Thursday, March 07, 2013

Liberace: christened in Montreal

Matt Damon is in upcoming
Liberace flick

  A big name extravaganzastic Liberace biopic is on its way and Montrealers should call pre-emptive bullshit on one point even before it hits the screen.
   According to standard biographies, Walter Liberace decided, on his own in 1942, to simply go by his last name.
   In fact, he was rechristened here in Montreal and we have some evidence to that effect.
   Liberace was hired to play at the Mount Royal Hotel's Normandie Roof, a swank ballroom that could host 600 diners, many of them bigwigs, until it closed in 1950.
  Liberace's gig started on or around July 3, 1944.
  Nightclub booker May Johnson had popped young Walt at the Warwick Hotel in New York, where he proved to be an unconvincing draw but Johnson believed in him so she got him in at the Normandie Roof here in Montreal.
  He was supporting a bill headed by Norman Harris and his King Edward Hotel Orchestra. Nobody has heard from them since.
  Upon his arrival, Liberace was still being called Walter Liberace, as this article attests.
  My father, publicist for the nightclub, recalled that Mount Royal Hotel owner Vernon Cardy worried the young pianist might not attract the tuxedos and long gowns that kept the joint running and that Walter Liberace's $350 weekly salary would be a waste.
   A meeting was held in Cardy's office, attended by Normandie Roof head waiter Victor (he also going by the single name), Tom Auburn (who later became Magic Tom), Colin Gravenor, catering manager Pierre Borbey and Jimmy Nichols, who represented May Johnson and had an office at the hotel for 40 years.
A scene from the Normandie Roof Jan. 1, 1939
  Nichols pointed out that Walter Lib-ber-ayse, as he pronounced his name, wasn't catchy.
   He checked with Liberace who, along with Borbey, confirmed the hard-c Italian pronunciation of his last name.
   Liberace liked the new pronunciation and removal of his first name.
   He pitched the switch to his mom via his brother George and she approved.
   Liberace was popular in Montreal and his two week gig was extended but soon he was performing to big crowds in Las Vegas and his rise to glittery icon was on its way.


Kate M. said...

Where was the Normandie roof?

Kristian Gravenor said...

Inside the Mount Royal Hotel. I just added that detail.