Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Seventh Day of our second annual The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration. Shitmas is like life, it has its ups and downs. One day you're living high, with wine, women and song, and the next you're pissing blood in an alley and in dire need of antibiotics. It's a funny old world. Our last special was definitely closer in spirit to the piss than the wine, with its creepy robot, wretched songs and inflexible fundamentalist ideology. After all the righteous outrage it provoked in my delicate liberal snowflake brain I figured I'd better do something a little less controversial this time around, so I dove head-first into the churning waters of the glorious inter-webs, and resurfaced a few hours later clutching today's delightful hunk of nostalgia-soaked hokum. Join us below the fold for a kinder, gentler review that's as sweet as a cupcake, as homey as a warm apple crisp and as corny as hot corn chowder served with creamed corn, cornbread and a hot piping side of corn on the cob.

It's beginning to smell a lot like Shitmas.

We're posting a brand new review of a Christmas Special every other day, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning, chosen by our Million Monkeys and approved by Santa himself. Jesus conscientiously abstained.

On this day last year we presented A Lawrence Welk Christmas (1958), featuring the "Champagne Music Makers" and his usual cadre of performers sharing their earnestly wholesome brand of family-friendly entertainment. If you read that review then you already know just how much I love that kind of kitschy sentimental tripe. No, really...I genuinely adore it.

This year we're bringing you a similarly jejune artifact from that same decade, this time featuring the legendary pianist and performance personality Liberace. He was near the beginning of his remarkable career as a popular entertainer here, before his outrageous persona, shameless instinct for self-promotion and garish flamboyance would make him both the highest-paid performer in the world and an international target of jokes, parodies and scandalous rumors.

Whatever could they be implying?

Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace to immigrant parents, the young Polish-Italian-American was a piano prodigy, and an early encounter with Polish pianist, composer and erstwhile politician Ignacy Paderewsky seemed to steer him towards a career as a classical soloist. After a few years of well-regarded performances in that milieu, however he grew bored of the mock-seriousness and rigid performance style that was expected of him, and began a gradual move towards his wildly interpretive playing and a more pop-oriented repertoire. By the end of the 1940's his highly-ornamented, flourish-rich style had blossomed into a successful club act with a busy tour schedule across the entire United States.

Ignacy Paderewski, looking uncannily like Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh.

It wouldn't be long before Liberace's boundless ambition turned him towards television. His initial foray into the medium proved popular but did not lead to a full series, but his second attempt, a syndicated program filmed in Hollywood, was an enormous success, earning him millions of dollars and multitudes of devoted fans, mostly in the form of star-struck housewives who found his intimate banter and sparkling smile a welcome, romantic respite from the tedium of their daily lives. The show was mounted as a family affair, with his brother George his principal violinist and music director, his sister Angie his manager and his mother Frances his producer. The Liberace Show ran from 1952-1969, and set him on a path towards becoming both a household name and a bona fide entertainment legend.

We open with a truncated version of Liberace's signature number of the time "I Don't Care (As Long as You Care for Me)," a schmaltzy little tune he sings directly into the camera with a gentle, mischievous wink. This was part of his brand, this direct, one-on-one engagement, and it was part of what made him so endearing compared to many other performers who seemed always to be singing to a vast crowd from a vast distance. In stage performances he took this even further by inviting audience members on stage for sing-alongs and impromptu piano lessons.

He's singing just for me!

When he finishes his song he stands and gives a little introductory speech to the studio audience and all the folks at home, thanking everyone for joining him and talking a little about how in Hollywood, California they have to create the Christmas spirit with stagecraft, because they sure don't have winters like they do back East. With a little imagination and a little magic he says "we can have anything we want," which might as well be the mission statement for his entire performance aesthetic. It's a little awkward and a lot hokey, but it's quite charming, too and it's easy to see why so many people fell in love with him over the decades.

So he sits down at the piano and plays a little tinkling flourish, and the drapes open to reveal a wintry backdrop, and to add a little icing to this wintry-wonderlandy cake, a bit of old-fashioned soap-flake snow begins to fall.

