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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, an intimate look at an entertainment original. Liberace, the legendary Mr. Showmanship. Here to share rhinestone memories and real live secrets: the fabulous Debbie Reynolds, one of Liberace's good friends; former TV talk show host Mike Douglas, another one of Lee's pals; funny lady Phyllis Diller, very close to Liberace too. Entertainer Robert Goulet who gave a eulogy at the funeral, plus Liberace's housekeeper for almost 40 years, Gladys Luckie, and his longtime publicist Jamie James. All next on LARRY KING LIVE!
Good evening. America has a history of unusual artists who burst upon the scene, last a while, sometimes fade, sometimes not. One of those who did not was the incredible Liberace. And we've got a tribute to him and are trying to get an understanding of him. There was never an act quite like Liberace. Let's start with James -- Jamie James, his publicist. What was he like to represent?
JAMIE JAMES, PUBLICIST: He was fun. He was just totally positive, always ready for a challenge, very easy to work with, only he didn't -- wasn't real fond of doing interviews. You had to beg him.
KING: Never interviewed him. I've never interviewed him, never saw him being interviewed. I know Mike Douglas did.
JAMES; He would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mike's show and loved doing that. And I think he -- I don't know, I think he did the Mike Douglas show quite a few times.
KING: But he was easy to deal with.
JAMES: He was very easy to deal with. He hated to be photographed. He hated to be photographed. He hated to record. And I asked him once, "Why do you hate to record?" He said, "If I make a mistake, I have to listen to that mistake the rest of my life. But if I'm in concert I can play the next number right. And they will forgive me."
KING: Mike Douglas, what he was like to work with?
MIKE DOUGLAS, LIBERACE'S FRIEND: It was incredible. I learned so much. I was a kid starting out in -- it was 1948, and I played the first important date of my life. I was opening the show at the Empire Room of the Palmer House in Chicago, and Liberace was the star, and in between there was an act called Gower and Belle, who later became Marge and Gower Champion.
Well, I have to tell you, that was quite a show. We went in for four weeks and we stayed 12. And I had two -- my two twin daughters were infants, and I remember walking with Jen to the room one night and I heard the maid say, "Somebody's cooking on this floor." And we were heating bottles and I thought it was our burner. And later on Liberace called and said, "Can you -- have you had dinner?" We said no. He said, "Come over, have dinner." He was cooking out of this double burner in the Palmer House. It was great -- the food was great, by the way.
KING: Phyllis Diller, did you work with him?
PHYLLIS DILLER, ACTRESS: Yes, I worked with him on television, and speaking of cooking, that's why we had such a good relationship. It was based on food.
KING: He -- you both loved to eat.
DILLER: Yes. He loved my cooking and I used to have him to dinner.
KING: What was about it him. Was -- would you call him a great artist?
DILLER: Not great.
KING: What was the...
DILLER: He had total charm, charisma, and knew how to entertain, and just gather up an audience to his heart.
KING: His breaks were television, though, right, Debbie? I mean, where the public got used to him. He became famous in Vegas, of course.
DEBBIE REYNOLDS, ENTERTAINER: The women loved him. He was showman, you know. He was...
KING: He had that show with the candelabras every day. My mother would watch every time he came on with his brother George, right?
REYNOLDS: He was great -- of all the people that I know in the entertainment industry he was greatest showman, because he always changed his show. He had the dancing waters. He brought that, Phyllis, remember? He would play and the dancing waters would go all kinds of colors and go with the music. He thought of that.
Just a million things -- that is the way he -- he always talked -- that is the way he talked. And he loved cooking. He was great cook. Because we would stay up late at night, you know, and he would make breakfast because we liked to stay up.
KING: Gladys Luckie, in Las Vegas you were his housekeeper for, what, 40 years. GLADYS LUCKIE, LIBERACE'S HOUSEKEEPER: For 40 years, yeah.
KING: What was he like to work for?
LUCKIE: Well, there was some similarities to my leaving Texas, and Liberace leaving Wisconsin. When I was a little girl I always dreamed of going to Hollywood, cooking and catering for the stars, and he dreamed of becoming a celebrity, which he was. In Hollywood.
KING: Was he nice to work for?
LUCKIE: He was wonderful to work for, he was great. He was the greatest.
KING; Debbie, though it's -- people didn't know -- say a young person is watching. He was not a great pianist, was he?
LUCKIE: Oh, God, yes.
KING: Gladys says yes. Debbie...
REYNOLDS: He was.
