January 02, 2015

New Las Vegas exhibition to bring Liberace back to life


David Ellis

Over-the-top costumes, jewel-studded cars, sparkling candelabras, flamboyant jewellery and other outrageous belongings that once drew hundreds of thousands a year to a museum dedicated to the world's most flamboyant entertainer ever – the pianist Liberace – are set to go on display again in Las Vegas by the end of this year.

After being held in storage since the original Vegas Liberace Museum closed at the end of 2010, when visitations had dwindled from 450,000 annually to a mere 35,000, plans are to show these items off as a more down-sized collection occupying about half the space of the old.

And importantly to locate it in thriving Downtown Las Vegas, rather than outside the Main Strip as was the original, with the Liberace Foundation negotiating for space in Las Vegas' all-flashing, all-glittering Neonopolis.

This flamboyant shopping and entertainment complex is lit by an amazing 5km of multi-coloured fluorescent-tubes, and includes amongst its tenants several gay-friendly bars and entertainment spots. And whilst these would seem a natural for the Liberace Museum to sit amongst with the pianist himself seen as one of the most-famous gay entertainers ever, Liberace in fact never once referred to himself publicly as such.

"It's actually one of the things we have to confront when we open the new museum," a spokesman for the Liberace Foundation said. "In the original, our guides tended not to discuss with visitors that he was gay, and if asked would even deny both that, and the fact he died of AIDS. So that's the big question with the new museum – do we 'out' the dead, because Liberace never outed himself…?"

The new museum will be named the Liberace Entertainment Experience, carefully chosen so it can be shortened to the acronym Lee – as the pianist was known to his friends.

And it will be just 3000 square metres in size, with the Foundation hoping for a modest 35,000 visitors a year. "As not everything from the original will be able to fit in," the spokesman said, "it will need to be a selection of the best of the best, with an emphasis on Lee's costumes, and allowing fashion students to come in and study these in an educational environment."

At the same time, however, the Foundation wants to ensure that all visitors will rightfully recognise that Liberace was in fact one of the most-influential entertainers ever, both in Las Vegas' and America's entertainment history.

Although for most fans, a visit to the new Museum will be to ogle not just his often outrageous outfits, but the many seemingly bizarre items he amassed as the highest-paid performer in the world over 20 years – and which included a US$1m fee in 1955 to play just one night at the opening of Las Vegas' Riviera Hotel & Casino (equivalent to around US$8.8m today,) and $138,000 for another single performance at Madison Square Garden…

Amongst items being considered by the Liberace Foundation are several of his 30 cars that include a replica 1931 Model A Ford, a 1957 London cab, a few Rollers (one a 1962 retractable-top Landau covered with tiny jewel-like mirrors and dubbed "The Disco Ball on Wheels,") the famous custom-built Rhinestone Roadster plated with thousands of faux rhinestones, and his favourite 1954 Cadillac Eldorado that he was given by an appreciative sponsor of his-then TV show.

Clothing items are certain to include his famous US$300,000 virgin fox coat with a near-5m train and $100,000 worth of sequins and crystals, and which weighed 45kg. And also an over-the-top pink gabardine and silk suit covered with everything from satin appliques to pastel seeds and crystals would seem another certainty, as well as his sequined jumpsuits… and crystal-studded pink cowboy boots.

Hopefully there'll also be space for such items from his enormous piano collection as an 1885 Pleyel art-case grand, and a 1945 mirrored self-playing nickelodeon adorned with peacock feather engravings.

Liberace, who died in 1987 aged 67, once famously said "I don't give concerts, I put on a show," and this new museum to his memory – small as it will be compared to the original that drew 10 million-plus visitors over 30 years – is sure to drag in the faithful and the just plain curious when it opens at year's end in Downtown Las Vegas.


[] A FLAMBOYANT Liberace on stage… diamonds, sequins, crystals and rhinestone-plated piano were all part of the show.

[] HIS famous 1885 Pleyel art-case grand was another favourite, up there in the priceless category

[] THE famous Rhinestone Roadster – but just how far would you take it on the open road?

[] SOME of Liberace's thirty other cars that ranged from a 1957 London cab to a replica 1931 Model A Ford and a few Rollers…

[] LIBERACE amongst the opulence of his totally over-the-top sitting-room.

[] ON stage in that $300,000 virgin fox coat: with its near-5m train, it weighed 45kg.

(All Images courtesy of Liberace Foundation)


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