Friday, Sept. 17, 2010 | 5:26 p.m.
A master showman who graced the most famous Las Vegas showrooms and such lavish venues as Radio City Music Hall, Liberace hardly was known as a street performer.
But his supporters are putting on a sidewalk show befitting any strolling performer Wednesday outside the Liberace Museum on East Tropicana Avenue and Spencer Street. On that day and at that iconic site, friends and fans of the museum will picket to protest the imminent closing of the historic attraction.
The group is demanding the ousting of Liberace Foundation board of directors Chairman Jeffrey Koep and Liberace Foundation President Jack Rappaport, though Rappaport's role in the future of the museum after the Oct. 17 closing date has not been specified. He has said he might be the one to head up organizing pieces of the collection for a planned national tour and continue seeking a new home for the museum on or near the Strip.
Nonetheless, the group will assemble at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and plans to carry signs of protest outside the museum until 1 p.m.
"This is a call-out to everybody who has an interest in the museum, to see that the legacy of Liberace is preserved," said event organizer Jeffrey White, the Liberace Museum's sales and events manager from 2000 to 2005.
White also invited any candidate seeking public office to visit the protest.
"We'll see who among the politicians actually cares about this museum," White said.
It was announced on Sept. 10 that the museum would close Oct. 17. Liberace opened the attraction on April 15, 1979. Koep said meager visitation numbers at the museum (from a high of 450,000 at its peak to around 30,000 last year) and an absence of revenue from businesses in the strip-mall plaza owned by the foundation were the reasons the distinctly Las Vegas attraction is closing.
Koep said the museum had for years been financially sustained by the endowment fund set up to award scholarships, and it had reached the point where the museum had to close to preserve that fund, he said. The Liberace Foundation had once awarded $500,000 annually to gifted students; last year that number fell to $65,000.
But the formal announcement of the closing has been met with a torrent of complaints about what many supporters cite as mismanagement of the museum's finances. White, who stresses that he left his $29,000-a-year job voluntarily and is not a disgruntled former employee, is such a supporter.
"A lot of us put our blood, sweat and tears into this," he said. "We're sickened at this. It could have been prevented."
The organized outcry likely won't be a massive effort. A turnout of between 75 and 100 is expected. But White, quoting from legendary cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, said the group would not be deterred:
"A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it's the only thing that ever has."
Whither the film?
Even as the Liberace Museum is closing, the planned feature film about Liberace's life is moving forward. The film project was thought to be in jeopardy when Michael Douglas was diagnosed with throat cancer in August, and still might be depending on Douglas' recovery. But he told USA Today that he still plans to portray Liberace in the Stephen Soderbergh-directed biopic, which is scheduled to start shooting next year with some scenes shot in Las Vegas.
The film is based on the book written by Liberace's longtime lover, Scott Thorson, "Behind the Candelabra (My Life with Liberace)," which Douglas has been known to carry with him during public appearances. Matt Damon is set to play Thorson. During a red-carpet interview at Don Cheadle's "Ante Up for Africa" charity poker tournament in July at the Rio, Damon said he was eager to start filming — and also to visit the museum. Tough luck. Maybe he'll get a post-closing VIP tour.
Louie makes it big
More energetic and focused than he was near the end of his four-year run at Excalibur, Louie Anderson put on a good performance Tuesday at Palace Station. His new stand-up show, called "Louie LOL," is staged in a reconfigured, 250-seat theater and is a joint venture between Anderson and Bonkerz Comedy Productions (owned by Joe Sanfelippo) and Palace Station.
Anderson still refers frequently to his corpulence and age. He's 57, and notes, "Remember when you were with it? I used to be with it. I'm not with it anymore. When I'm talking to a group of young people I'm like, 'What are they talking about?'?" At one point he leaned backward over one of the big black boxes set onstage and said, "Oh, this feels so good," as he stared at the ceiling.
Anderson looked really comfortable, joking about how his military father would sit in his favorite giant chair and shout orders to the family — and such a stage prop was conveniently designed so Anderson could concurrently tell this joke and sit for a spell.
The real challenge will be for Anderson to build an audience at a genuine locals' casino after leaving the ExCal, which sits on a highly populated Strip corner of, oh, about 20,000 hotel rooms. There won't be much incidental traffic at Palace Station. Those who hold tickets to a Louie Anderson show will want to see Louie Anderson. He seems fine with that.
Jackson 1 at TPA
In a fastbreak booking announcement, Jermaine Jackson is performing Oct. 5 at the Planet Hollywood Theatre for the Performing Arts. The show was announced Tuesday, leaving just three weeks to sell tickets in a 7,000-seat venue. The event's news release states: "Jackson will perform his fan's favorite songs and present a loving tribute in song to his brother Michael, the Jackson 5 and the Jackson family." I think it should be "fans'," plural. I hope so.
She really is statuesque
On Wednesday, about the time the Liberace protest kicks off, Madame Tussauds at The Venetian welcomes both the real and wax-ified Gwen Stefani. Stefani cost $300,000 to display in the museum. Her statue, I mean. This year she posed for one of the lengthy measuring sessions by Madame Tussauds artists and joins such cultural luminaries as Mayor Oscar Goodman, Evander Holyfield and Criss Angel at the attraction.
I hope they dressed her in the exquisite white suit she wore at The Joint last year ...
Don't try to sneak the hard cheese by Vinnie
Fun fact about Vincent Spilotro, the only son of Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro: While attending Valley High School, he hit a home run off fellow Viking and future Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux during a practice game. "Took him to the street," as Spilotro says, in what I hope is a baseball metaphor.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.