KING: A great pianist.
REYNOLDS: Phyllis can answer that probably be -- being as she is a wonderful pianist. But actually, I loved the way he played because it was so much -- with such a flourish. You know, he loved to make it exciting.
DILLER: He was a commercial -- a fabulous commercial pianist. But he was not a great pianist.
KING: Did he think he was great, Jamie?
JAMES: No, not at all.
KING: He knew he was very (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
JAMES: Right. Actually, we found out, too, just recently that the word Mr. Showmanship -- he chose that name. It wasn't some publicity person but actually he selected that name. That's what wanted to go and to be more than just a pianist.
KING: We have extraordinary artist featured with us tonight. Will Collins is in Las Vegas. He is a Liberace tribute artist. He is at the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas. Will Collins, how does that museum -- look at that.
REYNOLDS: My golly.
KING: How does that museum operate? It's open every day to the public.
WILL COLLINS, LIBERACE TRIBUTE ARTIST: Seven days a week.
KING: And what.
COLLINS: Las Vegas style.
KING: And what's in museum?
COLLINS: Oh, all kinds of things. You know, Liberace collected automobiles and pianos and all kinds of things. And right now I'm sitting by one of his more famous pianos that he used on tour.
KING: Did you know him, Will?
COLLINS: I had met him three different times. He was very nice man. Very nice.
KING: All right. At the end of each segment, our man Will Collins will play us out, a la Liberace. So let's go to Will as we go to break. Will?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: Thank you so much. Oh, you're fabulous. Listen, I got to tell you, I love that standing up business. That's a beautiful compliment. Gave you a chance to straighten out your shorts, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Discussing the life and times of Liberace. Can't have this discussion without discussing sex and the fact -- but didn't everyone know he was gay? And was never -- he never said -- what was the story with that, Jamie?
JAMES: I think everybody knew he was gay, yes. I think in the early days that was a very touchy subject for a career entertainer. In fact, he got a good taste of what just the innuendo of sexuality was about with the Cassandra trial in London, where the Teddy boys would come in disrupt his concerts, so it was hurtful to his performance. And that was the one thing he was very protective of, was -- one, the Liberace character that he invented and also to -- if he messed with his career, he would come after you.
KING: But Mike, he was quite effeminate, wasn't he?
DOUGLAS: Oh, yes. That was -- yes. But you know, he had George with him all the time. George was at other end of the -- and -- very straight ahead. And George was a lot of fun. And we understood that something very funny happened one time apropos of what you are speaking of.
He bought a station wagon. I never forgot this. We saw him coming in the side entrance of the Palmer House, and we heard this clop, clop, clop. And the station wagon had simulated wood on the side. And we heard this clop, clop, clop and we turned round and we said "What's going on?" He said -- he had sandals on -- he said, "These are my station wagon shoes."
DOUGLAS: I never forgot that. The other thing is, he's the only man I know, Larry, who could say,"Thank you very, much ladies and gentlemen," without the mouth moving. It would be all teeth. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. And Phyllis knows about that, too.
KING: Phyllis, he was obviously gay. And he played gay, didn't he? I mean he was -- gay.
DILLER: I loved him. It was like having a very lovely female companion, friend, darling someone you -- your old aunt.
KING: So why did he -- why hide it?
DILLER: Well, I think like Jamie said, I think he was worried about his career.
KING: Now that would be nothing, right?
DILLER: No, it would put him away ahead.
KING: Debbie, did -- his act was a gay kind of act, wasn't it?
REYNOLDS: No, it was fey. It was just wonderful, because he was camping it up, that's all. You know, "See this ring, see this is a stone. You paid for this stone, you'd be about this size, you know, something (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He called me up one time -- it was Tom Jones's birthday at Caesar's. And he called and said, "Debbie, get all dressed in white. And wear all your jewelry. I'm picking you up right after the show. We're going to Tom Jones's party.
So he picks me up in his big Cadillac, it was -- you know, it had all piano keys on it. And he got out and he has this chauffeur's hat on . And he drove me. I had to sit in the back, and he said,"Now, just climb right in." And I had to climb in there and sit in back. And he said, "Isn't this fun!" And he drove me over to Caesar's and we had to walk in together. And he sat on one side of Tom Jones and I sat on the other side. Nobody had a chance for Tom Jones. We had him all night long. We took him to the airplane in the car.
KING: It's true, isn't it, Jamie, that he died of AIDS.
JAMES: Yes, he did.
KING: But he denied it to the end, right?
