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Bad Taste Tour: Liberace

We must admit we were surprised by the great response we got to our last "Bad Taste Tour" (April 10, 1999). You may remember that Cash Peters took us to Kathy's Freak Farm in San Diego--two headed turtles--a chicken with two tushes--stuff like that. And many of you wrote in actually wanting to hear more! Well, not more about the turtles but about other tours and museums that push the boundaries of kitsch, class and good taste. So we sent Cash back out into the world of the weird to see what else he could dig up. And he soon resurfaced after a trip to the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. Remember, as in any Bad Taste Tour, some of this material could be considered offensive. But, then again, who are we to judge?

Bad Taste Tour: Liberace Museum
by Cash Peters

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I'll be honest with you, I didn't believe anyone was even mildly interested in visiting a museum devoted to Liberace's old stage costumes. But Laurie Stephens, who runs the place, claims Mr. Showmanship, as he was known, is still hugely popular.

Laurie Stephens: "Very much so. There are still fan clubs right now, they're active. Recently we had a fundraising dinner, and three people came over from England for this dinner."

I don't think news of Liberace's death has reached England yet. Even before it happened, though, in 1987, he was already thinking, what the hell am I gonna do with a bunch of sequin-covered cars, a mirrored grand piano that can only be moved by nine men and a fork lift truck, a diamond ring whose stone is the size of a small grapefruit, plus stage-outfits of mink and feathers worth three quarters of a million dollars each? Answer: oh...stuff it all in a museum. Maybe someone will want to see it. Lorraine Lohnes, who helps run the place, says people do come and they're amazed.

Lorraine Lohnes: "It's, 'Wow, did you see this?' They love the costumes and the jewelry."

Cash: "After hours, do you try them on?"

Lorraine: "We kid about it."

Cash: "I see you in ostrich feathers."

Lorraine: No, no, no, it would look good on you."

Cash: "I could really carry it off, don't you think?"

Lorraine: "I sure do."

As a pianist, Liberace was plonktastic, kinda like the Elton John of his day. Actually, Liberace and I have a lot in common - first, we both learned to play piano at a very early age, for instance, and second, neither of us looks good in hot pants. Those pianos, though, were his major weakness. He bought them like you and I buy newspapers, and even owned Chopin's very own piano from 200 years ago. Of course, I insisted on playing it, much to the alarm of Bert Malin the guard.

Cash: "So I'm going over the velvet rope to play Chopin's piano. What tune would you like?"

Bert Malin: "Three Little Fishies in a Pool."

Cash: "I'm surprised he wrote such good tunes on a really bad piano."

The groaning noise you can hear is Liberace turning in his grave. In his day he was the idol of the over-eighties; talented, generous, and according to Burt, a real nice guy.

Burt: He was a very friendly person, very congenial with people."

Cash: "Do you think he was aware how gross this was?"

Burt: "It was his life."

Cash: "He didn't think this was over the top?"

Burt: I don't think so. He was a showman and he showed it too."

Lorraine: "People like to look at that little dog on the carousel. That was given to him by Elvis Presley, a little hound dog."

Cash: "So is there anything else I should see?"

Lorraine: Well, there's his Palm Springs bedroom."

Cash: "Take me to the bedroom. Just don't lay a finger on me when we get there."

Lorraine: "Okay."

Cash: "This is really his bed?"

Lorraine: "He designed and decorated it himself."

Cash: "It's not a double bed. Twin beds."

Lorraine: "One for him, one for his dogs. He had 16 dogs in his Las Vegas home. They were his children. He loved dogs."

Anyway, his bathroom is quite lavish also with two gold showers and make-up mirrors. Robert Hoffman is one of the supervisors.

Robert Hoffman: Liberace was a special person and this was a special gentleman's room."

Cash: "It's like a stage dressing room."

Robert: "It is."

Cash: "So who's peed in here?"

Robert: "Besides Liberace?"

Cash: "I'm thinking Dean Martin."

Robert: "Possibly."

Cash: "Frank Sinatra?"

Robert: "Could quite be."

Cash: "Dinah Shore."

Robert: "Never."

Fascinating, I'm sure you'll agree. It's so easy to be disparaging about the Liberace Museum - I know, it's kitsch, it's silly, the man himself was a bit irritating - but I tell you, it's also an amazing place. Really well worth a visit. If you don't believe me, ask this guy I met in the bathroom.

Man: "I think it's a very well done museum. The décor is nice, everything is nicely done and I'd recommend anyone to come to it."

Cash: "So will this man live forever?"

Laurie: "We're intending to have him do so."

Cash: "Whether he wants to or not?"

Laurie: That's right. That's right."

God help us all. In Las Vegas, I'm Cash Peters for The Savvy Traveler.

On the Web: Liberace Links

The Liberace Museum Web site

The Liberace Foundation

Understanding Liberace

The Weird, Wild, Wonderful Liberace

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