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Liberace: An American Boy 1st Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226686691
ISBN-10: 9780226686691
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Historian Darden Asbury Pyron's engrossing biography of Liberace (1919-87) pays America's most popular and pilloried pianist the one tribute he probably never expected: it takes him seriously. "Liberace seemed to me a kind of emblem of modern America," Pyron writes in his preface, "overflowing with both [its] virtues and [its] vices." He makes a persuasive case for this idea in a text that smoothly blends critical theory, historical background, and a lucid narrative of his subject's life. Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the youthful piano prodigy chose to become a showman rather than a serious musician, livening up the classical repertoire with pop favorites and attracting swooning female fans who adored his outrageous costumes and garish accessories like the famous candelabra. He was flamboyantly swishy yet never publicly admitted he was gay, even when dying of AIDS; he genuinely believed in the conservative, Catholic, Midwestern values of his immigrant parents, even as his private life belied them. Pyron dismantles the façade of lies and evasions behind which Liberace concealed his driving ambition as well as his sexual orientation, but this is a fundamentally sympathetic portrait. Refusing to acknowledge the boundaries between high and low culture, conducting his life with a weird mixture of hypocrisy and sincerity, Liberace, the author concludes, "was born and died an American boy." --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

"Don't be misled by this flamboyant exterior. Underneath I remain the sameAa simple boy from Milwaukee." Thus spake Liberace in one of his more modest moments. Even as a child, Liberace was well liked and, well, bigger than life; when he came to a high school party dressed as Greta Garbo, he received no flak from classmates. Born Walter Liberace in 1919, the pianist and entertainer began playing clubs in the 1930s, and by the early '40s began cultivating the extravagant performance style (e.g., a Strauss waltz version of "Home on the Range") and the unrestrained costumes for which he became famous. He soon became a cultural icon who attracted adoration from middle-brow, usually female audiences as well as overt antagonism, often fueled by homophobia. In this absorbing and insightful biography, Pyron (Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture) charts more than the life of the performer; he uses that life to reflect on how artifice, camp, gender, homosexuality, gay sensibility and homophobia shape American popular culture. Drawing on Liberace's autobiography, other biographies, queer theory, reviews, scandal sheet accounts of his private life and court records (Liberace was always suing or being sued), the book makes an original contribution in its complex examination of the intersection of homosexuality with private lives and public culture. Pyron's interests are far-ranging and illuminatingAfrom the influence of a Roman Catholic sensibility on Liberace and gay culture to the aesthetics of television and the social importance of self-improvement books in the 1950s. Finally, he achieves what many readers might consider impossible: a persuasive case for Liberace's life and times as the embodiment of an important cultural moment. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780226686691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226686691
  • ASIN: 0226686698
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,339,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Far be it from me to take issue with the esteemed Kirkus Service, but references to the ceremonies of the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, as well as the Antinomian and Arminian heresies are inevitable when you're dealing with a phenomenon like Liberace. Well-researched and extensively footnoted, "Liberace: An American Boy" is a serious attempt at (as Oscar Levant would say) cutting through all that phony tinsel to find the real tinsel underneath. Just why is it that that this curious carnival figure -- odder with each passing year -- so captivated the American public? There's no way to neatly answer such a question, and this book, thankfully, doesn't try to. What it does is delicately take Liberace apart in order to reassemble him with as much of his chintzy glory as possible left still intact. While the author takes issue with the conclusions I came to in my book "Open Secret," he does quote from it copiously and accurately. Consequently I'm not about to carp. Suffice to say, however, that "An American Boy" isn't the last word on Liberace. It's only the second. Let's hope there's more to come.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oh well. This should serve to cure my recent penchant for reading longggg biographies. For a while, anyway. This book was truly exhaustive, and exhausting. There is nothing more to be written about Liberace, probably the most flamboyant of our current slate of celebrities, including Elvis in his final years. What lifts Liberace above the rest is his immense talent and his ability to make music for the masses whether it be chopsticks or Gershwin or Chopin, or any combination of piano or voice.

Mr. Pyron has written a most quotable biography, most of the quotes being on-stage gushings by the great showman himself, beginning with his infamous statement about "laughing all the way to the bank", which I have heard so often over the years, not realizing it originated with Liberace. He started performing as a young boy and as the years went by and his shows became more and more based on excess -- the formula that worked magic for him because he was in on the joke, indeed he created it -- he would take a break, asking his audience to stand by while he "goes to slip into something more spectacular". At the end of at least one of his shows where he went to the front of the stage to shake hands with his ever-growing public, he smiled once again to show how much fun he was having and blurted out "I feel like the pope!" It was not sacrilege, it was pure excitement.

Liberace was so sweet, so musical he could get by with anything, but as much of an open book as he might have appeared to be, the only somewhat personal thing he ever told interviewers or audiences was that no matter his glitter and flamboyance, "I am just a simple boy from Milwaukee".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Carefully researched and well written, this extensive volume details the life of Liberace, peeling away the layers and layers of half-truths, deceptions, and publicity machine myths. A well-loved and talented entertainer, Liberace lived a double life protecting his public image with a fierceness that caused much private agony. Liberace could not even tell the truth in his own biography, lest he be labeled as a liar and countersued by publications he had sued when they reported he was gay. This book details his relationships with friends, family and lovers. Pyron also gives wonderful detail on how Liberace got his start, tracing his career from his start in sleezy Wisconsin dives to his lavish Las Vegas productions. Liberace was smart enough to know his limitations and to exploit his strengths. This books gives a balanced view of the man and the entertainer; in addition, the author gives a detailed historical/sociological background about the lives of gay men in general, which provides an informative backdrop and better understanding of how and why Liberace functioned the way he did. The book may seem rather monotous and dry at times, but that is the author's style; this is a serious, intelligent book, not some gossipy tell-all. Unlike many biographers who write about celebrities, Pyron has great regard and respect for his subject. A must for all Liberace fans and for those interested in the lives of famous gay entertainers.
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Format: Paperback
Unquestionably there are few authors in the historical profession who write biography as impeccably as Darden Asbury Pyron. Pyron once orated in class "In order to write biography you must eat, sleep, and breath the person's life." Pyron's biography of Liberace is a masterpiece. Some critics find his style dry and lacking in substance. Those readers themselves achieved only a superficial understanding of the pianist and of the author's prose. Pyron offers a balanced perspective of the artist and manages to allow readers not to judge Liberace, but to understand his life, circumstances, and the atmosphere in which he existed under duress and pressure for so long a time. It is a wonder that Liberace remained free from the ill-health effects usually suffered by those under immense personal and societal pressure. Only his contraction of HIV and brief scare from potential renal failure significantly derailed the artist. This biography reveals the tragedy of the pianist's life and piecemeal assembles the development of a real entertainer, a genuine American "hero" or sorts. Liberace was not a sexual hero as so much of his identity seemed suspended in air and never definitively revealed, but he was a man of integrity and someone of true character. Pyron magnificently illuminates the many shades of Liberace, the different gradations of his soul, and allows readers to take the journey of Liberace's life and times with him.
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