JAMES: He wanted to keep it a secret. He really didn't want to share it. He probably only found out in the early part of the year before he died that he was positive. And he really he wanted it to be his secret.
KING: You knew him pretty well.
JAMES: Again, I think it was that character. I've always said that Liberace -- his name was really Walter Valentino Liberace. He dropped the first two names and became simply Liberace. And he created this character that was perfect. The character liked women, he liked -- he was the perfect character.
KING: Kind of asexual, right? As a character.
JAMES: The character. So he would project this character. The person on stage walked with his -- with a heel-forward stride. Liberace at home kind of shuffled. He was very quiet and wore real plain clothes. Wore the same pair of coveralls for weeks at a time. Gladys had to pull them off the bed while he was taking a shower to wash them.
KING: We are going to go to a break. Will Collins is at the museum. What do you -- what are you showing us now, Will?
COLLINS: You know what, Larry, I wanted to show you a few of my costumes. This is a fun one. By the way, Debbie is doing my voice very well. Oh, look at this. It's called the matador suit. I wore this one on my tour of Mexico. And I wore it on stage here in Las Vegas. And I used to say, "I can't believe I wore the whole enchilada."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: Well, it's quite new. I've only worn it once before.
LIBERACE: Well, I was invited to one of those fabulous dinners in Washington. And it was attended by President and Ladybird Johnson, so I figured, you know, such an important occasion, I better give them the works, right?
DOUGLAS: Did they notice you?
LIBERACE: Oh, they sure did. In fact, let me tell you, I was the only one there with one like it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. There is a foundation, right, Jamie?
JAMES: Yes, it's called the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts.
KING: And what does it do?
JAMES: Liberace left the bulk of his estate to the foundation, and it provides scholarships, grants for the performing and creative arts. They've given away over four and a quarter million dollars since his death. All the estate money is drawing interest so it should be able to keep giving scholarships for years and years to come.
KING: Was he, Debbie, the highest-paid entertainer in Vegas? I mean, was he right there with Presley and Streisand?
REYNOLDS: Oh, yes, well -- he was the one individual, he was the showman. You know, Streisand is the great talent, and Elvis -- again, Elvis was...
REYNOLDS: A showman, also, and those names will never go away. Those are great names, you know.
KING: Was his following older, Phyllis?
DILLER: I think mainly, first it was women. And then it -- they made their husbands come, and the husbands fell in love with him, too. Because they realized what a great entertainer.
KING: Did he have a big gay following?
DILLER: I'm sure he did. It's the same with comics. The first people who come with you are the gays, the second are women, and the third are finally the men dragging in.
KING: Finally they come in. Mike, what was he like when he co- hosted with you.
DOUGLAS: Oh, he was fabulous. One of the smartest people I ever met.
DILLER: Yeah. He was so smart. I'll give you example. When we went into the Palmer House it was a horrible room. I'm sure Phyllis knows about it. The entrance is right in front of you and just one line of tables and the bulk of the audience back here and back there. He went in ahead of time and saw that room, and he had them build a four-foot riser to put his piano on so he would be visible to the entire audience. And Marge and Gower Champion would come out and dance -- you couldn't see their feet or anything. I mean, it was ridiculous. And the room was horrible. Phyllis will tell you, audience back here and back there, you didn't know where to turn.
KING: Gladys, what kind of house did he live in?
LUCKIE: He lived in many homes. Beautiful homes. KING: He moved around a lot?
LUCKIE: Yes, Malibu, Palm Springs, Trump Tower, Reno, many, many.
KING: Why, Jamie, did he move so much? He was -- was he one of those buyers and sellers?
JAMES: No. He did learn the value of real estate, though, and liked to buy and sell. But he liked to go live in a different place -- like he might come in to Vegas and stay in the house there, then come to L.A. to his penthouse, and stay in the penthouse. Then he would go to Malibu -- in other words, every -- he didn't go to hotels or out of town, his own possessions were his vacation. And he had -- every one came with hundreds of hundreds of dishes and glasses. He could do a different setting for dinner and every meal, completely different. Antiques.
KING: Was he generous?
JAMES: Very generous.
JAMES: I was moving into a new apartment one time -- in fact, he even found it for me. He said, "You've got to see this, it's really great." I said, "Yes, but what's the rent? You know, I don't make the same money you do." He said, "You can afford it." So I did take it. It's a two story studio.
And he said -- I worked for a corporation at the time, and he said, "Could I put some things in your apartment while you're at work?" And I said, "Sure." You know, he said, "I know you don't like the taste that I do but I do have some things I think you'll like.
