BEYOND THE CANDELABRA – LIBERACE AND ME

I was sixteen and already somewhat of a rebel. We lived in Los Angeles, and I attended school with children of movie stars. Nancy Sinatra was two years ahead of me. I had already transferred to Hamilton High from University High, where Nancy attended and brought her famous father to the prom. Our school was lucky to have a prom because of rich, unruly teens. Our trip to Knotts Berry Farm was the last of an annual tradition, because of a few reckless students.

I belonged to the youth group at the First Baptist church. We had fun like any other teenagers. Beach parties at night were frequent in the summer. One night a group of us went driving around in the car belonging to one of the older boys. We were bored and looking for entertainment out of the ordinary.

We drove up Mulholland Drive in the hills of West L.A. I’d been there before. It was a favorite parking spot for couples. The view of the city was spectacular and we felt far enough away from the noise and traffic to feel secluded.

We were almost at the top when we noticed Liberace’s house. Hard to miss with the lighted piano hovering over the house. We stopped and stared wordlessly for a moment. Then someone had an idea. A dare. They dared one of us to go up to the door and when Liberace answered, ask him the time.

Usually I was the shy and observant type. But tonight I wanted to show off to the others and prove I was just as brave as any of them.  “I’ll do it,” I told the others. To my surprise, they were not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. They seemed a little afraid. But I hopped out of the car and strode resolutely to the front of the house.

I rang the doorbell. No answer. I rang again. I heard the car engine roar. My friends were getting nervous. They yelled at me to come back. I rang a third time.

The door opened. A distinguished gentleman stood there, looking curiously at me. I knew right away it wasn’t Liberace. I swallowed and said in a loud voice. “I need to know  what time it is.”

He glanced beyond me to the car. Then he smiled and invited me inside. Without a glance behind me, I followed him in. He introduced himself as George, Liberace’s brother. Liberace wasn’t home, regretfully. Then he took me into the beautifully furnished living room and showed me a large grandfather clock. I noted the time. I don’t remember what it was. But definitely late. After eleven.

“Is there anything else?” he  asked. He was so pleasant and agreeable, never chastising me for interrupting his evening or for being rude. I don’t know how Liberace would have acted, but probably the same. George was polite, friendly and the perfect gentlemen.

I went back to the car amid taunts and rolls of laughter as we drove away. But I’ll never forget my brush with fame at the home of Liberace.

I’ve been more reckless since and I’ve let my curiosity follow to its end. I think that one incident in my youth taught me that celebrities were only people. It also taught me to dare to be different and follow a dream.

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