Book Review: “Liberace: An American Boy”

“Liberace: An American Boy”, by Darden Asbury Pyron (University of Chicago Press, copyright 2000, 427 pages plus footnotes and a generous index). Reviewed in WRITING.

Liberace bio, by Darden A. PyronThis major new book review marks a number of firsts for I don’t believe I’ve formally reviewed a book before in these pages. Least of all would I have predicted that book would be a biography of Liberace, the “Mr. Showmanship” of America’s mid twentieth century. To quote from my Introduction:

Until August 2005, I had never considered myself a real Liberace fan. It wasn’t so much that I had strong feelings one way or the other. I had never seen Liberace, I had always associated him with Lawrence Welk musical bubble gum for the ears, and I knew he had something to do with Las Vegas. I like country western and classical, I feel distinctly uncomfortable with anything that smells like schmaltz, and I sniff in disapproval of groupies.

Liberace had always been considered somewhat of a campy gay icon during his lifetime, though he in fact never “came out” as a gay man. Understanding his colorful public life requires an understanding of his private life, a topic of frequent interest to the scandal sheets of the era. For the most part, Liberace fans simply didn’t care. Biographer Darden Pyron does an excellent job of balancing the two sides of this complicated public figure with sensitivity, and with an understanding of the politics and public expectations which dominated the era. I chose to present my review for all audiences in?the forum, because both the biography and the issues go far deeper than the partisan?political issues that so regularly visit?our news media of today.

I must say that writing this review was a challenge. The writing part of the project took two months. It was also a lot of fun. I spent extra time finishing up the review with a positive spin on fun things you can do today in Las Vegas that recapture some of that old Liberace glitz and glamor. Liberace was much more than a likeable popular pianist, which was a secret in his success. Although my review (like the book) can be tough sledding, I confined the review to three or four major themes, trying to make each entertaining and thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy it.

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