I came home from work that day. He had completely furnished my whole apartment. I had to get rid of my furniture. There were rugs, there were paintings, and he said, "I hope you like it. I know you may not like that plastic plant." I said, "Lee, if anybody comments on my plastic plant they're insulting my decorator." So. And he loved doing it. He would come back and say, "How come you haven't hung those pictures?"
KING: How did the candelabra thing come about?
DILLER: There was a man in early Hollywood who claims that he stole the idea.
KING: Liberace stole it?.
DILLER: Yes. It was John Walsh, and he had a little place on La Cienega, and he was a gay male singer, and he -- on the piano he had a candelabra. And it may well be that he thought,"Oh boy, that's a good idea." And that may be not true at all. I have no idea. But you know, you mentioned generosity. Every time he came to dinner in Las Vegas with me, he wouldn't bring one gift he'd bring five. Five gifts.
KING: He was outlandish.
KING: Will, where are you in the museum?
COLLINS: I love collecting things, and one of the things that's very outlandish, too, is this piece which came from Saint Petersburg in Russia, formerly owned by Czar Nicholas II. Now, Gladys will remember this one. In fact, I used to pay my bills, and even write some of the recipes for my cookbook with this desk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: How am I doing, Debbie?
REYNOLDS: Oh, Lee, just fine, that's fine.
LIBERACE: You know what this music is from?
REYNOLDS: No, Lee, where is this music from?
LIBERACE: It's from Annie, the new musical all about the Little Orphan Annie.
REYNOLDS: And Daddy Warbucks, too?
LIBERACE: Weren't they something?
REYNOLDS: They were wonderful! Oh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) let's go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back. Gladys Luckie, what were his parties like?
LUCKIE: His parties? Oh, they were lovely. He had wonderful parties. A lot of entertaining. So many stars that were there. Johnny Mathis, and you name them, Eva Gabor.
KING: He was, Debbie, popular in the show business community?
REYNOLDS: We all loved him, and he invited everybody, after the show to come over, and he liked to cook. He loved -- gave great parties at Palm Springs. I know Gladys remembers that we all came. Nobody turned down an invitation with Lee.
KING: Did he ever spoof himself? He was in a kind of denial about that. Did he ever kid himself?
REYNOLDS: Not about you are saying about gay. Gay was never discussed. It was friendship. And I don't think that it needs to be discussed because it's just so sad that we lost him.
KING: Only because he died of AIDS and he was kind of hiding it.
REYNOLDS: Well he -- anybody would hide in our industry at that time. If you were the leading star...
KING: This is a perspective of time.
REYNOLDS: Leading star -- today, I still think that he would rather be remembered for Liberace the Great Showman, not his illness.
KING: And there was never one like that, right Phyllis?
DILLER: No, he was a great -- at improvisation. As was Beethoven and some of the old guys. That's what he did. He'd take...
KING: Wouldn't play the same piece the same way twice.
DILLER: Well, I think he did. But the thing is, he took pieces that were familiar to the ear for the public and then he would just jack them up and, oh, embroidery, and with rings on!
KING: Mike, you're a musician. What kind of pianist was he -- how would you describe the piano he played?
DOUGLAS: Well, I thought -- I didn't think great pianist, I've got to be honest, because I've heard some of the great ones. But he -- he had a pulse, he knew -- it reminded me of Kay Kaiser. He had the pulse also, And Phyllis has the pulse. They know what the audience likes. He just knew how to do everything, and he is first person I ever saw do a bit still being done by a lot of people, where he'd get somebody from the audience, say, "Hit one note." (WHISTLES) And then he'd go (WHISTLES) and come back and played -- middle bar, dadadada. I've never heard laughs like that in my life. The first person to do that. Phyllis knows that.
KING: How important to him was George.
DOUGLAS: Very important.
KING: Jamie, was he?
JAMES: He was very important. Actually, they said that the museum actually was started in Vegas to give George a job, because he really -- and he did a great job. He used to come out and do little performances for the first crowds.
The original museum was only one small building. And we're expanding the museum. We're going to add a lot more square footage, like 21,000 square foot. And Leo A. Daly, who is a major architectural firm, has given us very good prices for doing the new expanded museum. And it's going to look very much like Liberace. One of the last things Lee wrote about in his last book was he wanted to start a place called Liberace Park. And he even went to Tiffany's and bought a sterling silver shovel to break the ground. He died before they got to use it, but we did use it in May on his birthday, to break the ground for the new expansion.