But Liberace isn't finished dazzling us with his festive Yuletide whimsy just yet, because now the camera pulls back to reveal "a beautiful, tall Christmas tree, complete with all the trimmings and the glittering lights!" The audience all "Ooh!" and "Ahh!" and he stands with his arm raised triumphantly like he just made Jesus himself appear.

I mean it's nice, but it's not that nice.

Now Liberace tells us he's going to play some "Santa Claus music," especially for the kiddies, and he teases that later on the fat man himself has promised to stop by for a visit.

He opens with a few measures of "Jingle Bells" then glides seamlessly into a jaunty version of "Santa Claus is Cominx to Town." His playing here has a hint of barrel-roll blues to it, with a peppy tempo and a steady, galloping beat. Say what you will about his Byzantine style, but the man could really play.

Santa forgot to put in his hearing aids again.

As the medley veers back to "Jingle Bells" measures, then heads into "Here Comes Santa Claus," I can't help but notice that the "snow" outside is coming down pretty unevenly. In fact it looks like someone is dumping shovel-loads of it out of a wheelbarrow from a catwalk just out of view.

Now we close in on Liberace's hands for some high-stakes ivory-tickling action, and I'm reminded suddenly of Chico Marx and his deft comic assaults on the instrument, which for me have always been a highlight of any Marx Brothers film.

Suddenly the camera pulls back from the keys, we see a trio of violinists standing behind the piano, happily bowing away.

That's brother George to the left.

We end with a flourish, which, to be fair is the only way Liberace knows how to end anything, and we fade to a brief commercial break. When we return he's waxing nostalgic about his boyhood winters back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the halcyon days before a certain angry yam with a toxic caterpillar on his head held the state hostage with frivolous lawsuits and expensive recounts.

Being one of the snowiest states in the Union, he says, every Christmas was "really a white one," which leads him back to the keyboard for a comfy and leisurely vocal performance of "White Christmas."

His singing voice is a pleasing, mellow baritone, rich as fresh cream and smooth as an ice-cold malt liquor clenched firmly in the strong ebony fingers of a mid-80's Billy Dee Williams...but infinitely more Caucasian.

The song is shot entirely in a single close-up take, but as he finishes the final chorus we switch to a through-the-piano view. A curtain opens behind him revealing a set of tubular bells in silhouette.

As Liberace segues into an instrumental version of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" a shadow-hand pretends to hit the shadow-bells with a shadow-hammer, and somewhere in England a one year-old Mike Oldfield weeps with joy.

He also hammers in the morning.

The violin trio returns as we move into a solemn, subdued "Silent Night," and it's suddenly a blizzard outside, but only behind the violinist all the way to the right.

We cut to a close-up of our host and a brief reprise of "White Christmas," and now it appears to be snowing quite heavily directly behind Liberace's head.

It's impossible to capture the effect in a screenshot, but trust me, it's hilarious.

So the medley ends and Liberace says that a white Christmas back home always meant it was time for the kids to get together for a sleigh ride, and as he turns back to the keyboard for another number I think we can all guess what it's going to be.

Did you follow the link? No? Well you missed out on a damn fine joke, friends, but there's no use going back and doing it now. It'll spoil the flow. You'll just have to start the whole review over from the beginning.

So, yeah...we're about to get a rollicking version of "Sleigh Ride." Well, as rollicking as Liberace gets. As he begins the intro the camera closes in on the candelabrum, and through the magic of television it transforms into a gaudy, crystal-clad monstrosity, sitting on a white piano, with Liberace suddenly wearing a white tuxedo.

Wouldn't this have been more appropriate during "White Christmas?"

A candelabrum on the piano, by the way, was another of Liberace's trademarks. He began using one as a prop after seeing the Frederic Chopin biopic A Song to Remember (1945).

From what I've gathered Chopin seems to have been an early influence on Liberace, and being something of a Chopin fanatic myself I can definitely hear some echoes of his work in Liberace's arrangements, particularly the Etude Op. 10 No.1, popularly known as "The Waterfall."

By the way, that last link is strictly for demonstration purposes and not meant as a joke of any kind, but you should totally click on it anyway because it's fucking Chopin.

