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20,000 Items From Estate to Be Auctioned : Hoopla Starts Early for Liberace Sale

June 25, 1987|STEVE HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

From the red-white-and-blue Rolls-Royce in the parking lot to the sequined mannequins and mirror-plated, rhinestone piano inside, it was the kind of spectacle that Liberace would have appreciated.

Especially because it was all for a mere press conference.

The occasion was the announcement that 20,000 items from the late entertainer's estate--give or take a couple of candelabra--will be auctioned at the Los Angeles Convention Center in April to benefit the nonprofit Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts.

Why the early announcement?

"Ever since Mr. Liberace died (on Feb. 4), his fans and collectors have been asking us what's going to happen to his estate," Joel Strote, trustee of the Liberace Family Trust, told the media gathering at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club.

Strote also revealed that, as per Liberace's wishes, the showman's home in Palm Springs will be turned into a nonprofit museum, pending approval from the desert city, "so that people can get a look into his life style."

Asked if the concept had been inspired by the Graceland Museum for Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tenn., Strote stiffened slightly and answered:

"Mr. Liberace was never an imitator."

In keeping with the entertainer's penchant for doing things in a big way, two--count 'em, two--auction houses (Christie's and Butterfield & Butterfield), will conduct the estate sale, which will be spread out over three days.

"We've never handled this many items before," said John Gallo of Butterfield, adding that he expects the auction to bring in "$4 (million) to $7 million or more."

Attention-grabbers from Liberace's other five homes include a red-and-silver Cadillac equipped with such extras as a five-inch diamond-studded candelabrum and silver cups depicting winners of the Kentucky Derby; a 10-foot-long Bluthner concert grand piano, said to be the last of its kind in existence; his Christmas decorations, and jewelry, lots of jewelry.

Proceeds will aid the Liberace Foundation, which has provided about $200,000 in scholarships for students in the arts at 22 schools and colleges, including Chapman College in Orange, according to Dora Liberace, widow of Liberace's brother, George.

Liberace's show memorabilia, at his request, will not go on the auction block but will be put on display in his other museum in Las Vegas, founded in 1977. Parked outside the press club was one of that museum's big draws, a red-white-and-blue Rolls-Royce valued at several hundred thousand dollars (though it has no radio).

Bicentennial Car

"It was painted that way for the Bicentennial year," recalled Liberace's long-time manager, Seymour Heller.

"Lee would come out on stage wearing hot pants, followed by the car," he said.

Just as he served as Liberace's opening act for the last two years, 15-year-old Eric Hamelin began the press conference by playing a medley of Gershwin tunes on a mirror-studded grand piano that was topped by a brass candelabrum.

The youth wore a shockingly conservative gray suit with understated blue tie.

"Liberace was my idol, but I'm not trying to imitate him," he explained.

Heller, who manages the youth, said: "No beads or sequins for Eric . . . at least, not at this point."

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