The 2013 film Behind the Candelabra is based on Scott Thorson's 1988 memoir of the same name. The movie purports to dramatize Thorson's relationship with Liberace, from 1977 until shortly after the latter's death in 1987.

The movie doesn't always depict Thorson in the most flattering light. His drug addiction and the problems it causes (deceitful behaviour, violent tantrums, etc.) are frankly portrayed.

This makes me wonder to what extent the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book. Is Thorson's autobiography as unkind to himself as parts of the movie are? Also, are there any major events depicted in the movie that are described differently in the book, or not discussed at all?

(Note that I am not asking whether the movie gives the "true story" of Thorson, Liberace, and the events they were involved with. I just want to know whether it matches what is written in the book, even if Thorson himself is an unreliable narrator.)

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    I haven't read the book, but if someone wants to be considered reliable as the person with the true inside story, portraying oneself a saintly character would not bolster credibility, so it would not surprise me if the story matched the book. It's entirely possible that the author was either being frankly honest, or maybe the editor or publisher came back and said "you are obviously trying to make yourself look good, be honest." Also possible that the book was more flattering, but since there were probably others with a different perspective, the film adaptation was changed for realism. Sep 28, 2016 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


As a biopic, it's accepted that the picture stays fairly close to the book's depiction of events. There is a slate.com breakdown that goes through several scenes and compares them between the book and the movie.

Where the accuracy is called into question is not in the book vs the movie, but in the book vs real life. The slate article notes a few of these, such as the following examples:

According to Thorson, Liberace’s mother Frances (Debbie Reynolds) pushed him hard to practice the piano as a child, forsaking playtime with other kids—and the film presents a similar story. These accounts differ, though, from Darden Asbury Pyron’s 2000 biography, Liberace: An American Boy, which suggests that as a child, the future star was more than happy to practice on his own (“His parents could not tear him away from the upright in his parlor”) and didn’t seem to mind not having friends.


In Soderbergh’s account, he moves out of Liberace’s mansion the day Thorson arrives; the memoir says that that Jerry stayed, despite everyone’s discomfort, for four more months.

This is further corroborated by other accounts such as the one from The Guardian:

This applies especially to his jaw-dropping assertion that the cosmetic surgery he underwent was forced on him by his famous lover, specifically to make him look like a younger Liberace.

There is no independent corroboration for this claim, but its unreliability only adds to the story's fascination: a bizarre, anti-Pinocchio parable in which the power of loneliness and toxic love transforms a handsome young guy into a deeply unhappy plump-nosed, cleft-chin latex doll.

Other criticisms include that it is only a short part of Liberace's life (i.e. the part where Thorsen is a part of it), and that the author may skew things either intentionally or unintentionally.

So in short, yes, the movie is fairly true to the book, but the accuracy of the book is definitely in question.

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