Liberace's Glitter Turns to Gold on the Auction Block

UPDATED 04/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 04/25/1988 at 01:00 AM EDT

Even from beyond the grave, Liberace, the Sultan of Shmaltz, puts on one hell of a show. And last week was a grand finale of sorts—a four-day auction of more than 2,000 of his most beloved and garish objets that gave fans one last, tantalizing taste of the maestro's never-to-be-repeated personal style. The sequined capes, the fur coats, the rococo furniture, the polyester jumpsuits—they were all laid out for sale at the Los Angeles Convention Center, along with 13 cars, 13 pianos and the odd toaster.

The bidding was fierce, with most items going for more than their suggested value, and the scene sometimes worthy of Fellini. The "public viewing" took place in one sprawling showroom, the actual bidding one floor away, with a slide of each item projected on a screen. Shoppers appeared to be about evenly divided between professional antique dealers and diehard fans. "I want a candelabra so bad I can taste it!" exclaimed Liberace impersonator Willie Collins. Bob Nye of Reading, Pa., a former policeman who claimed to have been Liberace's bodyguard in 1964, came prepared to spend $100,000 to own a few pieces of the legend. San Francisco antique dealer and decorator C.W. Moody—who said he was shopping for the Prime Minister of Malaysia—bought a Baldwin piano without a thought to the $27,500 price. "The minister has plenty of money," he said. "This will be very hot there."

The proceeds of the auction—expected to top $2 million—will enrich the music scholarship foundation to which Liberace left about 90 percent of his $16 million estate. Still, a few participants had trouble getting into the surreal spirit of the event. By Sunday afternoon, J. Brian Cole, from Christie's auction house—more accustomed perhaps to Picassos than stuffed peacocks—looked at the next item on the block, a set of glass liquor decanters, and sighed, "I wish they were full." And comedian Rip Taylor, a close friend of Liberace's, complained of the display, "When it was together it was elegant. Now it looks like a garage sale." But even that, Taylor admits, wouldn't have deterred a consummate shopper like Liberace. "If he were here today," says Taylor, "he would probably have bought everything again."

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