On a day that saw temperatures soar to more than 101 degrees, movie crews in Palm Springs cut through thick humidity to unload scaffolding, lights and sound equipment from a farm of trailers — setting up the framework for a day of filming of the new Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra.
Based on the story told by his secret live-in lover Scott Thorson, the movie focuses on their often tempestuous relationship as Liberace fought to keep it and his homosexuality a secret.
Matt Damon plays Thorson — a man who sued Liberace for more than a million dollars in palimony after their break-up, walking away with only a small settlement.
Michael Douglas plays “Mr. Showmanship” Liberace, who lived out the final days of his life in 1987 at his home in the Las Palmas neighborhood of Palm Springs.
Producing the project — part-time Palm Desert resident Jerry Weintraub.
“I’ve wanted to make a film about Liberace for a very long time,” he said. “After the amazing experience I had with HBO on ‘His Way,’ I knew that they were absolutely the right place for this movie.”
Stephen Soderbergh directs the film.
Crews spent two days capturing scenes in the desert. Monday, they shot scenes inside private homes.
Tuesday’s filming demanded much more attention.
Police barricaded parking lots and streets, which had been taken over by big-rigs full of film-making equipment.
The morning hours saw Palm Springs City Hall transformed into the city hall of the 1970s — complete with cars to match in the parking lot and boxy video cameras set up for a scripted news conference.
Across town, local residents, who auditioned in July, got their chance to perform in the movie. “Extras” filled up vans, called “Showmanship Vans,” to take the ride to Our Lady Of Solitude Church on West Alejo Street — a church Liberace attended frequently across the street from his home.
So many years later, Hollywood found itself converging on a corner of Palm Springs that Liberace built.
He crafted his home out of a former motel in 1967 at the corner of Belardo and Alejo Roads. He called it “The Cloisters” and spent $130,000 renovating it for royalty.
Its five bedrooms had already been converted to guest suites when Liberace arrived, but the flamboyant pianist turned them into theme rooms.
The Valentino Room featured a sleigh bed, and there was a Persian tent room off to the side of the pool.
There was also a master bedroom so large that one tour guide claimed you could fit a small house inside it.
Beyond that, the house had crystal chandeliers, antiques and a small chapel.
Today, a fence surrounds the home, which was purchased in 2011 by a couple in Pasadena. The husband and wife said they were renovating it for their retirement.
An HBO representative told PalmSpringsLife.com Behind the Candelabra will air sometime during the Spring of 2013.