A Look At Liberace's Failed Attempt At A Movie Career

Władziu Valentino Liberace was one of the few stars who was big and fabulous enough to be called by just one name: Liberace. Born in 1919 in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, young Liberace was a bit of a musical prodigy. According to A&E Biography (posted on YouTube)he could play popular songs on the piano by ear at age four, and had graduated to Mendelssohn by seven. Per Darden Asbury Pyron in the 2000 book Liberace: An American Boy, at the age of 10 he idolized classical pianist Ignacy Padereweski, listening to Padereweski's recordings of Bach, Beethoven, and other masters until he could play them back perfectly. As he got older, he realized his musical talent was a way to gain acceptance among his peers, and started playing at birthday parties and dances.

As relayed by Bob Thomas in his 1987 book Liberace: The True Story, by 1945, Liberace had a nightclub show that mixed classical piano with popular music and showcased his flair for showmanship and style. By 1953, he had his own syndicated television show, The Liberace Show, which at its height was more popular than I Love Lucy, per Pyron.

Critics were often less than kind; at one point The New York Times groused that he was "a parlor pianist who ought to be kept in someone else's parlor." His many fans didn't care, though, and by 1955, he was ready to expand his repertoire to include the title of movie star. 

'Sincerely Yours' was sincerely unpopular

According to A&E Biography, Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner saw a Liberace show in San Francisco and thought the pianist's charisma and star power would do well on the silver screen. Liberace starred in the 1955 movie Sincerely Yours, per the IMDB, playing a pianist named Tony Warrin who "has it all" until he suddenly loses his hearing the night he is to play at Carnegie Hall, and it all starts falling apart.

Unlike Liberace's other creative ventures, Sincerely Yours was a flop. The New York Times described the performance as "oozing dimpled sincerity" and quipped, "[w]hen he wears his black-sequined dinner jacket, he hits the peak of his acting skill." According to Liberace: An American Boy, Liberace blamed Sincerely Yours for a dip in his popularity, and Warner Bros. was so disappointed that they bought out his two-picture contract to avoid having to make another Liberace movie.

Liberace may not have become a movie star on top of all his other accomplishments, but he remained a beloved and active performer until his death in 1987. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he was the highest paid performer in the world throughout the 1950s and the 1970s. Liberace was particularly popular in Las Vegas, where his home, a glittering, maximalist mansion that CR Fashion Book called a "sanctuary of camp," is now an historical landmark.