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FOX 11 Archives: Liberace: His Big Break Happened Here

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The first week in February marks two milestones in the life of Liberace, perhaps the original "glam" entertainer.  On February 3, 1952 the pianist with the candelabra and chicklets smile began a weekly live television show on what today is Fox 11's sister station in Los Angeles, Channel 13.  The station's then- general manager, Don Fedderson, had seen Liberace's nightclub show in San Diego and thought the intimate cabaret act would be perfect for the small screen.  At first, Fedderson was the only one who thought so.  He couldn't find a sponsor for the show.

At the time the station was leasing The Music Hall Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.  Six nights a week, live audience shows originated from that spot, including Betty White's comedy sketch show, Life With Elizabeth.  On the first Wednesday in February, at 7:30 in the evening, The Liberace  Show premiered. By the second week, the program was a solid hit, and Fedderson had a sponsor.  Within a few months the program was drawing a weekly audience of 1 ½ million viewers – setting a record as the highest rated local tv show in L.A.

Within a year, Liberace had won two Emmys; one for outstanding local television show and another for outstanding  male personality.  Tickets to the program were free -- and the 800 seat house was filled weeks in advance.  Reportedly, scalpers were getting $50 a ticket.

It's hard to describe the hold Liberace had on his audience. He had brilliant technical skills, but beyond the virtuosity, he was a mesmerizing entertainer.  Although the program was only a half hour long, he'd stay for an hour or so and take requests.  His fans couldn't get enough of him.  He was a master showman long before he donned the sequined suits.  The program was such a success that after a year, it became a nationally syndicated show, and the rest of the country got to know Liberace.

As for Don Fedderson, the man who put Liberace on the television map, he later formed his own production company, producing such hit TV shows as The Millionaire, My Three Sons and Family Affair.

Finally, that other February milestone in Liberace's life – his death -- on February 4, 1987, of AIDS complications.

I've included a brief clip of the original live Liberace Show, along with some publicity material, a "Letters to the Editor" page from a 1952 TV-Radio Life magazine and a rehearsal call sheet showing  a little of what a typical work day looked like in the early days of LA television.

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