The Truth About Betty White’s Relationship With Liberace

In 2011, beloved and iconic actress Betty White gave a juicy interview as a guest on “The Joy Behar Show” (available on YouTube). Along with the revelation that her “Golden Girls” co-star Bea Arthur never liked her, White and Behar discussed how at the beginnings of White’s career, no one had known that White’s friend, the flamboyant pianist and performer Liberace, was gay. White referred to Liberace as “Lee” and called him a “great and dear personal friend” and discussed how she, Liberace, and eventual host of “The Tonight Show” Johnny Carson were all discovered by producer Don Fedderson and started out working in television together. 

It was Fedderson who asked Liberace to escort White to public events such as premiers, and they became known as a couple, despite the fact that they were just friends. White remembered one particularly windy night in which she and Liberace were exiting a car together. 

Liberace appeared on 'The Betty White Show'

In remembering one of their dates, White told Behar (as seen on YouTube) that she put out her hand, thinking Liberace would help her from the car, only to find that Liberace “was holding his hair because he didn’t want it to blow.” She went on to praise Liberace, calling him one of the nicest people she ever met, and when Behar interjected “But he wasn’t straight,” White replied, “Not at all.”

She added, “I don’t care avec [with] whom you sleep, if you’re a decent, nice human being — that’s the bottom line.”

In 1957, Liberace even appeared in a sketch as himself on White’s series “Date With The Angels” (available on Facebook Watch). White’s character Vickie Angel sees Liberace in a restaurant having what appears to be a romantic dinner with a blonde woman and is star-struck, insisting her husband not look at Liberace and eventually getting a “hello” from her celebrity crush, which her husband then doesn’t believe happened because she wouldn’t let him look up from his menu.

Both Betty White and Liberace were early television stars

After “Date With The Angels,” White continued her television career, appearing as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Joyce Whitman on “The Betty White Show,” Ellen Harper Jackson on “Mama’s Family,” and of course Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls.” Liberace had his own 1950s variety show, “The Liberace Show,” which was modeled after his club performances and was a “smash hit,” per the IMDB. He also had several televised specials and made guest appearances on countless talk and variety shows, even co-hosting “The Mike Douglas Show” several times in the 1970s. He eventually became the highest-paid performer in the world, per Celebrity Net Worth.

Liberace and Betty White would appear on television together again in 1985 as guests at the “All-Star Party For ‘Dutch’ Reagan,” which IMDB calls “a televised event in honor of the 40th president, Ronald Reagan, the year he was sworn in for his second term of office.”

Allen Ludden was the love of Betty White's life

Perhaps it was her friendship with Liberace that helped make Betty White an outspoken supporter of gay rights. In a 2010 interview with Parade, five years before the United State Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, she proclaimed, “I don’t care who anybody sleeps with. If a couple has been together all that time — and there are gay relationships that are more solid than some heterosexual ones — I think it’s fine if they want to get married. I don’t know how people can get so anti-something. Mind your own business, take care of your affairs, and don’t worry about other people so much.”

Per People Magazine, White had two brief marriages in the 1940s. She met her third husband, Allen Ludden, in 1961 when she was a guest on the game show “Password,” which Ludden hosted. They married in 1963 and were together until Ludden died in 1981. According to a New York Daily News article from 2011, when asked if she’d ever considered remarrying, White answered “Once you’ve had the best, who needs the rest? I made two mistakes before Allen, but the love of your life doesn’t come along in every life, so I am very grateful that I found him.”

Liberace appeared in public with lots of women

Liberace stayed closeted throughout his life and had several other fake girlfriends, or “beards,” with whom he appeared and public and with whom he claimed to have romantic relationships. In 2013 Liberace’s long-term partner Scott Thorson wrote a guest column for The Wrap in which he named a long list of women with whom Liberace had camera-friendly, supposedly romantic relationships, including Susan Hayward, Gale Storm, Rosemary Clooney, Mae West, and Judy Garland. 

Per Thorson, Liberace loved escorting famous women to parties and getting his picture taken with them and published in tabloids. He was even engaged to Las Vegas dancer JoAnn Del Rio, but the marriage never took place; Del Rio’s father would later take credit for ending the engagement because he knew his son-in-law-to-be was gay. According to Thorson, though, Liberace later told him that he’d never planned on marrying Del Rio and had only gotten engaged to get people to stop talking about his sexuality. Liberace also had a long-term public relationship with figure skater and actress Sonja Henie. Thorson noted that Liberace told him he and Henie actually did have an affair — his last relationship with a woman.

'I can't admit a thing unless I want to be known as the world's biggest liar'

In 1959, Liberace sued the British tabloid the Daily Mirror for libel after a 1956 item from gossip columnist William Connor, using the pen name Cassandra, called him, among other things, “fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” As reported by The Guardian, homosexuality was illegal in Great Britain at the time, and the trial consisted of Liberace perjuring himself by denying he was gay and the Daily Mirror insisting that the column hadn’t been trying to imply that he was gay. The jury found in favor of Liberace and awarded him £8,000, the modern equivalent of nearly £200,000 (per the Bank of England), or $275,000. 

As Liberace’s long-term partner Scott Thorson wrote for The Wrap, the New York Daily News ran a headline reading “I’m No Homo, Says Suing Liberace,” and Liberace “never again felt the need to camouflage his true nature by dating ladies.” Liberace never came out and died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987. According to Thorson, Liberace stayed in the closet even as other celebrities started coming out, saying, “I can’t admit a thing unless I want to be known as the world’s biggest liar.”

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