Darden Asbury Pyron teaches history at Florida International University in Miami. He is the author of the national bestseller Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell and editor of Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture.
Pyron (history, Florida International Univ.; Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell, LJ 6/15/91) uses pianist Liberace (1919-87) to explore the bundle of contradictions embedded in the American dream. On one hand, he casts his subject as a good-hearted, rags-to-riches Midwestern-conservative musical prodigy who attained the pinnacle of show business through a self-deprecating, innocent, sunny, family-oriented persona. At the same time, the entertainer's alienation, dysfunctional family, unbridled ambition, and extravagant self-indulgence are revealed. Besides covering Liberace's upbringing by a volatile Italian-born father and a taciturn, entrepreneurial Polish-born mother in Milwaukee, his career ups and downs, and his charismatic performances, Pyron tackles his homosexuality, from his introduction to gay culture by a member of the Green Bay Packers to a steady string of one-time lovers. Fascinating, thoughtful, exhaustive, and well written, this book will serve as the standard biography of a complex icon of American popular culture. Highly recommended for general readers, music fans, and social historians.DDave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
"Don't be misled by this flamboyant exterior. Underneath I remain the sameÄa simple boy from Milwaukee." Thus spake Liberace in one of his more modest moments. Even as a child, Liberace was well liked and, well, bigger than life; when he came to a high school party dressed as Greta Garbo, he received no flak from classmates. Born Walter Liberace in 1919, the pianist and entertainer began playing clubs in the 1930s, and by the early '40s began cultivating the extravagant performance style (e.g., a Strauss waltz version of "Home on the Range") and the unrestrained costumes for which he became famous. He soon became a cultural icon who attracted adoration from middle-brow, usually female audiences as well as overt antagonism, often fueled by homophobia. In this absorbing and insightful biography, Pyron (Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture) charts more than the life of the performer; he uses that life to reflect on how artifice, camp, gender, homosexuality, gay sensibility and homophobia shape American popular culture. Drawing on Liberace's autobiography, other biographies, queer theory, reviews, scandal sheet accounts of his private life and court records (Liberace was always suing or being sued), the book makes an original contribution in its complex examination of the intersection of homosexuality with private lives and public culture. Pyron's interests are far-ranging and illuminatingÄfrom the influence of a Roman Catholic sensibility on Liberace and gay culture to the aesthetics of television and the social importance of self-improvement books in the 1950s. Finally, he achieves what many readers might consider impossible: a persuasive case for Liberace's life and times as the embodiment of an important cultural moment. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.