On May 16, 1919, Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the pianist who acquired the nickname “Mr. Showmanship,” was born in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Born into a musical family, his mother, Frances played the piano, and his father Salvatore, played the French horn, Liberace learned to play the piano by ear, at the age of four. He later became known for his extravagant costumes and trademark candelabra, placed on the lids of his pianos.

At the height of his fame, from the 1950s to the 1970s, Liberace was the highest-paid entertainer in the world. He died in 1987, at the age of 67.

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Liberace had a soft spot in his heart for La Crosse, as I recall, because he built an audience and a following here early in his career when he was struggling to establish himself. That may just be an Old Wive's Tale, a bit of hometown boosterism that doesn't hold up. But I wondered if the Trib didn't have a photo of him performing here in those days. More bizarrely, he famously had a La Crosse native "boy toy", Scott Thorson, pictured in this collection, who took Liberace to court in a widely publicized palimony suit a few years before Liberace died of AIDS in the 1980s. Thorson, a tragic figure, lost the suit.

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