Geraldine (Gerry) Schlein didn't have to reinvent herself at 70 when she stopped working. She went back to the life she once had--the life of art, theater, dance, music--without missing a beat. She had never lost her love of art or the joy of playing the piano, and now, in her mid-80s, she shares that love and joy with others.
Born in New York City of Russian-immigrant parents, Schlein remembers growing up in an environment where everyone had a piano and, if they didn't, then something was missing. She could have had just about anything she wanted, she said, but she chose the bohemian life at the age of 16.
Schlein was drawn to the arts and to a struggling artist named Charles Schlein. She ran away with him to Paris at 20 and didn't marry until her son was born more than 10 years later.
"We didn't believe in marriage," she said in an interview at her Beverlywood home. "No one had to tell us we were in love. . . . In Paris, we studied. It was the time of Picasso. Charles helped me to develop intellectually, taught me how to stand on my own feet and be a person."
The Schleins spent more than 60 years together until Charles' death four years ago.
The couple returned to New York because Gerry Schlein's father was dying. It was the beginning of the Depression.
"We had no money," she said. "I was working with dancers, staging recitals and doing choreography. We were always wondering where the next meal would come from.
"The Whitney family was backing the dance recitals, and one day we were sitting around a table in the theater and the Whitneys' chauffeur came in and dropped a $1,000 bill down in front of us. It was a miracle. The first thing we did was go out and eat a big meal.
"Whenever we were out of money, miracles like that would happen," Schlein said. "One time, my husband found a $50 bill in the men's room. Another time, a painting was sold just when we thought things couldn't get any worse."
Eventually, however, the joy of poverty wore thin. Charles Schlein "went commercial," his wife said, and took a job at a movie studio.
"Having money was terrible," she said. "My husband went from being a vibrant social person to being a morbid man. He sacrificed his artistic life. When he lost his job, it was my turn to be commercial."
Gerry Schlein's commercial career was in the development of consumer products. She started out knocking on doors, asking housewives what they thought. She ended up owning a marketing-research firm. She was a founder of the Marketing Research Assn. and mentor to hundreds of younger people.
"I left at the apex of my career and went back to being a pianist," she said. "It was a great joy and terribly painful. Working the hours I did left no time for the piano. So (when) I started playing again with a passion, the pain in my hands after practicing was excruciating. . . . I didn't have arthritis. I was just pushing too hard. So I backed off. Eventually, I performed in a concert hall."
Today, Schlein is involved in the artistic life of Los Angeles. She opens her home for recitals. She chairs the Pauline Hirsh Gallery for the Jewish Federation Council and is vice president of public relations for Design for Sharing, a community outreach program sponsored by the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. The program focuses on two groups: the elderly and students of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"Yellow buses unload streams of children--the whole diverse population--and they converge on Royce Hall," Schlein said. "Musicians come out and explain their instruments before they play. The kids eat it up. There's no polite applause--they roar with approval. These kids have no way to go to concerts. But they do have a hunger for music, and when we feed them it produces enthusiasm. It gives me a big thrill."
\o7 For more information about Design for Sharing, call (310) 825-7681.