You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Behind the Candelabra’s’ High-Low Design Aesthetic

Liberace’s houses, including his Palm Springs digs, get a second look via HBO biopic

If anyone noticed a big run on Michelangelo’s David statues in Vegas and Palm Springs, blame it on production designer Howard Cummings and set decorator Barbara Munch. They’ve been working on Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, to air May 26 on HBO. And their job, as Cummings describes it, was to be on the lookout for “trash and treasure, high and low, and everything in excess.”

Cummings, whose resume runs the gamut from Usual Suspects to Rent, calls the Liberace assignment the most fun of his life. “Absolutely, hands down!”

While it’s easy to laugh at the piano player’s over-the-top camp taste, Cummings developed a certain respect for that aesthetic as he scouted locations in Vegas, Palm Springs and L.A.

(From the pages of the April 23 issue of Variety.)

“Liberace was sensitive to the places, and he did adjust” his decor, says the designer.

For example, “His L.A. penthouse had a black lacquer Chinese look, very 1980s. That was his city look,” says Cummings. “The Vegas house was pastelly and lots of sparkle. And his main house in Palm Springs at the end, the Cloisters, was a Spanish-style 1920s house.”

Cummings painstakingly re-created all of those abodes, although only the L.A. penthouse was used for filming. The Cloisters is under renovation, and the Vegas house — actually three houses attached by a mansard roof — is in foreclosure.

As Cummings is quick to point out, Liberace owned many other homes. “He didn’t invest in stocks, but he bought houses, often for other people. He fixed up ramshackle places, and he shopped and shopped, filling them up with stuff. Mae West said, ‘Too much of a good thing is wonderful.’ She said it. Liberace lived it.”

Liberace’s mother’s residence in Palm Springs makes an appearance in Behind the Candelabra, but again, it’s not the original, although what Cummings subbed in has its own intriguing history. Curiously, the Hollywood Regency-style house sports a backyard area that resembles the spectacular Neptune pool at Hearst Castle.

“It was originally George Randolph Hearst’s house,” Cummings notes. “It contained artifacts from Hearst Castle, and it’s near the Kaufmann House (Richard Neutra, architect) in Palm Springs. Patty Hearst hid out there after her SLA episode.”

Cummings lives in Palm Springs and loves its history.

“A lot of the great architecture in Palm Springs hasn’t been replaced,” says Cummings, who credits much of that preservation to the town’s unique relationship to Hollywood. “Palm Springs was the place where the stars could be wild; it was far enough away from the Hollywood studios, which limited the stars’ travel. It was on the edge.”

As soon as there was jet travel, that limit ceased to exist, Cummings says.

“The rise of the jet set led to the demise of Palm Springs,” he says. “The stars stopped coming here, and there was a real economic slump that actually helped to preserve these houses. By the time the economy turned around, people again valued the architecture.”

More TV

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco (C),

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union's 'L.A.’s Finest' Opens Monte Carlo TV Festival

    Prince Albert II of Monaco opened the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival on Friday at a glittering ceremony at the principality’s Grimaldi Forum attended by Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. The Hollywood actresses presented the French premiere of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest,” which has just been renewed for a second season. “You typically [...]

  • Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba'L.A.'s Finest'

    Jessica Alba, Gabrielle Union Speak About Horrific 'L.A.’s Finest' On-Set Accident

    Actresses Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba spoke about how the horrific accident on the set of their action cop series “L.A.’s Finest” affected them and the crew at the 59th Monte Carlo Television Festival Saturday. They also paid tribute to the main victim of the incident, executive producer/co-showrunner Brandon Sonnier, whose leg was amputated below [...]

  • Emmys: How a Social Media Campaign

    How a Social Media Campaign to Game the Emmys Led to This Week's 'Block Voting' Scandal

    The Television Academy’s “block voting” controversy has quickly become the talk of Emmy season — and that appears to have been the org’s point. According to multiple insiders, the number of people disqualified from voting in this year’s competition is believed to be small, only around three members (out of nearly 25,000 members overall). But [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    TV News Roundup: Hulu Drops Trailer for 'Veronica Mars' Revival (Watch)

    In today’s roundup, Hulu dropped the official trailer for the “Veronica Mars” revival and HBO revealed more cast members for “Lovecraft Country.” FIRST LOOKS Hulu has dropped the official trailer for its revival of “Veronica Mars,” set to premiere on July 26. The series will bring back most of the original cast, including Kristen Bell, Jason [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Viacom CEO Bob Bakish

    Bob Bakish Talks Pluto TV, Netflix and CBS-Viacom Merger Rumors

    Viacom CEO Bob Bakish knows that a lot of his peers are in the original content space in streaming, but he believes the company’s ad-supported free service Pluto TV is better off relying on Viacom’s library of content. “We can debate a lot of things about the future, but in the near term, the opportunity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content