Actress Tina Sloan spent 26 years on the CBS daytime drama, Guiding Light, so it’s fitting that she is now proving to be a guiding light for so many others. In her book, Changing Shoes, she not only tells her own life story, but also offers advice to help women edit and perhaps rewrite their own scripts.
Tina has always loved shoes and she uses that metaphor to encourage women to make the small changes that can make a big difference. Sometimes adopting a new attitude can be as simple as slipping on a new pair of shoes. Tina is traveling around the country in a one-woman show based on her book. While she tells her story, clips from her past—TV commercials, scenes from Guiding Light, and other performances—flash on an overhead screen. The juxtaposition of what is on the screen and her commentary prove insightful, ironic, and humorous. Recently, she performed the play in Houston before a sold-out house that included former President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. She met the first couple backstage afterwards. Barbara told Tina: “I wish I had known how wonderful this play was because I would have gotten everyone in Houston to see it.”
Tina’s message resonates with audiences, presidential and otherwise. Although her publisher initially saw the book appealing to an older female reader, younger women, as well as men, are finding wisdom within the pages. Both the book and the play follow Tina’s journey, beginning with the time she spent as a young girl living in Paris—“the world was my oyster”—through her many years on a daytime drama, where she dealt with her disappointment as her onscreen time decreased as she got older. “I didn’t always handle it well,” Tina says about her diminished role on Guiding Light. “I gained 40 pounds.”
Any comparison between GL’s Lillian Raines and the real life Tina falls short. While Lillian was married twice (TV wedding photo, left) and encountered many soap-opera type dramas, Tina has been happily married to Steve McPherson, a businessman, since 1975. While her TV daughter, Beth, was married too many times to count, and died several times (each time she left a red shoe behind), Steve and Tina’s son Renny, graduated from Harvard, served as a captain in the U.S Marines, doing two tours in Iraq, and now is at Harvard Business School.
Meeting with Tina in her home, she is every bit as beautiful and gracious as we were led to believe. Her assistant Emily Talamo is busy in the dining room, handling the details of Tina’s increasingly busy life. Beside promoting the book (the two went on a multi-city tour), and performing in the play, Tina is working on a line of products using the shoe motif. She proudly shows off a small tote bag, sketches of shoes on each side, that she will sell on her website and at her book signings.
We settle in Tina’s living room to talk. While Tina’s life seems charmed, there have been bumps along the way. Aging, of course, often spells the end of an actress’s career, the reason so many resort to fad diets and numerous rounds of plastic surgery (something Tina has vowed not to do). Writing the play based on her book with Joe Plummer, Tina dealt with the issue right off the bat. “I had to explain to him—you would love this—what it’s like to become invisible, have your power taken away,” she says. “He’s 31 and adorable, and he just couldn’t grasp the idea. But it’s what makes the play work, because he finally got it.”
Tina’s wakeup call came one day when she was with the actress who played her 20-something daughter on Guiding Light. Accustomed to being noticed (when younger, Tina had literally caused a traffic pile up when crossing the street), she found that the most attractive man in the coffee shop was staring, not at her, but at her younger co-star. “NO ONE was looking at me,” she writes. “NO ONE.”
While she was dealing with her own age issues, Tina found herself caring for her aging parents—her father was diagnosed with blood and bone cancer while her mother suffered a series of small strokes and began the descent into dementia. Many women—and men—will relate to her struggle, holding down a demanding job while also being a primary caregiver to elderly parents. “I want to be a mentor to the people behind me so that they don’t make my mistakes,” Tina says. She succeeds at that goal admirably, sharing her own experience and then providing lists that people can follow to prepare for themselves (or for their parents). “You’d be amazed at how many people give me a blank stare when I ask if they have a living will or long-term-care insurance,” Tina writes. During our interview, she spoke about a young woman who, after reading Changing Shoes, was motivated to act. “She told her father, `we’re going to a lawyer to do your will,’” Tina says. “That’s great!”
If the role of mentor seems to come easily to Tina, she learned from one of the best. As a young girl, she lived in Paris with her mother’s good friend, Aga Church. “I think my parents had hoped that Aga would talk some sense into me,” Tina writes. “They couldn’t have been more mistaken. To me Aga was the epitome of female independence.” Aga taught Tina how to choose her shoes but, in reality, she was teaching Tina how to make life choices. “Tina…always make sure the shoes you wear are your own. That way your feet will know where to take you.” When Tina returned to America, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, against her mother’s wishes. “She thought acting was déclassé,” Tina says.
Tina, however, was a class act, whether she was selling Tetley tea (“The big tea taste of Tetley Iced Tea. It grows on you”), Maybelline makeup, Dove soap, or Colgate toothpaste. The camera loved her, audiences loved her. She went on auditions, took acting classes, and the jobs kept coming. Then, one day she received a call from Gail Kobe, Guiding Light’s executive producer, who wanted her for a role on the show portraying Lillian Raines, a nurse coping with an abusive husband. Tina’s character caught on with the audience and a temporary job turned into a fulltime one. (Photo above shows Tina with her GL daughter played by Beth Chamberlin, and her grandaughter played by Hayden Panettiere).
Since the end of Guiding Light (the daytime drama broadcast its last episode on September 18, 2009), Tina has been appearing in two online dramas, Empire and Venice. She also has roles in two upcoming films, Happy New Year, and Black Swan.
Tina has met so many challenges during her life (she’s run eight marathons and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro), that asking what’s left on her “bucket list,” produces a moment of silence. “I want to go to Egypt,” she says finally. After another pause, she adds, “I’m so happy right now. Who knows? Changing Shoes could go somewhere. What I have found is that I want to inspire someone today and that’s what I keep hearing about the book, that it’s inspiring people to take tap dancing, play the piano, or do whatever it was that they really wanted to do.”
Changing Shoes ends with wise words: “I think this idea of raw possibility is what we need to hold onto as we get older. Our lives can be filled with whatever we want: romance, work, friendship, adventure—we just have to be brave enough to look for it. And have the right pair of shoes.”
For more information on Tina’s book and show, go to www.changingshoes.com
To purchase the book on Amazon (it makes a wonderful holiday gift!), click Changing Shoes
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Amaranth, Park Ave Winter
Favorite Place to Shop: Any bookstore.
Favorite New York Sight: Coming over the Queensboro Bridge and seeing the city laid out in front of me. It TAKES MY BREATH AWAY every time, especially at night when it is all lit up.
Favorite New York Moment: The everyday walk in Central Park with the seasons changing.
What You Love About New York: EVERYTHING and especially that I am a part of it. No where else gives you the world right there.
What You Hate About New York: NOTHING and I do mean that. I don’t mind the garbage or the subway or the rude taxis—they are all part of the fabric of the excitement of the city