Category Archives: Behind the Candelabra

A chronicle of the tempestuous six year romance between megastar pianist, Liberace, and his alleged lover, Scott Thorson. The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name written by Thorson.

Steven Soderbergh: Another Steven in Hollywood

Steven Spielberg, possibly the most recognizable name in Hollywood, has entertained and educated America for decades with his films—Jaws (1975), E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones (1984), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler’s List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998)—to name a very few. Steven Spielberg’s resume lists one big-grossing blockbuster after another, and no other director, producer, or writer comes close to duplicating this. He stands alone on top of the "Ivory Tower of Hollywood," where he could rest comfortably on his laurels with a career that goes beyond even his wildest dreams.

Steven Soderbergh inspired by Spielberg

Yet, there is another successful Steven in the movie-making business, set on that course by receiving serious exposure to movies from his movie-buff father, coupled with an awe-inspired viewing of Jaws—directed by Spielberg, of course. This man is Steven Soderbergh and he can boast an impressive resume as well. Soderbergh spun out his own movie-making magic with Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), Traffic (2000), the Ocean’s Eleven series (2001), and Magic Mike (2012). His movie Erin Brockovich (2000) won him a much-deserved Oscar.

Soderbergh's calling - a film on Liberace

steven soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh

Born in 1963, Soderbergh was among a generation familiar with America’s infatuation with the flamboyant Liberace—an outrageous pianist, singer, and actor. Soderbergh felt called to do a film on Liberace, but struggled with a framework to base it upon. When he came across the book written by Liberace’s alleged lover, Scott Thorson—Behind the candelabra: My life with Liberace (Thorson & Thorleifson, 1990), he knew how he was going to preserve Liberace on film. However, finding a studio willing to finance a project is the necessary evil for every director with good ideas in Hollywood.

Directors can easily round up the best among available screenwriters, costume designers, actors, prop designers, etc., but coming up with the money to make the movie is the first order of business. Even in this age of enlightenment for LGBT causes, studios are still skittish about financing gay-themed movies. It’s all about return on investment. The concern about the Liberace film was whether or not mainstream America would open their wallets to watch unsettling scenes of an older man romancing a teenage boy. Producer Jerry Weintraub,  another movie-making legend, said this about his attraction to the project (HBO, 2013):

What excites me is story and character. . . . The other thing that excites me is working with people like Steven Soderbergh. He and I have a great relationship. That excited me. Working with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon excited me. Working with Richard LaGravenese’s script excited me. Working with Marvin Hamlisch excited me. The people involved are so creative and compelling; I’d be out of my mind not to do it.

Thus, Weintraub managed to interest HBO executives with Soderbergh’s idea and a deal was eventually sealed. These executives were subsequently rewarded for their risky investment in Behind the Candelabra with two Golden Globes and numerous other awards.

Soderbergh attracts top actors to HBO

"behind the candelabra" - cannes
Douglas, Weintraub, Damon

It must be a testament to Soderbergh’s reputation that he was able to attract two big-name actors, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, for a movie that was not destined for the big screen. These actors’ skills contributed enormously to Behind the Candelabra's success. I am wondering if we are entering an age heavily influenced by Netflix, Amazon Streaming, and home theater technology, where actors don’t think of making it to the big-screen as the ultimate determining factor of success in Hollywood. The same must go for directors.

Now today, according to IMDb (“Steven Spielberg,” 2016) Steven Spielberg has a slew of movie projects in the works, so he is not resting on his laurels anytime soon. Yet, Soderbergh has decided that the time has come to fold up his movie-making chair. He has since moved on to other ventures such as releasing a novella on Twitter (@Bitchuation). In my view, it will not be surprising when he feels called to make another movie.

REFERENCES

HBO. (2013). Behind the Candelabra: Interview: Jerry Weintraub. Retrieved from http://www.hbo.com/movies/behind-the-candelabra/interview/jerry-weintraub.html

Steven Spielberg (2016). In IMDb.com. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000229/

Soderbergh, S. (Director), Weintraub, J. (Producer), LaGravenese, R. (Screenwriter), & Thorson, S., & Thorleifson, A. (Writers). (2013). Behind the Candelabra [Motion Picture]. USA: HBO.

Thorson, S., & Thorleifson, A. (1990). Behind the candelabra: My life with Liberace. New York: Knightsbridge Pub Co Mass.

Liberace: Staying in the Spotlight

Entertainers, musicians, movies, and all popular cultural items come and go, but some manage to keep their profiles high across multi generations; Elvis, The Beatles, Star Wars are examples among many.  It is a safe bet that our great-great grandchildren will be reading books on a certain boy wizard named Harry.