KING: Were you with him when he passed.
JAMES: Yes, I was, actually.
KING: Died at home
JAMES: He died at his Palm Springs home. I went in -- they were very secretive about what was going on. I knew something was wrong but I didn't know exactly what. So I drove in and -- Seymour Heller's wife called me and said, 'If you want to see him you better come down now." So I went down. Well, he was already in a coma. I sat with him for a couple of days until the phone started ringing from the press, and Angie, the sister, wanted all of us to leave, that they wanted just to be together.
And it was very painful, and weird thing about it is I'm sitting by and a nurse says, "Talk to him, because he may be able to understand you, he may be hear." And I would get a squeeze occasionally, so -- and the one thing I've noticed that was so weird. Lee had real Polish hands, real fat fingers. And, I looked down and with the weight loss he had long, slender piano player fingers. It was very odd. Of course,you're sitting there and your brain is going all over the place.
KING: Will Collins in Vegas at the museum. Where are you now?
COLLINS: Well, you know what, I'm really glad we're expanding the museum because I have so much to show. That means I can bring more things. For example, this is the Fourth of July costume that I wore in Radio City Music Hall. I especially like the hot pants. Oh, we heard Debbie talking about my dancing waters. Well, this blue and gold ensemble is what I used to like to wear for that set. It's quite the piece.
You might remember, you saw me in "Batman" a couple of times. This is the Batman suit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: Heavenly days, am I dreaming?
BATMAN: No, it's us in the flesh. Who attacked you?
LIBERACE: I've covered for the fiend long enough. It was my criminal twin brother, Harry.
ROBIN: Holy fratricide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we get back with our panel, we want to spend a few moments with Robert Goulet, the famed actor and entertainer, who joins us from Las Vegas as well.
How well -- well, you spoke at his funeral. How well did you know Liberace?
ROBERT GOULET, ENTERTAINER: You know something, Larry, I didn't know him at all. I knew him from little moments here, there and everywhere, but never really -- we never hung out or anything like that.
I first met him was 19 -- I'm trying to figure out the date. I think it was 1954 in Toronto. I was working with a group people, amateurs in a production called "Spring Thaw" that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) used to put on every year. And he came in and he took pictures with all the cast so there was something for the papers the next day.
And I was playing in a sketch at that point, I was playing Hamlet. And I -- had tights on. And he came by and looked at my legs, he said, "Oh Hamlet, great legs."
And you know, years later I was -- I was in "Camelot" with Julie Andrews. And she said to me at one point, "Oh, Bobby, great legs." And you know, nothing ever happened in either case.
KING: Robert, why were you asked to speak at the funeral if you knew him so casually?
GOULET: You know, I don't know. I don't know. I don't...
KING: Who asked? Who made the request?
GOULET: I think it was one of his sisters. I think it was Angie. I'm not sure.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Angie.
GOULET: Angie? Well, you know, just shortly before he died, three or four months before he died my wife and I were looking at the papers, and she said, Lee -- she said Liberace -- is performing and I've never seen him perform. Can we go? And I said, sure. So we went, and then we went backstage, and the three of us sat in his dressing room, and we talked for about two, almost three hours about almost everything. And it was a delight just to look at the man.
He looked a little tired. He looked like he was weary, and it wasn't long after that that he went.
KING: And at the eulogy you discussed how important he was to Vegas, right?
GOULET: Well, I said a lot of things, because I said -- first of all, when they asked me to do the eulogy, I said: What, why me? Because, you know, I'm not -- I'm not -- get somebody who's known him for 30 years, not me. And they said, no, he mentioned that they wanted you. And I said: He did? Wow! OK.
And so I wrote some things down, and I said things like, like "We never hung out, because he was always busy redecorating his houses and I was trying to break a 100 on the golf course."
But you know, he -- he was -- he was just a charming, sweet, delightful man. And I said to them, he always made people smile. And I said I can imagine -- the church was filled -- and I said, "I can imagine now," I said, "that he's now looking at us from his window from above and he's smiling."
KING: And also, he really was one of those entertainers, wasn't he, Bob, that put Vegas on the map?
GOULET: Oh, he sure did. My goodness gracious, yeah. Frank had to follow in his footsteps. Sorry, Frank.
KING: Well, I remember when he played at the Hilton, there was that big just Liberace sign out front in and the flashing neon lights. And...
GOULET: Yeah, sure, and then Elvis followed him as well. But he started the whole thing.
