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In childhood, Liberace suffered from a speech impediment and as a teen from the taunts of neighborhood children who mocked him for his effeminate personality and his avoidance of sports and his fondness for cooking and the piano.

Liberace concentrated on his piano playing with the help of music teacher Florence Kelly, who oversaw Liberace's musical development for 10 years.

Liberace also performed in cabarets and strip clubs.

Though Sam and Frances did not approve, their son was earning a tidy living during hard times.

At the end of a traditional classical concert in La Crosse in 1939, Liberace played his first requested encore, the popular comedy song "Three Little Fishies".

The transformation to entertainer was driven by Liberace's desire to connect directly with his audiences, and secondarily from the reality of the difficult competition in the classical piano world.

Besides clubs and occasional work as an accompanist and rehearsal pianist, Liberace played for private parties, including those at the Park Avenue home of millionaire oilman J. By 1947, he was billing himself as "Liberace—the most amazing piano virtuoso of the present day".

(Later, he performed with an array of extravagant, custom-decorated pianos, some encrusted with rhinestones and mirrors.) He moved to the Los Angeles neighborhood of North Hollywood in 1947 and was performing at local clubs, such as Ciro's and The Mocambo, for stars such as Rosalind Russell, Clark Gable, Gloria Swanson, and Shirley Temple.

He studied the technique of the Polish pianist Ignacy Paderewski.

At age eight, he met Paderewski backstage after a concert at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee.

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