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|JAMES TAYLOR /||MADONNA /||DIANA ROSS /||MALCOLM FORBES|
the cake designer bon vivant. My mother Lil wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer because we're Jewish, and that's what Jewish children are supposed to do, so that they can afford to buy condominiums for their parents in Florida. I broke the mold, what can I say. I make cakes and she still lives in Brooklyn.
In the mid eighties I was commissioned by Radio City to make specially designed cakes for the talent appearing there. When the heavy metal group Iron Maiden gave their concert, I made a jet black cake with what looked to be a silver metal strap going right across the top, emblazoned with their logo. For an appropriate accent I had blood dripping from it (just to make them feel at home). I never met them in person, which was just as well. I mean, what could I possibly say to a group who goes out of their way to make themselves look like accident victims, "Hope you feel better?"
And I did Liberace too. On his opening night at Radio City, an enormous party had been planned for him. The papparazzi were all invited to come. All the big Machas (Yiddish for honchos) at Radio City. Everyone who was anyone received an invite. Everyone. Except me. Now I thought, hey, I'm someone. I'm Cakes by Cliff. I made the Big Lib that fabulous, glitzy, silver, cake with his name sculpted on it. I was in his dressing room, for God's sake. What am I, chopped liver? I WANTED TO GO TO THAT PARTY. But, I was much too polite to make a stink and force the issue. So I got a friend to, instead, and within minutes I was being escorted into the midst of this enormous party. And I mean everything was big, even the ice.
As I entered, two hundred feet ahead of me, there it sat: a grand piano and matching piano seat. Made of solid ice. You know, all the time people say to me "Cliff, how can you make cakes like you do, and put so much time and energy into them, when you know they're going to be eaten, and by tomorrow morning wind up in the you know what." Well, if you ask me, that's not so bad. At least people enjoy them as they salivate the art. It's interactive. But this ice sculpture business is really depressing. I mean, that thing was just going to drip away and eventually become part of the East River. Here one minute, gone the next. And worse yet, it makes a real mess. Have you ever seen how much water a grand piano and matching chair can make when they melt. I mean, one and one half hours into that party you could have rented row boats.
After several glasses of champagne, feeling quite plotzed, I espied a long line of people just standing in the middle of the room. Approaching them, I saw that they were waiting for Him. It was a reception line for which Liberace was the recipient. With inebriated courage I decided I would join the cue. I stood there waiting for quite a while, and when finally my time came, nervousness set in, and I became fidgety. As I stood talking to him sitting in his chair, this piano king, seeing that his hair was sparkling in the roomlight, I felt the urge to express my wonder to him. So in mid sentence, as I was telling him that I was the one who had made his cake, I began to touch his hair. "Even your hair sparkles," I said, as I was stroking his bouffant (much like the apes caressing the monolith in 2001). "Even that sparkles."
I left that party long before that piano floated away. As the effects of the champagne dissipated, I thought, "Jesus Christ, I touched his hair. I played with Liberace's hair." I was very nervous that news of my tampering with the star's locks would get back to Radio City, but I was spared that embarrassment. Thankfully there were no repercussions. In fact, several days later (the night after I made him the lifesize candelabra creampuff), I was asked if I wanted to meet him (under more salubrious conditions). While waiting to meet him, I wondered, "Do I call him Liberace or Mr. Liberace?"
Then, I entered his world and there he sat, inches away from me, before an illuminated mirror, in a white shirt and boxer shorts, black socks, black shoes, big smile.( And no, there were no sequins on his boxer shorts). Sitting there, with his knobby knees exposed, he looks up at me, takes my hand to shake it, and flashing that singular smile, says to me in his forever mellow/nasal voice, "You're a real artist." I thanked him a lot and told him that I thought he was too. We talked shop (cake and pianos), and before I knew it, I was back in the real world (or was his the real world?).
Having been given the mantle of "real artist" by Liberace, my creative cake juices surged. I made him cakes that were very, as my mother puts it, chatzchadik (aka busy, roccoco). But you have to understand, the last thing in the world Liberace would have wanted is something too tasteful. I mean, we are talking here about a man who made his entrance onstage in a chauffeur driven, vintage 1930's white Rolls Royce convertible, wearing a floor length white mink coat. The architect, Mies Van der Rohe, popularized the phrase less is more. Liberace's was give me more.
So I gave him more, including a dancing waters cake. What are dancing waters, you ask? Well, late in his show, the majestic curtains of Radio City part, and there, before an audience comprised of little old ladies with purple rinsed hair (accompanied by young men, who all looked suspiciously like Liberace), is a large, LARGE, fountain. Suddenly, out rolls a grand piano (which was real and guaranteed not to melt) and Liberace ceremoniously begins to play Beethoven (who would have had a heart attack had he been present). All at once, the fountains spring to life, getting higher and lower and changing color in rhythm to the music. Then they sway backwards and forwards mimicking the tempo. They were dancing, and it was totally bizarre. But I'll tell you something. Those ladies with lavender hair just ate it up. And the hundreds of Liberace look alikes did too. As did I. Because he was a real artist.
|JAMES TAYLOR /||MALCOLM FORBES /||DIANA ROSS /||MADONNA|