Today: the true capper. This one takes the cake for the “Huh?” factor when it comes to hearing Mom talk about how “We just thought he was a real card, you know? A showoff. And a really talented piano player!” We could think of no one better to be our queeniest of queens. The headliner, the one and only…
1919 – 1987
He was born Wladziu Valentino Liberace to a Polish-American mother and Italian immigrant father in West Allis, Wisconsin (also famous for being a one-time home of Jeffrey Dahmer), and he evolved into a flamboyant showman dripping in rhinestones and fur who was something of the essence of Las Vegas, his adopted home. In between he minced onto many TV shows, dabbled in pedophilia, was occasionally rumored to be a homo in the tabloids and became the highest paid male musician of his generation.
The Evidence Mom Ignored
Occupation: Classically trained pianist who was praised at age 18 for his “flair and showmanship”; later made his name on the TV variety-show circuit; opened an antique store in Beverly Hills; wrote several cookbooks; and eventually became the “one-man Disneyland” who commanded $300K a week for his sequin- and ostrich-feather-laden shows in Vegas and Tahoe. 10 out of 10 gay points.
Appearance: Always well coiffed and clean shaven. Never met a fur or a costume jewel he didn’t like. 10/10
Demeanor: Limp-wristed, sybillant ess’d, and, um, see pic at right. 10/10
Beards: Never romantically attached to any woman near as we can tell. He was accused by Hollywood Confidential, a tabloid, of coming on to a male press agent (he sued and won $40K–see photo at right with Maureen O’Hara, taken while waiting to testify in the case); then he hooks up with 17-year-old dog groomer Scott Thorson in 1976, and Thorson later gets plastic surgery to look more like Liberace; Thorson sues for palimony in 1982, which is settled out of court for $95 grand. First major gay palimony suit to hit the tabloids. Oh, and he died of AIDS.
Minstrelsy: As shown amply in the Dean Martin clip below, old Lee wasn’t above getting picked on for a dime. He went on many such shows, and was even mocked on his own TV show by the likes of Jack Benny. But generally Liberace owned his flamboyance, built an identity around it, and we suppose this was all just the pre-90s version of being “out, loud and proud,” without, like, the “out” or “proud” parts. 10/10
Total Score: 50 points – My Eyes! My Eyes! (see scale)
Seriously. We know people were naive. We know Liberace started out in the Eisenhower era where basically you could be caught sucking a guy off in an alley, stand up and say you were just repairing his zipper with your teeth and most of America would believe you. And we know there are still corners of Appalachia or wherever where they think Clay Aiken is straight. But for god’s sake. Liberace did everything to scream “I’m gay” except foot-fuck two naked boys under the glittery piano while playing “Chatanooga Choo-Choo.”
Anyway, here are a couple vintage clips to wrap this up. Please appreciate, especially, the bicentennial bit from ’76 where, upon getting airborne from his sequined Rolls Royce, he says, “See, I’m doing my part to conserve gas…. Mary Poppins, eat your heart out!”
Mom Though They Were Straight?: James Dean & Sal Mineo
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Raymond Burr
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Montgomery Clift
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Freddie Mercury
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Rock Hudson
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Paul Lynde
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Charles Nelson Reilly
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Anthony Perkins
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Elton John
Mom Thought He Was Straight?: Truman Capote
Mom Thought They Were Straight?: Village People
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