Before Elton John, Madonna or Lady Gaga dominated the world stage with their outrageous costumes and over-the-top performances, there was Liberace - a charismatic showman whose onstage presence combined the glitz of Las Vegas with a dash of quaint but endearing schmaltz.
For nearly two decades, Liberace (1919-1987) was the world's highest-paid entertainer, earning as much as $300,000 per week and garnering some 40,000 fan letters per month.
Eye-popping diamonds and flashy clothes were Liberace's trademark, both onstage and off. He took pleasure in giving gifts of jewellery and apparel from his lavish wardrobe to friends in his inner circle, which included a man named James Myers.
When Myers died in 2005, he bequeathed his treasured archive of Liberace mementos to his mother, Helen. Now a nonagenarian, Mrs. Myers has chosen to consign the unique collection to Mid-Hudson Galleries, who will offer it in a 425-lot auction on December 3.
The vast collection - which arrived from California in 80 boxes - includes custom-designed gold and diamond jewellery, stage-worn clothing and accessories; manuscripts from books Liberace penned, a huge cache of celebrity letters, cards and other correspondence; and thousands of studio and personal family photos.
Additionally, the auction features Liberace's renowned collection of Christmas decorations, including a large-scale, museum-quality Nativity scene with richly dressed hand-painted figures.
More than 70 pieces of jewellery will be offered, including many favourites that Liberace wore in photos appearing in his autobiographical books. In many cases, jewellery lots will be accompanied by one or more photos of Liberace wearing the item.
A top jewellery highlight is Liberace's signature 14K gold and platinum ring set with marquise, round and baguette diamonds forming the shape of a candelabrum.
A heavy, oversize piece that easily could be adapted to fit a woman's finger, the ring is known to have been one of Liberace's favourites. "This ring makes a statement - it definitely says 'Liberace,'" said Mid-Hudson Galleries' owner, Joanne Grant.
Also ranking among Liberace's most treasured jewellery items is the 14K gold open-link chain with diamond-laden pendant created from an 1881 US $10 gold piece.
It is prominently visible in the photo of Liberace that appears on the cover of his book The Wonderful Private World of Liberace. Yet another highlight is Liberace's large and impressive gold-nugget watch with a diamond face and diamond surround.
Not many people knew that Liberace - a devout Catholic - collected fine crosses. "He was inspired to collect them after receiving a cross from Pope Pius XII during an audience with the pontiff in 1956," Grant explained.
This ostentatious necklace is among the Liberace memorabilia treasures
The entertainer's specialty collection includes many exquisite examples encrusted with sapphires, diamond and rubies.
Among the articles of stage-worn apparel to be auctioned are a fur jacket pictured in one of Liberace's books, a custom-made gold brocade tuxedo vest with a label stating it was custom made for Liberace, and many very expensive shoes - some of them gently worn and others appearing never to have been worn at all.
Also to be auctioned are thousands of vintage photographs documenting Liberace's life, from his childhood and teenage years in Wisconsin through his long career as an international superstar, including pictures are of Liberace with celebrity friends.
"Liberace made headlines throughout his career, and with the upcoming HBO production about his life, which will star Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, we anticipate there will be strong interest in the items in this collection," said Joanne Grant.
"He was one of a kind and a true Hollywood legend."