While these cultural icons survive the test of time, there are those that belong to only the generation that first embraced them. Liberace—American pianist, singer, and actor—is clearly one of those.

20th Century "Mr. Showmanship"

LIberace
Liberace

Also known as "Mr. Showmanship," Liberace’s fame spanned the mid 20th century, when many a woman had a celebrity crush on this flamboyant entertainer.

Liberace's shows in Las Vegas were stuff of legend, and rightly so according to my husband who saw one during a business trip. He recalls when his mother’s dressmaker replaced a framed picture of Cary Grant with one of Liberace, an entertainer who had that knack of making you feel like you were the special person in the audience, that he was performing solely for your enjoyment.

Liberace unknown to millennials

Recently while visiting in the hospital room of my granddaughter, as a steady stream of young nurses and patient care techs trickled in, I asked each one if she had heard of Liberace. They all expressed confusion, scanning their brains for mention of that unusual name. Not a one could give an affirmative response. Liberace must be slowly but surely dying that third death in which no one speaks of him or remembers him anymore. One nurse did not even bother to ask who Liberace was, and instead started talking about Prince, an entertainer that I know next to nothing about, except that my Facebook newsfeed was inundated with posts regarding his recent death.

Can there be a Liberace revival?

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon
Michael Douglas and Matt Damon

However, there is hope for Liberace’s name and fame to linger on for more years. For the movie, Behind the Candelabra (2013), Director Steven Soderbergh made the wise choice to cast Michael Douglas as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson; both actors are well renowned with multi-generational appeal, and loyal audiences. In a way, Scott Thorson, his life story, and how it resonated with Steven Soderbergh, saves Liberace from becoming obsolete.

Liberace and Scott Thorson
Liberace and Scott Thorson

How is that? Well, Behind the Candelabra focuses on the volatile six-year relationship between Liberace and Scott Thorson, who is the author of the book (Thorson & Thorleifson, 1990) from which the movie is adapted. Thorson, approximately 40 years younger and Liberace's alleged lover, was just 16 years old when their paths crossed. Yes, that might be statutory rape, but this is the entertainment business after all.

Now, how did a boy whose childhood was spent bouncing from one foster home to another end up personally involved with a world famous entertainer?  It started with Thorson's knowledge of animal care, and a chance visit backstage where Liberace invited the teenager to care for his blind dogs at home.

Thorson bedazzled by Liberace’s glittering lifestyle

One does not need a psychology degree to understand how the best defense against being swept away by cults, gangs, and toxic individuals is a strong and consistent family foundation. Thorson's family background was anything but, making him a prime target for Liberace to pick up and play with exclusively for the next six years.

Thorson was understandably bedazzled by Liberace’s glittering lifestyle, so he fully consented to the twisted sexual/father-son relationship, which included a chin implant with the purpose of looking more like the entertainer. It is not a surprise that drugs came into the picture; and Thorson became addicted, sending him into a tailspin that continues to this day with his imprisonment in the Northern Nevada Correctional Center (AP, 2014).

Thorson sues for palimony

People who come onto you strongly leave just as strongly, so it was inevitable that Liberace would eventually move on to other boys. However, after being discarded, Thorson did not go quietly into the good night. He sued Liberace for palimony, gave interviews about their relationship, and released his tell-all book, Behind the Candelabra in 1988. Intensely private about his homosexuality, Liberace would have denied all allegations and gone out of his way to counter Scott’s claims. Yet, it is that very book that caught Steven Soderbergh’s eye, and started the ball rolling toward a movie focused on Liberace, keeping him in his favorite position—in the spotlight—more than 25 years after his death.

Liberace's entertainment continues

After Soderbergh approached a number of studios with the project, HBO took the bait, and Behind the Candelabra ended up winning two Golden Globes in 2014. While Liberace belongs to a time that is long past, Michael Douglas’s performance should give these nurses a reason to search for videos of the real Liberace on YouTube. For the essence of LIberace, they would best start with his Christmas special from 1954.

REFERENCES

Associated Press. (2014, Jan 23). Behind the bars: Liberace's former lover jailed for up to 20 years after failing drug test while on probation. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2545059/Liberaces-former-lover-Scott-Thorson-jailed-20-YEARS-failing-drug-test-probation.html

Soderberg, S. (Director) & Thorsen, S. (Writer). (2013). Behind the Candelabra [Motion Picture]. USA: HBO.

Thorson, S., & Thorleifson, A. (1990). Behind the candelabra: My life with Liberace. New York: Knightsbridge Pub Co Mass.