Wednesday, March 13, 2024


My Show Biz History

 By Gil Tisnado

I was a constant embarrassment to my older sisters, Marie and Ginger. From the time I could walk and talk, I was always singing and dancing. It didn’t matter the location. I would perform at restaurants in front of jukeboxes, standing on a chair at our converted gas station Baptist church, or simply on the sidewalks of our San Diego suburban neighborhood. After much urging on my part, my mother decided that I could audition for a weekly local children’s television show on Channel 8 called “Tiny Town Ranch.” I was seven years old.

Mom called the television host, Monte Hall, to inquire about an audition. Monte Hall is not to be confused with Monty Hall of “Let’s Make a Deal.” The Monte Hall of San Diego was noted for his children’s variety show and children’s amusement park called “Monte Hall’s Playground.” As a local TV celebrity, he often appeared in parades as a western rider on his horse Comanche. During the initial phone interview with my mom, Monte asked, “Does your son have any talent?” My mom replied, “Well, you’re talking to his mother.” Monte then asked, “Is he photogenic?” Mom responded with, “Well Mr. Hall, you’re still talking to his mother?” An audition was arranged.

What to sing? We approached our next-door neighbor, Mrs. Bennett, who was a classically trained opera singer and a church organist. She agreed to teach me a song. The song choice was “April Love” a pop hit by Pat Boone. I tried not to giggle as Mrs. Bennett sang a Pat Boone song in her operatic style. The song was learned and I was ready for my audition. Mom and I made the trek to the downtown studio of Channel 8. The high ceiling room with a piano in the middle seemed enormous to me. With sheet music in hand, I walked over to the pianist. With all the confidence a seven-year old boy could muster, I burst out in song about young love in April. Apparently, I was a hit, because Monte Hall in his trademark cowboy hat rushed over to me, picked me up, and swung me around the room. It was agreed that next Saturday morning I would appear on “Tiny Town Ranch.”

Since the theme of the show was western, I thought I should be dressed like a cowboy. That would have come later. Now the task was to find appropriate clothing for a boy who had outgrown his Easter Sunday suit. Obviously, my usual clothes of t-shirts and jeans wouldn’t work, so neighbors were recruited to help out with my television debut. Mrs. Wooten offered up her son’s grey slacks. With cuffs rolled up and waist at mid chest, the too large pants would have to do. Our neighbor, Winnie Graham, who used to have a dance studio, loaned me tap shoes and a shirt. To this day, I wonder why I wore tap dance shoes when I wouldn’t be tap dancing. Nonetheless, they were black and would pass as dress shoes. Mrs. Graham also pulled from her costume trunk a puffy sleeve, mustard-yellow shirt with a clumsy looking choirboy bow. I recently asked my mom, “Gee Mom!  Why did you dress me so funny for my TV debut?” She said, “I don’t know. I just thought since Winnie was a dance teacher, she would know what to wear, and I just followed her advice.” Even though I was chosen to sing, I looked like I was more suited to play “O Solo Mio” on the accordion.

My one TV appearance would turn into a three-year gig. When I was ten years old, Monty Hall died and “Tiny Town Ranch” died with him. Within two years, I would retire from show biz, a twelve-year-old has-been.

Fast-forward sixty years! Amberlee Prosser asked me if I would play a role as a grandfather for the Voices of California production of “Once Upon a Song” at the Harris Center for the Arts in Folsom. For anybody else, I would have said “No thanks!” However, because the request came from the beloved Amberlee, I agreed. Then she emailed me the script. As I watched the printer spit out five pages of dialogue, I started to panic. “Oh shoot! Why in the heck did I ever say yes to this?” Any senior citizen with short-term memory issues will identify with this. However, just as I had taught my former fourth graders, I decided I would simply “chunk it” into smaller pieces of information to learn the lines. I would retype the script in much larger type, and then tape the pages to the wall. I would also photograph pages into my phone for easy access. Flight or fight definitely kicked-in. But then I figured, “Oh hell, if I forget a line, I’ll just improvise something close.” My teaching career and the ability to “wing-it” would help me here.

Yesterday was the performance. Actually, there were two performances, a matinee and evening performance. I kept sneaking glances at my script on my phone to calm my last minute nerves. My co-star, the wonderfully talented twelve-year-old Christian Cabral, and I opened the show. I had to make sure I didn’t blow the opening. “Oh dear God! Just get me through the first lines.” The spotlight was on Christian and I as we began our dialogue from the audience and then proceeded to walk onto the stage. We were off and running. Then I was fine. Actually, I was more than fine. There was a moment when I thought; “This feels oddly familiar like I’ve been on stage forever.” I guess old show biz ways die-hard.

As I struggled with the preparation for my acting role, I decided that after sixty-years of being on and off stage that this would definitely be my last performance. But then Amberlee said, “Hey, I have an idea for a show where you could. . .”

Performance Postscript

Truth be told, I really didn’t want any friends or family at my “swan song” performance. No flowers or fanfare! I just wanted to do my job, not fall on my rear, and be done with it. My ninety-one-year-old mother, Jeanne Bolstein, would have none of this. She would be there. She would buy her own ticket and arrange her own ride. At the end of the performance, I walked out to the lobby to find her. Carrying two tote bags and a cane, she wanted to give me a present. The gift was a beautiful, leather bound writing journal. Even though I really didn’t want or need any family there, it did warm my heart to see my mom’s beaming, proud face. It did seem especially fitting since over sixty years ago this woman walked me hand-in-hand into my first audition, and now was still here to offer a mom’s support. Boy, how lucky can a man get?






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