The Scott Thorson/Liberace biopic — Behind the Candelabra — premiered last night on HBO, and while it was a sharp looking movie with excellent acting from Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, one could not help but feel the pure terror of Liberace’s life and how his sexuality pinned his desires and did not allow him to be the man he was in private in his public life.  That sort of forced hiding creates an internal, ringed, terror and that fear makes men monsters.

Here is the uncanny trailer for the HBO movie:

Here’s how the real Liberace appeared on television in a star turn on “The Muppet Show” — he was, without question, a magnificent talent and a true SuperStar:

When society entraps someone because of their sexuality, terrible things happen to the imprisoned person.  A duality of personality is created:  One temporary face for the public, and one ugly, permanent, face for the rest of your life in private.  That personality split damages the whole being and creates a schism of behavior and expectation as those around the punished are forced to defend a lie by defacing the truth.

Rock Hudson and Liberace are but two sad examples of highly talented men who were ruined, in the end, by AIDS, and fear, and the terrorization of being “found out” by their adoring fans — and then losing all the fame and fortune they had worked so hard over their lifetimes to acquire.

The sad part is that they were right to hide.  America was certainly not capable of welcoming explicitly Gay superstars into the mainstream media in the 1950’s and ’60s.  They would have been “found out” and punished by the industry for revealing their true selves.  If they wanted to continue to work, they had to deny all Gay rumors, pretend to be sexually interested in women, and keep pretending in public.

What a horrible life that must have been.  You have money and fame — and it’s all an earned fraud in reality.  You cannot relax and enjoy the life your talent earned you.  No, you have to always be on high alert against the unravelling friendship, the cheated lover, and the underbelly press hoping to scoop you and ruin your life.

I don’t think much has changed today.  Liberace been dead for over 25 years, but there’s still a tense stigma against Gay performers of a certain age.  You’ve read all the rumors about some of our biggest stars being Gay — and I’d wager the evidence is they are more likely than not, Gay — but for them to “come out” now and be forced to recant decades of denials is not possible.  They’d be punished more for blatantly lying to their fans than for being Gay and that is too terrible a path to blaze when millions of dollars are at risk along with a long mark of a historical career at stake; and so for those powerful Gay performers, they’re stuck in the terrible “monster mode” that imprisoned Liberace and others for a lifetime.  They’re stuck in the ring of terror, too.

The only sliver of sunlight in this dark gloaming is that young performers, fresh to their stardom and the scene, seem not to worry much about the persecution of their sexuality because they know that “being Gay” is no longer a punishable offense in the mainstream press, or in their peer group, and they are free to be just as nasty and real in public as they are in private — now that’s true equality! — and the only retribution against them will be one based on likability and behavior faults and not one that just punishes sexuality by default.

Now we mourn for the 40-80 year old superstars who have been trapped in their own lies and who have no other choice — if they hope to remain relevant and believable as a salable entity — except to continue to keep quiet and hope reality will wash away from them as they continue to live in fear that the truth will finally find them out in public. In death, they will be freed from the lie, but in the rest of their winnowing lives, they must stay locked inside their ring of terror to keep harm at bay.

4 Comments

  1. It really is a lose-lose situation. It’s especially sad that they would face punishment if they eventually had the courage to come out after years of denial. Yes, they ‘lied’ for years, but they were just trying to protect themselves from the inevitable backlash from hateful, closed minded people.

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    1. It really is a sad thing, Emily, with no way out for those of a certain age. There’s too much money and integrity at risk in the eternal lie that can only be revealed as such in death.

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  2. I think you are right – there is a generation where the lie has become eternal because that is all they know and the eternal lie is a safe space for them.

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