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My life as a child in TV commercials
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Adlen Robinson

One of my good friends recently asked if there was anything readers may not know about me. She said this jokingly because I tend to tell all of you most things about our lives — and have been doing so for more than a decade.

But it occurred to me that few know I made national television commercials when I was a little girl and did some modeling.

My father was transferred from Birmingham, Ala., to work in New York City. Talk about culture shock for our family.

As a 5-year old, I don’t really remember any particular adjustment problems. I was the youngest of four and the only girl. I didn’t have a shy bone in my body and made friends easily.

I absolutely loved New York. Pretty much every relative we knew came and visited us while we lived in New Jersey.

That meant we went into the city quite a bit, acting as tour guides many times. I loved seeing shows on Broadway and the ballet. I loved the museums and just the culture of the city.

How fun to get hot chestnuts from the street vendor on a chilly fall or winter night. Nothing tasted better in the summer than one of those Italian ice things. And, of course, a big hot pretzel slathered with mustard was good any time of year.

We always joke and say the only place you can get a real Italian sub sandwich is in New York. Many would argue the same is true for pizza (not to make my Chicago friends mad).

Somewhere during all of that, I decided I wanted to be a runway model. Don’t ask where I got that idea, because I don’t know. I begged my mother to make that happen.

Who knows if they even had children as runway models, but I sure thought they did. My mother found an agency and one day we went in to meet the owner.

I actually do remember the meeting, during which she asked me to tell her why I wanted to be a runway model. I’m sure I launched into some ridiculous and idealized speech with my reasons.

After that, she leaned toward me and asked if I would consider making commercials instead. That shut me up. I had certainly never thought about being on TV, but immediately said yes.

My mom signed some papers, got a quick tutorial about how I needed a head shot,  and what to expect with auditions and filming, and off we went back to the New Jersey suburbs.

Amazingly, over the next few years, I made about 14 commercials. Anybody familiar with show business already knows that for every one audition that resulted in a commercial, there were countless ones I didn’t get.

I didn’t really feel rejected because my mother would always just tell me that one wasn’t for me and to let it go.

We had so many adventures during that time. In fact, I even made a few commercials with some people you likely know.

Remember when Jane Curtain of “Saturday Night Live” fame burst onto the scene? Well, right before she landed that gig, she was a typical struggling actress in the city.

I made a Duncan Hines Brownie commercial with her as my “mom,” and she couldn’t have been nicer. We even went out to lunch.

On a side note, during that commercial I had to take a big bite of the brownie and after what felt like a million takes, I almost got sick.

Another commercial, and probably my favorite one, was for Bic Banana Magic Markers.

Here was the scene: A classroom full of children wearing banana costumes were all at their desks coloring with the markers as their hilarious (and crazy) teacher, who was none other than the actor Charles Nelson Reily (also wearing a banana costume) babbled about the markers at the front of the classroom.

That commercial aired on Saturday mornings during cartoon hours. I remember it coming on and my brother Billy and I would run shrieking through the house trying to wake everybody up to come see it.

Many times, it was over by the time we made it back to the TV. If you ever look online, you can find some of these commercials, including this one. I am the banana coloring furiously with her tongue out — a habit I had when coloring or painting.

My television career was cut short when dad was transferred back down South when I was 9. Don’t think I was upset. I secretly hated missing school to go to auditions and filming, even though my brothers envied my numerous school absences.

I was also thrilled to move back to the South, where there would be three full months of summer as opposed to the two months up North. Times have sure changed.

The acting and modeling bug stayed with me and I continued to do both for many years, including immersing myself in high school theater.

Childhood acting is not for everybody and my mom was never the “stage-mother” type. My parents kept me grounded and always reminded me I was just lucky to have so many interesting experiences.

They were also wonderful at encouraging me to try various activities, even when it turned out I was never going to be able to play the piano very well or be the star on the track team.

I am thankful for those years in New York City. Everybody should experience that amazing city at least once in their lifetimes.

 

Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at contact@adlenrobinson.com.