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Kitsch for a cause


If Las Vegas is eye-popping, luxurious and over the top, it learned from a master with long local ties. Liberace, here with his driver on stage, believed in constantly topping himself. And that wasn’t easy.

Born in 1919, Wladziu Valentino Liberace began performing with the Chicago Symphony at age 20 and debuted in Las Vegas at age 25 at the Hotel Last Frontier. His show evolved as he emphasized popular tunes over classical pieces and his success grew and his stage persona became more flamboyant. The coat, sequined pants and car in this photo provide just one example; his red, white and blue sequined hot pants were another classic. He also collected pianos, art, antiques, custom-designed homes — and critics. They often sniped at his kitschiness and his sexuality, to which he said he cried all the way to the bank. He also decided to do something with that bank account and, in 1976, set up a foundation that at one point was run by Myron Martin, the guiding force behind programming The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Liberace’s foundation became better known for the museum that displayed his “Happy Happys,” as he called his collectibles, but its mission is to give talented local students a boost as they pursue careers in performing and creative arts.” The museum is now closed, but the foundation’s focus on education carries on — and thus a fundraiser on Oct. 11 hosted by the consuls of Poland and Monaco and featuring entertainers who, like Liberace, give back, with style.

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