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.

10 Forgotten Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials

A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
A scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976).
Rankin/Bass Productions

If you're prone to picturing your favorite Christmas characters as stop-motion puppets, you can thank Rankin/Bass. The production company founded by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass found success in transforming holiday songs and myths into fully-developed television specials in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Their most popular specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, are still staples of holiday programming decades after they first aired.

But not every holiday film that played under the Rankin/Bass banner was an instant success. After adapting the most beloved Christmas stories, the company broadened its definition of holiday material, with varying degrees of success. Some films were forgettable, and others were so strange and unsettling that young viewers forced themselves to forget. Here are some Rankin/Bass specials that may be missing from holiday television marathons this year.

1. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976)

Scene from Rudolph's Shiny New Year.
Rankin/Bass Productions

After the stressful events of his 1964 Christmas special, Rudolph deserved a vacation. In Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976), the red-nosed reindeer barely has a day to rest before being sent on his next adventure. When Santa Claus and his reindeer return home to the North Pole after delivering presents on Christmas, they learn that Happy the Baby New Year is missing. It’s up to Rudolph to bring him home before midnight on New Year’s Eve or else the calendar will be stuck at December 31. And because it wouldn’t be a Rankin/Bass cartoon without a terrifying villain, a vulture named Eon the Terrible is racing to catch Happy first so he can live forever. Thankfully, Rudolph has a caveman, a Medieval knight, and Benjamin Franklin on his side.

2. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976)

Scene from The Little Drummer Boy, Book II.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The Little Drummer Boy from 1968 ends with the birth of Jesus Christ, a.k.a. the events of Christmas. This meant that Rankin/Bass’s most overtly religious Christmas special wasn’t an obvious choice for a follow-up, but the studio still released one in 1976. The Little Drummer Boy, Book II is inspired by "Silver Bells"—a song whose lyrics have nothing to do with the first Christmas at Bethlehem. In the sequel, the drummer boy Aaron and the wise man Melchior join forces to protect silver bells made for baby Jesus from the Roman soldiers plotting to steal them.

3. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

Scene from Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey.
Rankin/Bass Productions

By the late 1970s, it was apparent that Rankin/Bass was running out of Christmas myths to expand into television specials. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, their 1977 stop motion film, tells the story of an outcast donkey who experiences a series of traumatic events during the Roman Empire. After being bullied by other animals, left for dead by his owner, and suffering the loss of his mother, Nestor becomes a hero by carrying a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, where she gives birth to Jesus. Needless to say, Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey didn’t have the same cultural impact as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

4. The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975)

Scene from The First Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

It may have a happy ending, but The First Christmas (1975) is the bleakest movie on this list. An orphaned shepherd named Lucas is taken in by a group of nuns after he’s blinded by lightning. When snow falls during the abbey’s Christmas pageant, Lucas miraculously regains his eyesight and sees snow for the first time. The story swaps Rankin/Bass's signature humor and fantasy for heavy-handed sentimentality, which may be why it didn’t land as well with kids as the company’s other holiday specials. One highlight is a voice performance by Angela Lansbury as the narrator.

5. Jack Frost (1979)

Scene from Jack Frost.
Rankin/Bass Productions

So this film from 1979 is technically a Groundhog Day special, but its connection to winter means it’s usually lumped in with the rest of Rankin/Bass’s Christmas programming. A groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete (voiced by Buddy Hackett) narrates the story of Jack Frost. After Jack Frost falls in love with a woman on Earth, Father Winter agrees to make him human, with the catch that Jack will turn back into a sprite if he fails to obtain a house, a horse, a bag of gold, and a wife by the first sign of spring. The special is notable for its weird characters, including a villain with a clockwork horse and henchmen. And—spoiler alert!—because Jack doesn’t get the girl at the end, it’s one of the few Rankin/Bass films that doesn’t have a happy ending.

6. Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)

Scene from Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1979, Rankin/Bass gave two of its most iconic Christmas characters—Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer—their own movie. The studio was so confident in the product that Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July even had a brief theatrical release overseas. But the film has failed to take the place of the original specials in the public consciousness—maybe because seeing snow snakes terrorize Rudolph and watching an evil wizard transform into a tree were too much for younger viewers to handle.

7. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)

Scene from Pinocchio's Christmas.
Rankin/Bass Productions

The story of Pinocchio may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, but that didn’t stop Rankin/Bass from turning the classic Italian fairytale into a holiday special. Pinocchio's Christmas (1980) features many of the same themes and characters as The Adventures of Pinocchio—only this version of the tale centers around the puppet’s first Christmas. Santa Claus even makes a cameo appearance.

8. The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)

Scene from The Stingiest Man in Town.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is one of the most widely adapted stories of all time, so of course it shows up in Rankin/Bass’s filmography. An insect named B.A.H. Humbug narrates this musical retelling from 1978, with Walter Matthau starring as Ebeneezer Scrooge. The Stingiest Man in Town joins Frosty the Snowman as one of the few Rankin/Bass Christmas productions made with traditional 2D animation instead of stop-motion.

