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The Press: The Liberace Show

3 minute read
TIME

A columnist with the professional disposition of a rabid porcupine, William Connor of London’s spicy Daily Mirror (circ. 4,500,000), who writes as Cassandra, watched 1½ TV performances of a U.S. pianist visiting England in 1956, then upquilled. “This deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother-love,” fumed Connor of Wladziu Valentino Liberace. “He is the summit of sex—the pinnacle of Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. Everything that He, She or It can ever want.”

Last week, three years after he wrote the column, Columnist Connor played a part in the biggest Liberace show in years —the trial of the high-tuned pianist’s suit for libel against Connor and his paper. Before an overstuffed gallery of matronly bosoms, Liberace charged in London’s Queen’s Bench Division court that the offending column cast reflections on his gender by implying that he was less than a man: “This article has attacked me below the belt on a moral issue. On my word of God, on my mother’s health, which is so dear to me, this article only means one thing, that I am a homosexual, and that is why I am in this court.”

Liberace allowed that the fragrance of Eau de Cologne often accompanied him at the piano and even to press conferences, where, said Liberace, it joined the effluvia radiated by unscented newsmen: “I always smell clean and fresh. I have noticed the smell of the press many times.” But he did not think that his use of cologne justified the Connor column or the highly suggestive Liberace parodies that the column inspired in London cabarets during his 1956 visit. * How did he feel about homosexuality? “I am against the practice because it offends convention and offends society.”

The London press wallowed in the courtroom spectacles: 6½ columns a day in the Daily Telegraph, up to three full columns in the sobersided Times. Basking in the limelight, Liberace, who first came to court in an uncharacteristically quiet blue suit, changed to a costume featuring an exuberant bronze Shantung suit, gold-buckled crocodile shoes and piano-shaped diamond and onyx cuff links. These devices stole the show from Defendant Connor, grumpily denying he meant any serious harm: the columns were only “fair comment” on the “biggest sentimental vomit of all time,” the fruity allusions just “part of the impression of confectionery which Mr. Liberace conveyed to me—oversweetened. overflavored, overluscious, and just sickening.”

As the trial recessed for the weekend, Justice Cyril Salmon dismissed the jurors with a warning not to watch Liberace’s Sunday night TV show because it might prejudice them. After the show they had watched all week, a night off probably was a welcome relief.

* Sample script, quoted in court:

My fan mail is really tremendous,

It’s growing so fast my head whirls;

I get more and more,

They propose by the score—

And at least one or two are from girls.

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