A pilgrimage for my grandmother, that’s what last week’s visit was to the sundrenched Liberace Museum. Located conveniently next door to Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport, the museum is a meticulously preserved shrine to all things Liberace, the ultimate dress-up queen and role model for every Vegas ham from Elton John to Sigfried & Roy.
This would be the perfect setting for PhD research on the little-known friendship between Liberace and Elvis. If you think for even one minute about those rhinestone mini-capes The King wore during his late, great Vegas days, you’ll immediately get the connection.
Astonishing in its scope, the Museum holds treasures from the golden age of schlock performance that are worthy of the Smithsonian. Oh I expected clouds of maribou and tons of rhinestones — and I got them! — but I was completely unprepared for the wealth of paraphernalia compiled from Walter “Lee” Liberace’s long and tireless career. A dozen mirrored Rolls Royces lined up next to the showcases filled with jewelry, sequinned and pearl-studded vests (eerily like the gold embroidered papal vestments we’d seen in the Vatican Museum last fall), custom-made shoes of you-name-it, hand-sewn Swarovski crystal capes that weighed 200 pounds each!! Sable, mink, velvet! Costume after costume, whew! – and then, in a whole other building across the parking lot (blazing in 95 degree heat) were Liberace’s collection of clavichords, pianofortes and heartwood veneer grand pianos, embellished with the sort of marquetry and inlay work that Louise XIV would have killed for.
This is a serious and lavish dose of quasi-historical eye candy – and if nothing else it demonstrated how generous this American camp legend was with his time and his ego. As I recall, this guy could even play the piano beautifully – hence the Liberace Foundation that gives scholarships each year to gifted American music students. Very cool. A vibrant dose of ethno-musicology for a bargain admission of $15. Nan would have loved it!