Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mr. Showmanship





I was fortunate enough to attend a Liberace Concert in the early 1980's, and more than 30 years after Wladziu Valentino `Lee' Liberace first took the television world by storm, he was still mesmerizing audiences.



While I could recount his early years, the BBC put together an excellent mini-biography of Liberace's early years. It runs less than 3 minutes, and you can watch it here.



(Click Twice to run)


Although he'd found some success in Las Vegas, it would be his television show that would propel him into the national spotlight.


After appearing as a guest performer on such early variety shows as The Kate Smith Hour and Cavalcade of Stars, Liberace began a 15-minute show on a local Los Angeles TV station (KLAC). 


Many critics derided his less than reverent handling of the classics, and heaped faint praise on his playing ability.   Liberace claimed, famously, that he was so hurt . . .he cried all the way to the bank.


Critics may have hated it, but Liberace was a big hit with the Los Angeles market.  The public loved his flair, showmanship, and `schmaltz'.


Liberace was soon pegged to fill in for Dinah Shore as a summer replacement show.


By 1953, Liberace's show was being seen on more than 100 television stations around the country.  In some markets, his show would air twice a day, that's how desperate stations were for quality shows back then.


Liberace would actually have  4 television shows over the years.  The Museum of Broadcast Communications lists them as follows:





July 1952-August 1952         Tuesday/Thursday 7:30-7:45


1953-1955                                                Various Times

PRODUCERS Louis D. Sander, Robert Sandler

October 1958-April 1959                     30 Minute Daytime

July 1969-September 1969                  Tuesday 8:30-9:30



We've a couple of good examples of Liberace's early work available on the Internet Archive.


The Liberace Show From 1955
The Liberace Show From 1955


Liberace - Music of the Dances
Here is another episode of the Liberace Show,think is from 1956.



To give you an idea of his popularity during the 1950's, here is a short clip from the popular panel show What's My Line. 





Aside from his obvious talent and showmanship, what probably led to his immense popularity was his ability to connect with his audience.  He would talk directly into the camera, as if he were speaking to his viewers in their own living room, often with a conspiratorial wink thrown in for good measure. 


Although Liberace parlayed this success into much wealth, he also quickly became over-exposed, and his ratings began to decline after a few years.


Liberace was able, however, to turn his simple television show into 5 gold albums, hundreds of sold out concert dates, and a Las Vegas extravaganza that ran until shortly before his untimely death.


YouTube  and Google Video have a great many Liberace Clips, including this clip of Liberace dancing with Sammy Davis Jr. on the Hollywood Palace (1967).





Here, from Liberace's short-lived 1969 show on CBS, we get his rendition of Boogie Woogie.




For a vast listing of Google Video clips of Liberace, check HERE.




Liberace would die in 1987 from complications related to the AIDS virus at the age of 67.   It's hard to believe that he's been gone now, more than 20 years.

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