It’s not often that Marlene Dietrich, Marcel Proust, Ronald Reagan and Dante appear in the same chapter, let alone the same book. But here they are, in Darden Asbury Pyron’s biography of Liberace. The book, part of my holiday reading this festive season, reaches into every nook and cranny of the showman’s life. But it also makes some interesting diversions, such as an exploration of homosexual culture and the history of Las Vegas.
What’s most striking is how polarising a figure Liberace was. The adulation he received from his fans was only equalled by the revulsion of his critics. After interviewing Liberace, Edward R. Murrow remarked: “In your whole life did you ever see anyone so obnoxious!” The great reporter, who covered the devastation of war and the horrors of the concentration camps, seemed to find an over-the-top entertainer far more offensive. He need three scotches before he could utter another word.
Neither hatchet job nor hagiography, Pyron’s book gives a balanced account of the entertainer’s improbable life. And given the nature of the subject, that's an achievement in itself.