became a father figure to a series of young males one at a time (but also had an army of servants), sharing his wealth and material possessions with them. However, he was the controller of the relationships, and would break up with them when they expressed too much desire for independence.
At the dawn of his twenties, Scott Thorson met Liberace and became his personal assistant in the summer of 1977. Thorson had suffered through a difficult childhood in a series of foster homes. He soon became Liberace’s surrogate son, and learned of the pianist’s excesses. He enjoyed his new role at first, as his interests meshed with his boss’s. They cared for pet dogs and horses, shopped for and wore elaborate clothing, ate sumptuous meals, met other celebrities, and traveled in style to go on tour.
Their first Christmas together, Thorson was tasked with purchasing holiday merchandise. He wrote, “That year, we had eighteen huge Christmas trees [in Liberace’s mansions in Las Vegas and Palm Springs CA, at a cost of $25,000], more than 350 red and white poinsettias, table decorations, greenery, wreaths– enough candles, lights, and tinsel to stock a department store.”
Read the book to learn of Thorson’s fate: when Liberace asked him to make a serious physical sacrifice; and how Thorson handled the responsibilities and stresses of living with a celebrity such as Liberace– with its many kinds of orgies, including those of litigation in the end.