He was a delightful entertainer. You all said -- Debbie, Phyllis and everyone -- that he was not the greatest piano player in the world. Well, you know, he wasn't a Van Clyburn, but boy, he was good. He was entertaining, and that was all that mattered.
KING: Bob, great to see you. Thanks for participating with us.
GOULET: Thank you.
KING: Robert Goulet. Let's go back out to the museum now and check in with Will Collins, who is our Liberace. What is that, Will?
COLLINS: Well, you know what, I'm standing in front of my photograph here, this painting, and I'm wearing my candelabra suit. And it reminded me of how this whole thing started with the candelabra. I like Debbie's story, but I remember seeing a movie one time called "A Song for You" back in 1946. And it was based on Chopin. And he put a candelabra on his piano, and I just thought it was a fabulous idea, so I decided to do it for myself, and it really became a trademark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: Thank you very much. It's just a little something I had hanging in the closet.
So, now, are you ready for some music? How about that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're discussing the life and times of Liberace, with actress and friend Debbie Reynolds, who has one of his outfits draped over her shoulder; Mike Douglas, the host for years of "The Mike Douglas Show" -- Liberace co-hosted that show in 1973 -- Phyllis Diller, entertainer, comedian, longtime friend of Liberace; Jamie James, Liberace's publicist, with him at the end, as was his housekeeper, Gladys Luckie. And Gladys is in Las Vegas.
What is that you have draped around you, Debbie?
REYNOLDS: Well, this is one of Lee's, and he gave it to me for our Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, which we're building at Highland and Hollywood Boulevard. So I just thought it was fun to see it.
And it weighs a ton. You'll never know how anybody could really -- well, me all wear heavy costumes, but I think Lee outdid all of us.
This just weighs a ton.
KING: Look at it. Oh, my god. Beautiful colors, though.
REYNOLDS: He gave me a beautiful black suit of his, too, for the museum.
KING: How did he come to wear outfits, Jamie?
JAMES: Well, he was working the Hollywood Bowl, and he broke...
KING: He wore tuxedos, right?
JAMES: Yeah, black tuxedos.
KING: Because he wore that originally on television.
JAMES: But for the Bowl, but he thought he should wear something to separate him from the orchestra. So he wore a white suit of tails. And the press jumped all over that, compared him to Cab Callaway. And he said, well, what are you -- he was going to open the Riviera in '54 as the highest-paid entertainer in Las Vegas. And it was a new nine- story hotel: the high-rise in the sky they called it.
And the reporter asked him, said, well, what are you going to wear for your Riviera opening? And he had not thought of anything other than -- and he looked over at his sister, Angie, who was wearing a gold lame dress, and he says, I'm going to wear a gold lame jacket. Well, that was shocking for that time. So he had to go out and have one made. And that's what started the whole costume story, was that gold lame jacket.
KING: And he liked, Mike, didn't he, to -- well, shock isn't the right word. He liked to make that appearance.
DOUGLAS: Oh, definitely. I'll never forget his opening in Vegas when he would come out in a Rolls-Royce. He would get out of the Rolls-Royce.
KING: Drove a Rolls-Royce on stage.
DOUGLAS: On stage. He did things that were just -- nobody else did. And he would shock the audience, and then he had a way of schmoozing with the audience and just -- and it was -- the dialogue was wonderful. You know, he -- he'd tell -- take a woman in the audience, sitting at ringside, and say, let me see that ring. Had all kinds of dialogue.
He'd say: "You had to do a lot of things to get that ring. I didn't have to do anything. Look at this."
But he kept them -- there were screams in that audience.
KING: Where did he get all that jewelry, Jamie?
JAMES: The first was a pinkie ring from Neiman-Marcus from Republic National Bank that was his first TV sponsor, and that sort of started the legend. He kept adding rings and adding rings. And -- and they...
KING: Were they valuable?
KING: None of it was costume.
JAMES: None of it. No, they're all -- they're all real stones.
REYNOLDS: And they're in the museum.
JAMES: And in the museum.
KING: What kind of friend was he, Phyllis?
DILLER: You couldn't have a finer friend.
DILLER: Loyal, loving, kind. He -- he took me under his wing in London and showed me the greatest time. I wouldn't have known what fun it was to be in London without him as a guide.
KING: How old was he when he died?
KING: Much too young.
KING: And he was always so vibrant, you know. It's hard to picture him...
JAMES: He would be 82 today.
KING: And George passed away when?