Anyway this whole white piano, white tux, white candelabrum assembly rotates slowly on a circular platform like a big musical merry-go-round, and Liberace winks and bounces and stomps his feet like he's just having the best time ever.

It's infectiously joyful stuff.

When Liberace is happy we're all happy.

Inevitably we track back in on the crystal candelabrum, which turns back into the sturdy but comparatively bland original model, and as the song ends we fade to another commercial break.

When we return Liberace is in a more contemplative mood. He discusses with us how sometimes in the excitement of Christmas and Christmas gifts and Sleigh rides and magical candelabrums we sometimes forget "the true holy meaning" behind this wonderful holiday. So he's going to remind us now with a reading from a work by Grace Noll Crowell, former poet laureate of Texas, prolific author and American Mother of the Year of 1938.

She looks like a barrel of laughs.

Liberace plays "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" with George behind him, and as the band head off on a worshipful riff we cut to Liberace standing at one of the windows giving his recitation, his mighty chin pointed heavenward in a gesture of praise.

You could hang your goddamn coat on that thing.

The poem itself is rather stuffy and pious, using flowery, mock-biblical language to describe the birth of Christ in the stable in Bethlehem, which is a story I'm sure you've all heard told more engagingly elsewhere. As he speaks there are odd little visual inserts of porcelain angel figurines, a nativity set and a Christmas village-type model of a snowy church scene.

Meh. The miniature work was better in Ultraman.

Once Liberace finishes his little mock sermon he sits back down and starts in on an instrumental of "Oh, Holy Night," which you should all know by now is my favorite Christmas song.

Maybe I'm a bit too picky about this one, but Liberace's overwrought ornamental crescendos completely overwhelm the melody, burying it beneath a tidal wave of superfluous notes. The orchestral arrangment, too is far too bombastic for the delicacy of the piece. Added into this mix is a barely-audible harp and George's nigh-heroic attempts to be heard over his brother's ornate but empty grandstanding. By the end it has frankly devolved into a mildly irritating, cacophonous mess.

An "A" for effort for you, though George.

We fade to our final commercial break, and when we return it's time for the big Christmas party! Liberace walks over to one of the French doors and lets in a parade of guests comprised of his family and members of his orchestra.

First up is George and his wife Janie, and there's a "comedy" bit here where George just nods and "Mmm-hmms" his way through a series of questions without actually speaking, which I know from watching other episodes is part of his regular shtick.

Janie's got a wicked permanent wave. I'll bet she uses Prom.

Next is the band's arranger, followed by the various members of the orchestra, each of whom Liberace greets by name with a hearty handshake, including the lady harpist, whose name is Corky, and who's also kind of a babe.

I may be married but I ain't blind.

After the remainder of the band has entered Liberace's other brother Rudy comes in with his family, including Rudy junior. Liberace picks him up and he mugs for the camera a bit before they shuffle along to join the other guests.

Next up is Liberace's sister Angie (about whom I have a pretty good inside scoop I'll share with you at the end of the review), and she's brought along Liberace's darling little toy poodle.

"No pooping on daddy, now precious."

Finally Liberace's mom shows up, and she looks exactly like you'd assume a 1950's midwestern mother of four adult children would look.

I'm not sure she isn't actually Grace Noll Crowell.

Everyone goes in and mingles, setting their presents beneath the tree, and it really does feel like a big family Christmas party and not just some studio-bound contrivance with a live audience and a bunch of cameras and hot lights. The familial quality of The Liberace Show is one of its greatest assets, and it's fun to buy into the innocent illusion that Liberace has invited us into his home each week.

As promised we now get a visit from a rather poorly-looking, semi-fraudulent Santa Claus, who is actually George in a rental-store Santa suit. He "Ho ho hos" and "Merry Christmases" a bit, and in case you didn't notice immediately that this isn't the real Santa Claus Liberace says "You know the more I look at you the more you remind me of my brother George." He even goes so far as to say that it couldn't really be George because, as everyone knows, George doesn't speak on television.

What you talkin' about Willis?

So Santa George and Liberace go and join the other guests, and Liberace suggests everyone gather 'round the piano for a nice, festive sing-along of "Jingle Bells." They very carefully arrange themselves so that the camera view is unimpeded and Liberace is in the center of frame which I'm sure this was completely instinctual.

