Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2017

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Liberace’s spirit graces holiday display

What: Liberace Christmas decorations on display.

Where: Liberace Museum, 1775 East Tropicana Ave.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, 1-3 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Closed Christmas and New Year's Day.

Cost: $6.95, $4.95 for students and seniors, children under 12 admitted free.

Information: 798-5595.

In his book, "The Things I Love," Liberace said Christmas was the most looked-forward to day of his life.

To give fans a peek at the late Liberace's holiday flair, the Liberace Museum, at 1775 E. Tropicana Ave., is setting out a few of his Christmas decorations.

Liberace thought about Christmas all year long, Jamie James, Liberace's publicist for 20 years, said. "He had seven homes at one point and decorated each one in a certain style."

Liberace's Malibu, Calif., home featured black Christmas trees adorned in silver, while his Palm Springs, Calif., home "was just ablaze in lights," James said. "The decorations were just outlandish."

A red Mercedez-Benz convertible rolled up to the Liberace Museum last week, toting a Santa Claus in a gold lame' suit to kick off the season most adored by the flamboyant pianist.

The Santa suit worn at the tree-lighting event was a replica of a suit that enthralled costumed party-goers one Christmas at Liberace's Hollywood home.

Decorations that year included temporarily renovating a room in the home to include a mass of twinkling lights and cotton on a ceiling that surpassed two stories, James said. A Christmas tree -- so tall it had to have its top cut -- was wedged into the center of the room and shot up into the lights on the ceiling.

"The tree was taller than the living room," he said. "The tree literally looked like it went through the sky. It was so unbelievable."

Among the collection of decorations on display at the museum is a sterling- silver sleigh that served as a wine cistern and centerpiece at Christmastime. The sleigh, cast with a swan before it and cherub perched on its ledge, is set before a painting of Liberace's mother, Frances, wearing a Christmas corsage.

A nearby statue of St. Anthony (the saint Liberace prayed to), placed before a stained-glass window, represents a more serious side of Christmas with Liberace.

The decorative items were part of a chapel Liberace created at his Palm Springs home. On Christmas Eve Liberace and friends -- mainly work associates -- would walk to the chapel where a priest would say a prayer and offer communion wafers.

"It was very ritualistic," James said. Afterward everyone would walk back to the main room and sip champagne.

Some items, such as Liberace's red-and-white jeweled "icicle" cape, worn for a Las Vegas Hilton Christmas show, are on display year-round.

New this year is a 29-piece silver-stag serving set that Liberace used to entertain at Christmastime. Complete with finger bowls, napkin holders, goblets and a punch bowl, the set will remain on permanent display.

"It's too pretty to be kept in storage," Brian Paco Alvarez, the collections manager at the museum, said.

"One of our goals this year was to really decorate the museum," he said. "Liberace's favorite holiday was Christmas and we really wanted to reflect that.

"What's nice about the Christmas decorations is they fit so nice with the artifacts."

A colorful handmade nativity scene, given to Liberace by a fan, is also displayed for the season. The ceramic pieces of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and their camels are covered in jewels and velvet.

"He would get so many presents there would be an entire room filled with gifts," James said. "(And) he really liked making other people happy. If you'd done a good job that year, he'd just lavish you with presents."

Like his decorations, Liberace's gifts never lacked panache. He once gave James hound's tooth-patterned porcelain pots and pans, then later wallpapered his kitchen ceiling to match.

Also, he once rented a motel across the street from one of his Palm Springs homes to accommodate his holiday guests. Each room was decorated with Christmas trees and gifts to accommodate the taste of the guests. Four-page invitations, printed in metallic-gold ink, were mailed for the event, James said.

When it came to gift-giving, however, Liberace expected the same thoughtful creativity from his friends -- although, James said, "he wasn't easy to buy for because he had everything."

Still, people managed to come up with unique ideas -- such as silver wedding goblets given to Liberace from his stage manager, Ray Arnett.

The goblets bore the names of Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri and were for a wedding that never took place.

Christmas, James said, "was a wonderful time. We had no idea it would ever stop."