JAMES: George passed away -- I'm not good on the date on it, but not too long after the first expansion of the Liberace museum. And it seems like it's been 20 years ago that it happened. Maybe more. I'm not very good on -- on time...
KING: He was a connoisseur of good food. He was a gourmet.
JAMES: Oh, yes.
KING: And Mike mentioned he was very intelligent.
DILLER: Very, and he loved night life. He loved to go and do the club scene. And he was -- it couldn't -- there was one time he was on the phone, and Seymour Heller, his manager. He was talking to someone on the phone, and Seymour said: Will you stop smiling?
You're on the phone.
KING: That's a great story. All right, let's go back to our Liberace man, Will Collins, in -- at the Las Vegas museum. And where are you now, Liberace?
COLLINS: Well, you know what, everywhere I go people always ask about the rings. So I wanted to take a moment to show them to you. Yeah, go ahead, have a look. I like you folks to enjoy them. Let's face it, you paid for them.
And you know what, I'm standing right here by the world's largest Austrian rhinestone. You know, Las Vegas is famous for having the world's largest everything these days, and we've added this to our collection. Isn't it fabulous?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIBERACE: Thank you very much. Well, look me over. I didn't get dressed like this to go unnoticed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Gladys Luckie, I know that you traveled with him, you cooked for him on the road. He didn't trust cooking in some other places. You also served him his last meal, did you not?
LUCKIE: Yes, I did.
KING: What do you remember about that?
LUCKIE: Well, he -- they sent for me to come to Vegas. I mean, to Palm Springs, I'm sorry. He wanted me there. So I went and I was with him, and I fed him his last meal, which consisted of his favorite cream of wheat. And I doctored it up with brown sugar and half-and- half and all that stuff.
So he ate it all, and so I -- he wasn't talking, but he knew what we were saying. And I said to him: I'm so proud of you, Lee, you ate everything. And he gave me that famous wink. And then I did my fingers like this to him, and he did it back and smiled. And that was the last of Liberace. He passed.
KING: You traveled with him. You went to London, to Canada. You went to Hawaii. You cooked for him on the road, right?
LUCKIE: Yes. Yes, I did. Yeah.
KING: He didn't like food in other places?
LUCKIE: Well, he was -- he was like my son, which he told everybody. In every picture that he autographed for me, it said, "To my second mother." So I was known as his second mother.
KING: Yeah, and you -- you met Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip. He met everyone, right, when he traveled? Luminaries wanted to meet Liberace.
LUCKIE: Yes. And I was fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, because her son James Roosevelt married at her home. And I happened to be working for her. And as you know -- I'm sure you remember -- Anita Stewart, Mary Pickford, was Louis B. Mayer's first big star.
KING: You knew her, too?
LUCKIE: And they all kept in touch with him, and I worked for many, many stars, I'm happy to say.
KING: When he was a co-host, Mike Douglas, did he ask -- was he very inquisitive about guests not related to show business?
DOUGLAS: No. No, not at all.
KING: He was a show business person?
DOUGLAS: Oh, he -- he could handle anything. Any situation. And by the way, you've got some people sitting there that -- whose -- I treasure having had them on the show. I really -- Phyllis was one of the greatest, and Debbie Reynolds. And Bob Goulet, we had more fun with Bob Goulet than any guest. He put up with a lot doing my show.
I'll never forget, one day -- if I may interject -- inject this one thing. He came on the show. He was singing a song called "She Touched Me." And the trainer came out with a Bengal tiger, and the trainer had one arm.
I lost -- I lost it.
Larry, I lost it completely. And Goulet, how he got through that song, I will never know.
It was just -- I can't -- things like that that happened.
And Lee -- but getting back to Lee, he could handle any situation. I don't care who came on the show.
There were people who took a few shots at him on the show, and he just handled it so beautifully. Came out on top.
KING: He was never mean, was he?
DOUGLAS: Never, never.
REYNOLDS: Not to anybody. I mean, he was just wanting fun. He had fun. He gave -- his friends were wonderful. He loved to hang out. He was -- at home, yes, he was, when he was private, he was a very quiet man.
REYNOLDS: But he loved to go out.
KING: Did you imitate him to him?
REYNOLDS: No, I never did. It's just like Zsa-Zsa Gabor or Eva, I would never...
(as Zsa-Zsa Gabor): When you're doing an impression of somebody, you don't really...
(normal voice): ... except Phyllis.
REYNOLDS: You don't do it right in their face. You do...
