Monday, November 25, 2013

Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace

Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace
By Scott Thorson
Rating 4 out of 5

Published 1988

First Sentence
""Too much of a good thing is wonderful," Liberace used to say when commenting on a flashy new costume or wild idea for his act."
Publisher's Description:
In this unusually frank book Scott Thorson tells all: the good, the bad, and the ugly truths about a legendary entertainer who went to outrageous extremes to prevent public knowledge of his homosexuality. Liberace's unhappy childhood, dominated by a mother determined to force him into a concert career, serves as the prologue for a story that goes on to detail Liberace’s early appearances in honky-tonks, his move to New York to seek fame, and, finally, his first booking in Las Vegas, where he was courted by the Mafia. His successes create a bright counterpoint to a darker tale of a man hungry for power, given to every excess. Liberace's credo—"too much of a good thing is wonderful"—is reflected here in his acquisition of new lovers, luxurious homes, a large collection of pornography, and a total of twenty-six house dogs. Behind the Candelabra also reveals the details of the fundamentally tender love affair between Liberace and Thorson—whom Liberace sent to his own plastic surgeon to have his face remodeled in Liberace's own image! This fast-paced story, sprinkled with anecdotes about famous entertainers such as Michael Jackson and Shirley MacLaine, ends with an intimate look at Liberace's final days as he lay dying of AIDS—and his deathbed reconciliation with Scott.

Dear Reader,

I won't ever look at Liberace the same way after listening to this story.
 I didn't really have much of an opinion of Liberace since his life was before my time and he didn't create any music that influenced me. I had heard from my mother in disgusted, hushed tones that he was gay, but that wasn't a shocking or a disgusting thing for me to hear about a larger than life performer.  I would have appreciated him much more if he had owned his homosexuality but I know that wasn't a safe thing to do during his lifetime.
If we are to believe all of what Scott Thorson says, and I do,  I don't like Liberace. I feel a lot of pity for Scott.  I should say I feel a lot of empathy for him since I have experienced my own, life destroying break up.  I think that is why my anger for Liberace was so personal and visceral.  I projected my own experience on the narrative of theirs. I particularly was angered by all the times that Liberace lies and promises to take care of people in his life; for the rest of their lives. Breaking one's word or even making that kind of promise without knowing or caring if it will be fulfilled is heinous.
Despite their 5 year legal war, Scott ends up forgiving Liberace and making amends with him before he dies of AIDS.  I did take satisfaction that Scott was spared from AIDS because Liberace kicked him out before he contracted it. I was further saddened to hear from the book's afterword about Scott's life in the Witness Protection Program.  He was shot and battled drug addiction and finally in the most current related news he has become physically impaired by one the bullet wounds near his spine and also, rectal cancer. In his afterword he also comments that he is looking forward to seeing the movie version  of this story where he is played by Matt Damon.
The story in this book is very interesting and emotionally engaging but the writing is glaringly simple. It is clear that Scott Thorson is not a writter.  He repeats some points enough for me to be irritated by it and he uses the word 'outrageous' far too many times. A thesaurus could have improved that. Also in the midst of his narrative he goes off on a tangent about homosexuality amongst celebrities that doesn't transition well. I understand that he has things to say that relate to the overall life and times of Liberace, but it stuck out to me as distracting. With some consultation and editing from a true writer,  it could have been incorporated better.
Overall the content of the book moved me and I admire Scott's determination to paint an accurate picture of Lee the man, instead of the Faberge of Liberace. He did this in 1987 despite threats against him from Liberace's people at the time of publication. I recommend this book for people interested in behind the scenes reality check of celebrities in their own fame encrusted bubbles. It's also a time piece in the evolution of how far modern America has come to accept and respect the contributions of the homosexual community. It also shows that the life of expectancy of someone diagnosed with AIDs has increased from a year to several decades.


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