Hear Liberace Defend His Flamboyant Attire in 1968

Liberace vs. a suit

Still from Blank on Blank.

Blank on Blank is a fabulous little web series produced by PBS Digital Studios, in which old celebrity interview tape is gorgeously animated; each segment features the star discussing a particular issue, the second “blank.” In the most recent release, Liberace explains his kitschy sartorial choices to journalist Jay Kent Hackleman in the summer of 1968. The conversation, which crackles with a kind of adversarial energy from the start, is telling: The interviewer’s initial annunciation of “garb” is soaked in knowing hostility, and Liberace immediately defends his super-gay style in terms of currents in men’s fashion: “The male peacock is beginning to show his true plumage.” Indeed.

From there, Liberace quickly reframes the discussion in terms of wholesome American values like hard-work and self-determination—God and country make a number of appearances. “You must realize that I once was poor myself,” he explains. “I worked to get where I am today, and I’ve worked hard to spend $100,000 a year on my clothes … I feel I have a perfect right to spend my money as I damned please.” By the end, Liberace’s determination to contextualize his campy, effeminate clothes in any terms other than homosexuality leads to a rather bizarre discussion of social welfare programs and the moral value of the entertainer in society. The snippet is a fascinating look inside the closet (both kinds) of the man, and one that proves Liberace was as talented a rhetorician as he was a piano player.