As all Liberace fans must know by now, the upcoming HBO film "Behind the Candelabra" depicts the final years of Mr. Showmanship, and his affair with the much younger Scott Thorson. The film, supposedly director Steven Soderbergh's swan song, has received mostly rave reviews (check out the one by Sun-Times' Lori Rackl), with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in particular singled out for their fearless performances.
But many don't know that Lee, as his friends called him, was a child of the Midwest, born less than 75 miles away from Chicago in West Allis, Wis. Here are some more tidbits to ponder before "Behind the Candelabra" debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday:
+ He made his professional debut at age 16 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under music director Frederick Stock. Later he appeared again with the CSO in a 1940 concert at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee. In a Milwaukee Journal article published in 1993, Liberace's former teacher Florence Kelly recalled that the young pianist was terrified of Stock, a legend in the classical music world. She told him, "You're going to play like you've never played before. This is it!" Then he performed so well at his 1936 audition that Stock "let him play the entire Liszt A Major Concerto without interruption."
+ He had a ribald sense of humor. One of his favorite jokes: "What's better than roses on your piano? Tulips on your organ."
+ He made his very last public appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," broadcast on Dec. 25, 1986, just six weeks before his death of AIDS-related causes on Feb. 4, 1987.
+ He plays an undertaker in the film satire "The Loved One" (1965), directed by Tony Richardson (also a closeted homosexual), and billed in its promotional material as "the motion picture with something to offend everyone!" (DVR alert! TCM will broadcast "The Loved One" at 10:45 p.m. Friday.)
+ He was born with a stillborn twin, as was the case with Elvis Presley. Later, his mother would say of the tragedy, "Even then, he wanted too much."