Phyllis helped me do an impression of Phyllis years ago. I was full-drag Phyllis, you know, and...
KING: And you would do it together you mean?
REYNOLDS: No, I went to her house and she showed me her clothes and she helped me with the material, and the little shoes she wore and the cigarette holder. And she worked with me on the laugh. KING: Let's go back now to the museum -- we have one more segment coming -- and see what our friend Will Collins is up to as -- ah-hah, back at the piano I see!
COLLINS: I thought I might send you off with one of my farewell songs, if that's all right.
KING: That's right, because -- that's right, because the panel has one more segment to go, so this will be Liberace's finale.
What do you choose for us?
KING: We want to thank Will Collins for helping us out tonight at the Liberace Museum, a brilliant tribute artist he is, and what a wonderful tribute to Liberace. That piano, by the way, was tuned by Sal Gluck, who passed away after tuning it in 1952.
And they leave it as a replica of him.
Remember, who could forget? Ah...
I just thought about that. That was a weird-sounding piano.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... like banging tin pipes together.
KING: Now, what would Liberace have thought of a piano playing -- that was untuned, Jamie?
JAMES: He wouldn't play it. I was with him in New York, and we went to -- I think it was the "Today Show" -- Barbara Walters was on the show. And he pulled Seymour over and pulled me over, and he says: "See, that piano out there, I'm not playing it."
And Barbara was a friend -- she was a teenage friend when her dad had the Latin Quarter, and Lee was a good friend of hers. And she begged and pleaded, and he said, "Barbara, I'm not playing that piano." And so, that piano was brought in for no use.
KING: He took, Phyllis, all the kidding about him good, didn't he?
DILLER: Oh, yes. Yes. KING: Because -- I mean well. But a lot of people would kid him.
DILLER: Oh, yeah. Well, he loved it. He loved it. It was part of his thing.
In fact, I brought him up on stage in New York one time and made fun of everything he had on. I had -- this was his street clothes.
REYNOLDS: Well, he wouldn't dress like that if he didn't want your attention, didn't want you to tease him.
KING: How -- did he have big parties, Debbie? I mean, we're talking about 100 people, 200 people.
REYNOLDS: No, he had intimate parties, actually. He would have like 12 people over for dinner. And he was just -- he loved to do -- Gladys cooked, of course, but he planned everything. He (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about every home or home everywhere, and sets of china and antiques. He gave me a beautiful shawl for my piano. He said: "Oh, I just, I don't like how it looks. It's just too bare, Debbie. Just a second."
And he went up to his bedroom, and he came back with this gorgeous silk shawl that I still have thrown over my piano.
KING: Gladys, I would imagine you miss him.
LUCKIE: I do, very much. I dream about him a lot.
LUCKIE: Really. And it's always a very pleasant dream. So I know he's at peace with the world.
KING: And Mike, when you look back, what's the first thing that strikes you as you -- we're in our waning moments now -- the memory? His legacy will be what?
DOUGLAS: His legacy will be that he was he was -- he was kind and nice to everyone. He never -- I never heard him ever put another performer down or say anything negative about another performer. I can't say that about many performers. But that will be part of it.
KING: Well said. Jamie, what would be -- that's wonderful, Mike. Jamie?
JAMES: It was a joy in my life to have met Lee and to work for him. I was 22 when I started, really didn't know that much about PR, although I thought I did. And actually, he let me learn. I actually was hired to do his return to the Hollywood Bowl after 10 years. And he totally trusted me, and because I was so excited about it and wanted to do it. In fact, we didn't talk about money. I just wanted to do it. And I did a really good job, and his business manager called me in, and said, we want to hire you.
KING: Phyllis, what do you think he will be remembered most?
DILLER: Showmanship, and of course, generosity. There was one time he was extremely ill and given last rites. He was supposed to die. And what he did, he gave everything away. He bought houses, cars for people. But he got well.
KING: Then what did he do?
DILLER: Took it back.
KING: Debbie, will you say good night as Liberace?
REYNOLDS (as Liberace): Well, I want to thank...
KING: Thank you so much, Debbie.
REYNOLDS (as Liberace): Thank you. Well, it's been just a pleasure to be here. I love everybody...
KING (as Liberace): And we love you, too.
(normal voice): Thank you all very much -- Mike Douglas and Gladys Luckie and Jamie James and Debbie Reynolds and Phyllis Diller and Robert Goulet earlier, and of course, Will Collins.
We hope you've enjoyed this tribute to a legend. Good night.
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