HBO’s Liberace Film Breaks Viewing Records

Director Steven Soderbergh’s two hour film, Behind the Candelabra, drew a record number of viewers when it premiered on the HBO network recently.

Studios apparently deemed the two hour biopic about Liberace and his apparent lover, Scott Thorson’s relationship to be “too gay”.  HBO didn’t agree, and it would seem that viewers agreed as a record 2.4 million tuned in to view with a further 1.1 million watching the re-broadcast at 11pm that evening.

The Washington Post reports that “Candelabra ran ratings circles around HBO’s most recent biopic, Phil Spector, in which Al Pacino played the be-wigged weirds-mobile record producer”,  the premier of which only attracted 754, 000 viewers.

The Story Behind the Story

Possibly Soderbergh’s last film before retirement, Candelabra is based on a book, with the same title, written by Scott Thorson in which he relates his alleged relationship with Liberace. Rumors abounded throughout the performer’s life with evidence suggesting that he went to great lengths to keep his orientation secret.

The Life and Times of Liberace

Vladziu Valentino Liberace was born in West Allis, Wisconsin on the 16th of May 1919. Also known as Lee or Walter, he was the son of Salvatore (an immigrant from Italy) and Frances Zuchowska (who was of Polish decent). His talent as a pianist was obvious from a young age and he used it well during The Depression when playing at weddings and in music theatres helped him to sustain his family.

He is most well known for his elaborate costumes, gimmicky art and his bejeweled appearance. Liberace became famous due to The Liberace Show (which first aired in 1951 and attracted 35 million viewers at its apex) and for playing at venues like the London Palladium with starts like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr. He also starred in several movies such as South Sea Sinner (1950), When the Boys Meet the Girls (1965), Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and Good Night and Good Luck (2005).

Daring Roles for Hollywood Darlings

Actor Matt Damon had to bulk up quite a bit to play lover Scott Thorson whilst Michael Douglas has received high praize for his performance as Liberace. Douglas told the Irish Times about some of his misgivings; “I guess I was nervous because he was a big guy, a Polack,” Douglas says. “He was barrel-chested. One thigh was the size of both of mine. His hands were huge. I’m not an impersonator. How do you capture all that?” Rave reviews indicate that he managed admirably.

Geoffrey McNab, writing for The Independent, believes that Douglas; “captures brilliantly Liberace’s showmanship and outrageous camp qualities as well as the darker side of his character without ever lapsing into caricature”, whilst David Sexton from the London Evening Standard is of the opinion that Liberace is the actor’s “best role for a long time, let’s even say ever”.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw commends both Douglas and Damon for their ‘supremely entertaining performances’, stating that the film “is mesmeric, riskily incorrect, outrageously watchable and simply outrageous”.

Pippa Green is a London-based blogger and self-confessed movie nut who loves nothing better than watching her favorites in her smart home cinema.


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