An even greater noise was made in London last week, about a lesser artistic event: the unlikely phenomenon known as Liberace.
When he arrived at London's Waterloo station, accompanied by his ubiquitous mother and a retinue of ten, the welcoming mob was bigger than the one that greeted Charlie Chaplin in 1921.
As Liberace emerged from London's Palladium after his triumphant first show, a 17-year-old girl distinguished herself by fainting; when she came to, he was solicitously kneeling over her. She promptly fainted again.
His appearance at the Royal Festival Hall was sold out three hours after tickets went on sale, was picketed by a gang of students who professed to be jazz and classics lovers, and roused the audience to a reaction that the Manchester Guardian described as "an unnerving squeal, like 40,000 Persian cats having their tails trodden on simultaneously."
His first nightclub appearance, to which he wore a white sheared-beaver coat over his silver tails, wowed the fashionable set, e.g., the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, Earl and Countess Cadogan, Lord Foley, Princess Aly Khan. One girl dared to boo, and was sharply rebuked by the management.
But the biggest clamor of all was made by London's press, which gave him voluminous space. The tone was set at a monster press conference at a Piccadilly nightclub when a reporter bluntly asked: "Do you lead a normal sex life?" Without a quiver in his professional smile, Liberate answered softly: "Yes. Do you?"
Next day the Daily Mirror's irrepressible columnist, Cassandra, described Liberace as "this deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, scent-impregnated, chromium-plated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother-love" and declared that "he is the summit of sexthe pinnacle of Masculine, Feminine and Neuter . . ." The Sunday Pictorial ran a story headlined MY LOVELY BOY, by "Momma Liberace," and printed a picture made up half of his face, half of hers.
Such treatment was rougher than Liberace has received at the hands of most U.S. newssheetseven the toughest Americans have been softened by personal contact with the Liberace charmand he momentarily lost his smile. "To mention Momism, to refer to my love for my mother as if it were Communism or Naziism, is something I can't imagine anyone in his right mind would do," he snapped. Then recovering his benign calm. Liberace purred: "Everyone has to expect a certain number of nonbelievers, and even enemies. I suppose that's why they shot Abraham Lincoln and crucified Jesus."