In 1958, the first convention came to the Las Vegas Convention Center. It was a Mercedes Benz dealers' conference. It was also harbinger of things to come in the desert town, where conventions would prove to elevate what was then seen as a a mere gambling town.
Mercedes wanted to make a splash, and it was Liberace's birthday. The popular entertainer, who had created the first Las Vegas residency show, three years earlier at the Riviera Hotel across the street, had been performing to sold out crowds in Vegas for well over a decade. Always one for pushing the boundaries of the act, Liberace packed a new Mercedes Benz convertible with beautiful women, put his birthday cake on the hood, and jumped in the middle of it all to roll on stage. Car culture was sweeping America, Liberace was the highest paid entertainer in the world, and the stunt was a hit. The first to take a car on stage as part of a major show, Liberace was on to something, and he knew it. He enjoyed the ‘wow effect’ the flashy car had on the audience, and he soon came to replicate that effect, over and over again.
For the next four decades, from the stages of Las Vegas to Radio City Music Hall in New York, Liberace would continually expand on the use of automobiles in his stage show. As time went on, they became more and more personalized, then were viturally extensions of his elaborate costumes. Eventually the biggest Rolls Royce ever made - over 20 feet long, covered with mirror tiles - was rolling him onto stage at the Las Vegas Hilton (now the Westgate).
Liberace's stage cars remain a part of the Liberace Museuem Collection in Las Vegas, still held by his estate. In 2014 I became chairman of the Liberace Foundation. In 2015, I negotiated with a generous benefactor to donate the space for the Liberace Garage, bringing the cars out of 5 years of storage. Now in the era of Covid 19, we are improving and perfecting the experience, having taken advantage of the down time, and now social distancing practices, to elevate the experience as never before.
Liberace’s stage cars are legend. His technique was emulated by stage performers from Ceelo Green, to Ice Cube, to the rock band Hedgewig. And where it all started in Las Vegas, as well as every other locale hosting auto expos, the exhibitions would never be the same. The cars featured moved to the stages instead of the parking lots, forever more. Showmanship made its mark on the auto industry in Las Vegas, in 1958.
These vehicular costumes, along with many more artifacts from the Liberace Museum Collection, were borrowed for the production of HBO's 2013 film Behind The Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroid, Debbie Reynolds and Scott Backula. They have also been seen on The Adventures of Macklemore and Kesha, and in photos with numerous celebrities. And now, you can see them in person, along with some of the related artifacts of the collection, complete with details and video content depicting the history of each, at Liberace Garage.
Liberace Garage is a dedicated museum space within the Hollywood Cars Museum. Many of the artifacts within the Hollywood Cars Museum also have history with Liberace. All together, over 100 vehicles and related artifacts are on exhibit. Careful adherence to Covid 19 precautions are in place, and masks are required of all who enter. Social distancing is easily practiced in the space of over 30,000 square feet. The Liberace Foundation prides itself on being the very cutting edge of Covid-crushing practices.
Thanks to the vision of Liberace himself, his cars remain available to view at Liberace Garage, over six decades after he first rolled on stage.