Before Elton John, Madonna or Lady Gaga dominated the world stage with their outrageous costumes and over-the-top performances, there was Liberace – a charismatic showman whose onstage presence combined the glitz of Las Vegas with a dash of quaint but endearing schmaltz. For nearly two decades, Liberace (1919-1987) was the world’s highest-paid entertainer, earning as much as $300,000 per week and garnering some 40,000 fan letters per month.
Eye-popping diamonds and flashy clothes were Liberace’s trademark, both onstage and off. He took pleasure in giving gifts of jewelry and apparel from his lavish wardrobe to friends in his inner circle, which included a man named James Myers. When Myers died in 2005, he bequeathed his treasured archive of Liberace mementos to his mother, Helen. Now a nonagenarian, Mrs. Myers has chosen to consign the unique collection to Mid-Hudson Galleries, who will offer it in a 425-lot auction on Dec. 3rd.
The vast collection – which arrived from California in 80 boxes – includes custom-designed gold and diamond jewelry, stage-worn clothing and accessories; manuscripts from books Liberace penned, a huge cache of celebrity letters, cards and other correspondence; and thousands of studio and personal family photos. Additionally, the auction features Liberace’s renowned collection of Christmas decorations, including a large-scale, museum-quality Nativity scene with richly dressed hand-painted figures.
More than 70 pieces of jewelry will be offered, including many favorites that Liberace wore in photos appearing in his autobiographical books. In many cases, jewelry lots will be accompanied by one or more photos of Liberace wearing the item.
A top jewelry highlight is Liberace’s signature 14K gold and platinum ring set with marquise, round and baguette diamonds forming the shape of a candelabrum. A heavy, oversize piece that easily could be adapted to fit a woman’s finger, the ring is known to have been one of Liberace’s favorites. “This ring makes a statement – it definitely says ‘Liberace, ’” said Mid-Hudson Galleries’ owner, Joanne Grant.
Also ranking among Liberace’s most treasured jewelry items is the 14K gold open-link chain with diamond-laden pendant created from an 1881 US $10 gold piece. It is prominently visible in the photo of Liberace that appears on the cover of his book The Wonderful Private World of Liberace. Yet another highlight is Liberace’s large and impressive gold-nugget watch with a diamond face and diamond surround.
Not many people knew that Liberace – a devout Catholic – collected fine crosses. “He was inspired to collect them after receiving a cross from Pope Pius XII during an audience with the pontiff in 1956,” Grant explained. The entertainer’s specialty collection includes many exquisite examples encrusted with sapphires, diamond and rubies.
Among the articles of stage-worn apparel to be auctioned are a fur jacket pictured in one of Liberace’s books, a custom-made gold brocade tuxedo vest with a label stating it was custom made for Liberace, and many very expensive shoes – some of them gently worn and others appearing never to have been worn at all. Liberace also owned many handmade bow ties embellished with rhinestones, crystals and faceted stones. For especially important occasions – including the first time he met President Reagan – Liberace would select an After Dark by Serrano navy blue satin bow tie accented by a crown-shape brooch. This personal favorite is included in the Dec. 2 auction.
The collection contains manuscripts or other written representations for each of Liberace’s books. Of particular interest are three spiral notebooks containing the handwritten original manuscript (92 pages total) for one of Liberace’s autobiographies, which he wrote while on tour and between shows.
Also to be auctioned are thousands of vintage photographs documenting Liberace’s life, from his childhood and teenage years in Wisconsin through his long career as an international superstar. Some of the pictures are of Liberace with celebrity friends, at home with his staff or at other private occasions. Many are the actual photos seen in Liberace’s three books, while others have never before been published. A trove of ephemera includes letters and holiday cards sent to Liberace by movie stars, TV personalities, U.S. presidents and other notables.
“Liberace made headlines throughout his career, and with the upcoming HBO production about his life, which will star Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, we anticipate there will be strong interest in the items in this collection,” said Joanne Grant. “He was one of a kind and a true Hollywood legend.”
‘Liberace The Auction’ will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3, commencing at 3 pm. Eastern Time. All forms of bidding will be available, including live at the auction venue, absentee, by phone or live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers. The auction will be held at 171 Temple Hill Rd. (Rt. 300) in New Windsor, NY 12553. For additional information call 914-882-7356 or e-mail mag2715jag[.]aol.com.
A gala wine and hors d’oeuvres auction preview will be held at Mid-Hudson Galleries’ auction venue on Friday, Dec. 2, from 6-9 pm. A 7 pm. talk by Joanne Grant will discuss the auction, its origins and the items being sold. Admission is $20 per person, with proceeds benefiting Orange AHRC, a nonprofit whose programs both encourage those with unique abilities and provide support to those who are challenged. To RSVP, call 914-240-4795.