The first rule of working for Liberace is you never upstage the boss.

After a once-through on the first verse and chorus Liberace stops and invites the studio audience and folks at home to join in, and I can close my eyes and imagine families across America happily singing together in front of their televisions and pretending they, too could be there, crouched around the grand piano, basking in the wholesome glow of Liberace and his family.

Now it's time for Liberace's final message of thanks for all of the love and support of his fans. I've got to say when he looks into the camera and smiles it feels completely sincere and it's impossible not to feel warmly towards him. Again, there's a good reason folks loved this man so much for so long. His is a friendly, undemanding brand of entertainment delivered with sincerity and heart, and that's something that ought never to go completely out of style.

As he finishes his final benediction he sidles into the last few lines of "I'll Be Seeing You," his signature closing number, and everyone waves goodbye to another shining year of white-people prosperity in Eisenhower's America.

The End

Million Monkey Theater Magazine Presents
A Shocking Exclusive Report!

Okay, so this story I've got for you is a little bit "Inside Hollywood," but I think it's worth sharing, particularly since it's not a well-known anecdote and you won't find it anywhere online. Liberace himself hinted about this in interviews over the years and parts of it were reported in the contemporary press, but the crucial detail at the end was never included for reasons that will become apparent when you reach it.

I learned about this from Sid Krofft of H.R. Pufnstuf fame. I follow Sid on Instagram. He's a dear, sweet man who enjoys engaging with his fans, and I've had the good fortune to interact with him directly on a number of occasions. He told this story back in April during one of his "Sundays with Sid" video chats, but for some reason that episode is no longer available on his page.

At the time this took place Sid Krofft was a puppeteer whose marionette act included reproductions of famous celebrities. Liberace loved his own little doppleganger so much that he asked Sid to tour with him as his opening act.

Sid Krofft with some of his "dancing girls."

In 1958 Liberace traveled to Australia to give a series of concerts. He'd never performed there before and wanted to make a big splash, but advance ticket sales, although brisk, had not provided him the sell-out crowds to which he had become accustomed in the U.S. and Europe.

Liberace with Sid Krofft.

Liberace had recently recorded an album of songs from the musical My Fair Lady, but the publisher holding the rights in Australia refused to allow him to perform those songs there, going so far as to get a court injunction to ensure he would not do so.

Liberace, however lived by the old adage that "any publicity is good publicity." He refused to perform his first show in Sydney at all, much to the consternation of the tour's local promoters, who would in fact sue him for damages and subsequntly force him to play all of the remaining dates. Keep in mind, this wasn't about the My Fair Lady music as much as it was about a petulant star not wanting to play to anything less than a full house.

George Liberace and his "brother."

Now at the exact same time as Liberace was in Australia for the first time the Queen Mother of Great Britain happened to be making her first visit there in thirty years. The day after he ditched the concert in Sydney he decided to crash a garden party being held in her honor using an invitation he had forged back at his hotel. He was quickly ejected by security guards but the Australian press had an absolute field day with it and he ended up getting so much free publicity that when the promoters forced him to resume the tour every single show sold out and additional shows had to be added to meet the sudden, overwhelming demand.

Liberace with sister Angie arriving in Australia. February, 1958.

By the time the tour was over Liberace was as much a household name down under as he was in the U.S.A. On the day he was scheduled to return home there was an Australia-wide radio broadcast set up at the airport, with a reporter posted right down on the tarmac beside the plane, ready to speak with him and members of his entourage as they boarded.

Everyone else had already stopped to chat with the reporter and gotten on-board, but Angie had been delayed at customs for some reason, and by the time she was able to get through she had to sprint to get to catch the plane.

The plucky but clueless reporter stopped her at the base of the airstair to ask her what she thought of Australia. Flustered and frustrated from her customs experience, winded from the exertion of her run and distracted by the prospect of missing her flight home, Angie shouted "Fuck you!"

They were live on-air, and it was broadcast across the entire continent.

Liberace would not return to Australia until 1971.

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 17th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2020.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

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