Władziu Valentino Liberace was not pleased when he first saw his counsel, Gilbert Beyfus. The flamboyant solicitor David Jacobs had instructed the elderly, deaf and rather shabby silk in the case the US entertainer was bringing for libel against the Daily Mirror. He would have preferred the dapper Gerald Gardiner who appeared for the newspaper.
But he was wrong. Beyfus, the spiritual father of George Carman, was not called the Old Fox for nothing.
In the 1950s one of the leading Fleet Street journalists was the Mirror’s William Connor who wrote as Cassandra and who in 1956 when homosexual conduct was still a criminal offence described Liberace as ‘the summit of sex… a deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love’.
The word complained of was fruit, which Liberace said was a US term for homosexual. Connor claimed to not know that definition.
He was almost certainly lying. Originally the term had been defined as someone who was an ‘easy picking’ and could be applied to both males and females. The word had been in common usage in British army slang during the second world war and it is inconceivable that Connor did not know perfectly well what he was writing.
In his turn Liberace certainly was lying. However, Beyfus had Connor prevaricating.
The case was heard before a jury and when the members returned to give their verdict one woman winked at Beyfus, mouthing, ‘It’s all right’ before the foreman announced they were awarding Liberace a total of £8,000. By the time Liberace returned to the Savoy Hotel she was waiting for his autograph.
Later she told the newspapers: ‘I wanted to end his suspense, to let him know everything was all right. Any woman of feelings would have done the same.’
The damages he received led Liberace to repeat his catchphrase to reporters: ‘I cried all the way to the bank!’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor