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Retired Stars Find Assisted Living At The Lillian Booth Home

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Imagine a home whose residents include retired opera singers, jazz musicians and movie and Broadway stars. This is the Lillian Booth Home just outside of New York City. John Kalish visited The Lillian Booth Home and caught up with some of its current residents.

JON KALISH, BYLINE: Eileen Pepper (ph) is a 71-year-old retired music teacher who moved into The Lillian Booth Home two years ago.

EILEEN PEPPER: My husband loves it here. He loves it here so much he moved in.

KALISH: Her husband is Alan Pepper who co-owned the storied Greenwich Village club The Bottom Line, but his wife has multiple sclerosis and he couldn't take care of her at home. So she lives here in the nursing facility, and he lives upstairs in the assisted living section. Eileen Pepper shares her room with an opera singer, and not far away from her bed is a music stand and her guitar.

E. PEPPER: Living here, I live music. I breathe music. We have rehearsals and then we sing songs, and we perform for each other. And if you think you can sing, sing. People here feel comfortable doing that. Nobody's judging them.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) There's no business like show business.

KALISH: Informal performances take place in one of several activity rooms, and pianos are scattered throughout the home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOSEPH JARMAN: All the instruments are available for me - saxophone, flute, clarinet, bassoon, oboe. I play only on my birthday.

KALISH: Joseph Jarman does occasionally sit in with visiting jazz groups. In the 1970s, he was one of the lions of new jazz as a member of the groundbreaking Art Ensemble of Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KALISH: Jarman is 73 and has retired, but some residents still travel occasionally from the home in Englewood, N.J., into New York City to work. In order to be admitted to the home, you need to have been employed for 20 years in some capacity in the entertainment industry or be the partner of someone who was. Lillian Booth accepts residence regardless of their ability to pay. The Actors Fund, which runs the home, covers what Medicare and Medicaid don't.

ALLAN RICH: What's your name?

KALISH: Jon.

RICH: I forgot it (vocalizing).

KALISH: Ninety-year-old Allan Rich moved in just a few months ago. He made his Broadway debut when he was 17.

RICH: When I got the part, I took my books to the principal's office and I said I'm making more money than you are, and I slammed my books on his desk and I left.

KALISH: Rich acted on Broadway and in repertory before being blacklisted in the 1950s for his civil rights activities. After a stint on Wall Street and as an art gallery owner, he returned to acting and won roles in "Serpico" and other movies. On the TV series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Rich played a Holocaust survivor who clashed with a cast member of the reality TV show "Survivor."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM")

RICH: (As Solly) I was in a concentration camp. You never even suffered one minute in your life compared to what I went through.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Have you even seen the show?

RICH: (As Solly) Did you ever see our show?

KALISH: Allan Rich says he's done with performing and doesn't need the applause anymore, but he has been reading one-act plays with a drama therapist.

LUCY VANCE SELIGSON: We have two drama therapists on our recreation staff who were both in the industry both as stage managers.

KALISH: In fact, a lot of the home's staff used to work in the industry. Lucy Vance Seligson is a former actress who now serves as the home's social services director.

SELIGSON: I did not set out to work with seniors, and I did not set out to work in health care. I love it so much. I had no idea that I was just by accident kind of stepping into something that I feel is what I was made to do.

KALISH: With 124 residents, The Lillian Booth Home is filled to capacity and there's a waiting list to get in. But the home is expanding to take care of more of the talented people who gave so much to their audiences. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Nowhere could you get that happy feeling when you are stealing that extra bow. There's no people like show people like (unintelligible) when they are low. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.