by Joan Kron
Ron Galella/WireImage There were cheers--but no champagne. Last night, Behind the Candelabra, HBO's biopic about Liberace's five-year affair with his decades-younger lover, Scott Thorson, won an Emmy for Best TV Mini-series or Movie. I shared the moment--by phone--with Thorson, who wrote the best-selling book on which the film is based. "We did it, we did it!" he screamed, while a cheer went up from the ten friends assembled in his brand-new apartment in Reno. They snacked on steak, pulled pork, roasted vegetables, and, because Thorson in currently in a court-mandated substance-abuse program, a round of soft drinks.
Liberace's former lover didn't expect a shout-out from the film's producer, Jerry Weintraub, and he didn't get one. "You'll see," said Thorson as the TV exec made his way to the stage to receive his trophy. "He won't mention me." Weintraub thanked everyone from the film's director, Steven Soderbergh, to the stars, the cast, crew, and HBO. But not a word about Thorson or his book.
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Earlier, when Michael Douglas picked up the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Liberace, the Hollywood actor cheekily asked Matt Damon, who played his lover, which half of the statuette he wanted--the top or the bottom? "Top!" shouted Thorson.
Thorson, a.k.a. Jess Marlow (a name he used while in the witness protection program after breaking up with Liberace and witnessing some capital crimes), says he no longer obsesses about being ignored by Weintraub and Douglas. With help from newspaper gossip columnist George Rush, he's working on a new book, Smashing the Candelabra, and he's convinced last night's Emmys for best movie and ten other categories (makeup, editing, costumes, sound, etc.) will help sell his sequel. "This will start a bidding war" between publishers, he says, "and my price will go up, baby!" Thorson collected $100,000 for the option on his original book, and predicts the advance for his new one--about the gritty years that followed the glitzy ones with Liberace--will be closer to $1 million.
Before guests arrived to watch the Emmys, Thorson was still hanging pictures in his new red, white, and black apartment. Images of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn decorate one room, he told me, and there are posters for Behind the Candelabra in another. This sounds a lot more comfortable than his recent digs at the Washoe County Jail, where Thorson spent several months earlier this year while awaiting sentencing for burglary and identity theft. The crime involved possession of someone else's credit card and $1,400 in charges.
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Thorson was saved from a ten-year prison sentence by the film, indirectly at least. The madam and one of the prostitutes at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Carson City, Nevada, watched the movie on HBO and heard that Thorson was in jail nearby. They went to the brothel's owner, Dennis Hof, and entreated him to post bail for Thorson. Hof took charge: he bailed Thorson out of jail, picked him up in a limousine, and hooked him up with a lawyer who knew the ropes in the county. At his sentencing, Thorson was given 60 months of probation on the condition that he complete a substance-abuse program. Soon he was living in luxury in a guest cottage at the ranch, attending AA meetings, enrolled in substance-abuse programs, and talking about training dogs for prisoners. "Dennis is like a father figure to me. We are inseparable, he's keeping the sharks away from me," says Thorson, who has an uncanny ability to find people to watch over him.
Thorson was thinking about what to wear to the Emmys when the drug-court judge decided "that the Bunny Ranch was not a good environment for me," he says. He was forced to move inside Reno city limits. "They took me out of a clean environment with medical care and put me in downtown Reno." Living in a cheap hotel, surrounded by drug addicts, the inevitable happened: "I had a little slip," Thorson admits. After testing positive for meth, he was back in the county jail. Now, the judge has given him one last chance, and Thorson assures me he wants to get clean. To do so, however, he may have to renounce the mantra he learned from Liberace: "Too much of a good thing is wonderful."
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by Joan Kron