Liberace’s Doppelganger

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One of the greatest Hollywood Babylon-esque stories of all time has to be of Liberace and his obsession with his much younger boyfriend Scott Thorson. Specifically his ‘request’ to have him alter his handsome face to resemble that of Liberace’s rather un-handsome face.

In Behind the Candelabra, Liberace claims he wants to make Scott Thorson his son, adopt him, while at the same time being his lover/ partner and, for good measure, his employer. Poor Scott Thorson! No wonder he was a drug addict! Pair his upbringing in the foster-care bureaucracy with his relationship with ‘Lee’ and it’s a wonder the man is still alive.

BTC doesn’t really answer the question of what makes Liberace tick. Is he crazy? Or just another narcissistic celebrity with too much time and money on his hands? The film sprinkles clues along the way like breadcrumbs.

Liberace was a child prodigy, the product of an old-world Catholic upbringing, complete with dependent mother. But most interesting is that Liberace, like Elvis, was a twin. The surviving twin, his brother having died in childbirth. If that isn’t unusual enough Liberace was also born with a ‘caul,’ that is membrane relating to the amniotic sac that covers the newborn’s face and/or head. A sign of genius and promise in many cultures, and by Liberace’s family.

Over and over again we are told of the mystical connection twins have with one another, the evil twin, the shadow twin, doppelgangers, the Mengele experiments. The world’s culture and literature is filled with references to this unique sibling relationship. It’s almost as if a one personality, one soul, is divided between the two beings.

So a single twin must never be complete. There must always be a longing for that other half, that missing piece of yourself. Clever Steven Soderbergh seems to suggest that this may be the missing piece of the puzzle to explain Liberace’s insistence on Scott’s plastic surgery make-over. Liberace’s need to revive his dead twin, bring him back from the grave.

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