9. The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold (1981)

Scene from The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold.
Rankin/Bass Productions

Rankin/Bass’s streak of mashing up Christmas with other holidays reached peak weirdness in 1981. That’s when the studio released The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold—a story that follows a young Irish sailor who helps a clan of leprechauns protect their gold from an evil banshee named Old Mag the Hag. By trying to create a special that could air around Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day, the filmmakers ended up with something that made little sense at any time of year.

10. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985)

Scene from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.
Rankin/Bass Productions

In 1970, Rankin/Bass explored how Kris Kringle became Santa Claus with Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Fifteen years later, the studio produced a film that provided an alternate origin story for the character, based on L. Frank Baum's 1902 children's book of the same name. This second special wasn’t as well-received as the first. It starts with an antler-sporting sorcerer called the Great Ak finding an abandoned baby in the forest. The child is taken in and raised by wood nymphs, eventually growing up to become a jolly man who delivers toys to children—all while fighting monsters called Awgwas on the side. It ends with a council of mythical beings granting Santa Claus immortality. What was arguably Rankin/Bass’s most unusual Christmas special was also the last to use stop-motion animation.

2020 Golden Globes: The Full List of Nominees

Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Andrew Scott stars in Fleabag.
Steve Schofield/Amazon Studios

Awards season is officially upon us and we're all rushing out to the movie theater—or, more frequently, our own couches—to load up on some of the year's biggest movie and television titles.

Now that the 2020 Golden Globe nominations have been announced, it's clear that Netflix's investment in original content like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which scored the most nominations with six, was a wise decision.

On the television side, streaming emerged victorious as well; The Crown landed a total of four nominations while Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Amazon hit Fleabag earned three, including one for "Hot Priest" Andrew Scott, who was a notable Emmy snub. Amazingly, Game of Thrones was nominated for just a single award: a Best Actor in a Drama Series nomination for Kit Harington.

Below is the full list of nominees for the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards, which will take place on January 5, 2020.

Best Motion Picture, Drama

1917
The Irishman
Joker
Marriage Story
The Two Popes

Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Jojo Rabbit
Knives Out
Rocketman
Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language

The Farewell
Pain and Glory
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Parasite
Les Misérables

Best Director, Motion Picture

Bong Joon Ho, Parasite
Sam Mendes, 1917
Todd Phillips, Joker
Martin Scorsese, The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Best Screenplay—Motion Picture

Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won, Parasite
Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes
Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

Best Original Score, Motion Picture

Alexandre Desplat, Little Women
Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker
Randy Newman, Marriage Story
Thomas Newman, 1917
Daniel Pemberton, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Original Song—Motion Picture

Beautiful Ghosts, Cats
I'm Gonna Love Me Again, Rocketman
Into the Unknown, Frozen II
Spirit, The Lion King
Stand Up, Harriet

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, The Two Popes
Al Pacino, The Irishman
Joe Pesci, The Irishman
Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Kathy Bates, Richard Jewell
Annette Bening, The Report
Laura Dern, Marriage Story
Jennifer Lopez, Hustlers
Margot Robbie, Bombshell

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Daniel Craig, Knives Out
Roman Griffin Davis, Jojo Rabbit
Leonardo DiCaprio, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Taron Egerton, Rocketman
Eddie Murphy, Dolemite Is My Name

Best Motion Picture—Animated

Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Missing Link
Toy Story 4
Lion King

Best Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama

Christian Bale, Ford v Ferrari
Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory
Adam Driver, Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix, Joker
Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Drama

Cynthia Erivo, Harriet
Scarlett Johansson, Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan, Little Women
Charlize Theron, Bombshell
Renée Zellweger, Judy

Best Actress in a Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy

Awkwafina, The Farewell
Ana de Armas, Knives Out
Cate Blanchett, Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart
Emma Thompson, Late Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Christopher Abbott, Catch-22
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Spy
Russell Crowe, The Loudest Voice
Jared Harris, Chernobyl
Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Kaitlyn Dever, Unbelievable
Joey King, The Act
Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great
Merritt Wever, Unbelievable
Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Catch-22, Hulu
Chernobyl, HBO
Fosse/Verdon, FX
The Loudest Voice, Showtime
Unbelievable, Netflix

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Patricia Arquette, The Act
Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown
Toni Collette, Unbelievable
Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies
Emily Watson, Chernobyl

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series, Drama

Brian Cox, Succession
Kit Harington, Game of Thrones
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Tobias Menzies, The Crown
Billy Porter, Pose

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Andrew Scott, Fleabag
Stellan Skarsgård, Chernobyl
Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Television Series—Drama

Big Little Lies, HBO
The Crown, Netflix
Killing Eve, AMC
The Morning Show, Apple TV+
Succession, HBO

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Drama

Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Olivia Colman, The Crown
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show

Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy

Barry, HBO
Fleabag, Amazon
The Kominsky Method, Netflix
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon
The Politician, Netflix

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