Trump and Liberace? It seems an unlikely pairing, but I’d read they knew each other. With two documentaries coming out about the president’s relationship with Roy Cohn, I decided to look up the one with the famously gay showman—surprised at how deep it went.
They meet in 1985, when Liberace is in New York getting ready for a big show at the Radio City Music Hall, and shopping for a condo. A 1987 biography, Liberace: the True Story, reports he asks to speak to an agent at Trump Tower.
“The lobby elevator opened, and out stepped Donald Trump, the real estate magnate. Recognizing Liberace, he announced, ‘This sale is too important for me — I’m going to show you the apartment myself.’”
Until he buys one, Trump offers to let him use a condo for free, on one condition, as Spero Pastos reports in The Dark Side of Liberace: “so long as he mentioned ‘Trump’ each night of his run.”
Trump’s mother was a huge fan of Liberace, and she and her son attend the Radio City show. “After the masterful entertainer received a standing ovation, Trump remarked proudly to his director of co-op sales, Madeline Coubro, ‘It was very good that Liberace mentioned Trump Tower, wasn’t it?’”
An April 11, 1985 New York Times profile of Liberace mentions the link.
Liberace is staying in the model apartment at Trump Tower, even though the place is a tad subdued for his tastes — certainly compared to his home in Las Vegas, with the Sistine Chapel ceiling reproduction that includes the likeness of Liberace. Liberace is going to buy a condominium from Donald Trump, whom he describes as ‘’a smart man who has a feel for what is going on.’’
In his 1986 memoir, Liberace recalls his “friend” Donald . . . “the young real estate wizard who’s changed the skyline of New York City.” Trump gives him advice on real estate: “You never use your own money.”
It retrospect, even this jokey chatter sounds like Trump is caring for Liberace, who he must know is dying of AIDS. Six weeks before the entertainer’s death (on February 4, 1987), a haggard Liberace was on Oprah, talking about going shopping with Trump.
“I had a nice fur coat on, and we went up to this furrier, and Donald saw this coat and he said, ‘Why don’t you try that on? That kind of looks like you,’” Liberace says. “I said, ‘Do you really think it looks like me?’ He says, ‘I like it better than the one you’re wearing.’ So I say, ‘Well maybe I should get it then.’ He said, ‘No, wait, wait.’”
They leave the store, and Liberace asks why Trump hadn’t wanted him to buy the coat. Trump replies that he’s buying it for him.
This is the clip:
Trump is often said to take style cues from Liberace. Tina Brown calls Trump Tower “the Liberace of buildings”—as they share a taste for that unique, showy look.
The authors of The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste say in 1990: “We thought about including Donald Trump, but decided he’s too much of an arriviste. He’s just not Liberace, who really paid his dues.”
But Trump would keep working on it!
Alexander Chancellor reflects on the connection:
‘Too much of a good thing is wonderful,’ was Liberace’s motto, but it could just as well be Trump’s. Donald’s triplex home in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue may reflect his greater wealth in its grandiosity, but its décor and furnishings are strikingly similar to those of Liberace’s former house in Las Vegas. In both there is a proliferation of gold paint, chandeliers, candelabra, swirling frescoes and classical motifs. The president-elect may well find the White House depressingly restrained by comparison.
The two share character traits. Peter Serafinowicz says of Trump in 2017: “Most people would agree he appears to be a tough guy, an alpha male, when in fact he has this daintiness, this exaggerated femininity, that is somehow disguised by this tidal wave of bullshit. Listen to what he actually says and you realise he’s like some mean, bitchy, failed Broadway choreographer. If Liberace were alive, he would call him up and say, ‘Donald, you’ve got to tone it down! It’s embarrassing!’”
I wonder: was Liberace the showbiz father that Trump never had?
In his 1997 book, Trump: The Art of the Comeback, Trump (or his ghostwriter) writes: “Liberace was a great performer and a great man. We all miss him dearly.”