Sit-Down Comic at the Keyboard Plays in Some Strange Situations

Times Staff Writer

After the clanking dirty dishes were hauled to the kitchen and after she was introduced to the Telephone Pioneers of America as Liberace's protege, pianist Linda Genteel stepped forth to deliver a few renditions on the 88.

But the piano had only 68 keys.

Not to worry. Although she is barely 22 years old, this professional has played so many concerts for senior citizens under so many odd circumstances that there is hardly a calamity she has not confronted.

Linda Genteel--tall, slender, strikingly beautiful with porcelain skin and dark hair--then adapted arrangements of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, the Warsaw Concerto, some Strauss waltzes and a patriotic medley to 20 fewer keys than the music called for. She used sheer force to try to compensate for the piano's lack of resonance.

"I was going to play Chopin's Polonaise in A Flat but there aren't enough keys," she explained after her first selection. "I think I just broke my hand hitting the wood."

During her half-hour performance in the San Gabriel Elks Clubhouse she also adapted to and compensated for the Telephone Pioneers' spontaneous sing-alongs, a steady buzz of conversation, tobacco smoke and enthusiastic clapping to the beat.

When it was over, Genteel announced that "after this workout I can skip today's trip to the gym. However, I want to thank Mattel for the piano. Next year I'll bring my own."

She could have said anything--anything at all--and they would still love her.

Besides being Liberace's protege, a visual delight, a skilled performer, a representative for Schafer Pianos and quite funny, Genteel was carrying out her mission: to perform free of charge for senior citizens at least three times a week. This is the basis of an organization she founded, Youth for Seniors, that asks its more than 50 members to volunteer their talents for elderly patients in convalescent hospitals.

Genteel, who lives near Beverly Hills with her husband, Los Angeles restaurateur Nick de Courville, dresses in swirling, sparkling formals. For San Gabriel Valley Life Members of Telephone Pioneers of America, she was in strapless white tulle with jewels and glitter bordering lace flowers. She brought the silk rose and bud vase that accompany her everywhere--a reminder, she said, of her beloved grandmother who died tragically while living alone in an unsafe neighborhood. She would have been better off in a home for the elderly, Genteel reasons.

The audience loved her story, and her Liberace shtick.

Genteel dropped her famous teacher's name liberally. She is Liberace's only female partner, she said, and she played a solo during his costume change at the Las Vegas Hilton.

In April, she will be his partner when Liberace introduces his new rhinestone piano (which has a matching limousine) at a three-week concert appearance in New York's Radio City Music Hall, Genteel said. "I guess I'll have a matching piano," she said. "He leaves some things to the last minute to decide, so I don't know."

They will play "Slaughter on 10th Avenue." That much she knows.

Meanwhile, it is on with the shows, wherever and however they are.

"I've played on the worst pianos in the world," Genteel said while relaxing backstage. "I've played on player pianos, and let's see--where was it?--a key fell off and this nice man put it back on with Krazy Glue and then more keys kept falling off. You never know what's going to be available when you walk into a place.

"I like senior clubs, and especially convalescent hospitals where people are sick and hardly ever get out. Most of these affairs are bag lunches where we don't have the clatter of dishes. And playing for these people means so much to them it gets really exciting."

Noticeably exhausted but still smiling, she gathered up her rose and her voluminous skirt and leaped into her sparkling new white Rolls Royce convertible.

"Tomorrow I go to the Go Go Stroke Club in West Los Angeles," she said, and she was off.

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