Sunday, August 20, 2006


Nicolas Cage is going to direct and star in a movie about Liberace, and it reminded me of one of the strangest court cases of modern times.

In 1956, Liberace embarked on a European tour, arriving first in London. A tabloid called The Daily Mirror ran an essay by a columnist pennamed "Cassandra" that dispaired at the cheering receptions greeting Liberace's arrival. It read in relevant part:

He is the summit of sex—Masculine, Feminine and Neuter. Everything that He, She and It can ever want. . . . I have spoken to sad but kindly men on this newspaper who have met every celebrity arriving from the United States for the past thirty years. They all say that this deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love has had the biggest reception and impact on London since Charlie Chaplin arrived at the same station, Waterloo, on September 12, 1921.

The essay went on in similar vein, referring to Liberace variously as "a calculating candy-floss," a "slag-heap of lilac-covered hokum," and (my personal favorite) a "sugary mountain of jingling claptrap wrapped up in such a preposterous clown."

Liberace sued for libel, claiming the tabloid falsely and maliciously accused him of being gay. See this fascinating account of the trial here.

Both parties took completely preposterous positions. The Daily Mirror claimed that it wasn't saying that Liberace was gay. For his part, Liberace said the following:

Q: "Are you a homosexual?"
A: "No, sir."
Q: "Have you ever indulged in homosexual practices?"
A: "No, sir, never in my life. I am against the practice because it offends convention and it offends society."

That last answer is telling. Someone who really wasn't gay probably would have said "because I like women," or at least "because it just doesn't sound like fun to me."

In the end, Liberace won the suit and $22,000 in damages, plus court costs.


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