Let me begin by saying that I've had a great life since we've last seen each other. It's been full of incredible experiences and wonderful people; however, the early part of my life was filled with pain and betrayal by the ones closest to me. That did not stop me from forging on and doing the things that I wanted to do in life. Perhaps it even gave me the resolve to carry on. The following are only fragments of my story..
While I was in SHS, I was leading a double life. In school I put on a happy face and acted very gregariously towards everyone, but when I got home, it was exceedingly different. My mother was very troubled and that manifested in a terrible drinking problem. She was an alcoholic, and an aggressive one at that.
My parents had been divorced, and my father had remarried when I was attending the 9th grade at St. Martha's. My mother's aggression when she drank shifted towards me because my father was no longer around to argue with. The verbal and sometimes physical attacks by her were devastating to me because I loved her so much. I knew that she was troubled, but felt helpless in understanding what to do about it. There were many nights when I was locked out of the house and I slept in the car until daylight.
I worked at Southside Drug Store after school for lunch money and for any little incidentals that I needed, and I dreaded going home from there, not knowing what to expect. It was a bleak time for me. I remember often going to a vacant lot at the end of our street next to the bay to cry. That place became a haven for me to meditate, and pray, and try to restore my broken heart.
I knew that I had talent and creativity, but at that time, I did not have any confidence or belief in myself. I was able to accomplish a few things in high school with the drama club that had just been started. It gave me pleasure and I felt proud to be able to play the lead in a couple of productions like Outward Bound at the Community Theater.
My aunt had lent me her special car to drive during my junior year. It was a black Mayflower Triumph that looked like a miniature Rolls Royce. Some of you may remember it. I loved that little 4 cylinder car. It's now owned by a collector and it has been restored.
By my senior year, things were worse. My life at home became unbearable. My mother's erratic behavior reached a pinnacle. There were so many nights that I was thrown out of the house for no reason other than she said that she could not stand to have me around. I would go to my father and ask if I could come to him, but he kept telling me that I had to go back to live with my mother because of his situation. He was married and had a small child and was not in a financial position to take me in. I would return home feeling rejected by both of my parents to find a locked house which my mother would not open for me.
Frankly, in retrospect, I don't know how I got through high school without getting into drugs, trouble, or drinking. In my senior year, I met my husband to be, and the father of my son. His name was David Bartok. I married him as soon as I graduated, but was sad knowing that I was getting married primarily to get out of my situation at home.
I wanted so much to study art and drama and go to college, but I was stymied by my lack of confidence and support. My marriage to David lasted two years before it tragically ended. I had a beautiful baby boy and when my son was one month of age, David had a brain aneurism and died a week later at Sarasota Hospital. I remember crying in the chapel at the hospital, not for myself, but for the fact that my son would never know his father.
I was 20 years old at the time, and still so very naïve. That was one of the darkest periods of my life. I did not know what to do or who to turn to. No one was there to give me advice. I had a newborn without any means of support. I was too naïve to know about social services of which no one told me, and eventually I got down to my last $25. I did not know how I was going to feed my child. I was living in a trailer with no car or transportation. I would babysit for neighbors to earn a few dollars. I depended on others to get me groceries when they went out because I had no means of transportation. My mother was remarried and drinking heavily. I only saw her one time when she came over. My father was on the road with the circus. I was alone. It was a terrible time.
My life took a turn at that point. Through as series of circumstances, which I will not go into here, David's parents, my in-laws, asked if they could adopt my son. It was a devastating decision I had to make. I did not think I had any other choice. At that time, I did not have the means to feed him, so I gave him to them. Somehow, deep within my being, I always knew that he and I would someday be together again. They legally adopted and raised my son until he was 15 yrs. old. That is a whole other story, but that's for another bio.
I stayed in Sarasota for a few years after meeting a man 10 yrs my senior and living with him. I did some modeling and worked in a few shops during this period. After the relationship with this man became broken, I decided to move across the country to Los Angeles to see if I could get modeling and acting work there.
After moving to LA, it did not take long before I met Bill Cunningham, the owner of one of the largest TV commercial talent agencies in LA at the time called Cunningham and Associates. He interviewed me and immediately sent me on my first commercial "go see". I got the job! It was for a Toyota TV commercial. After that, jobs just rolled in and I enjoyed working successfully doing print and TV commercials in Los Angeles. Bill Cunningham and I remain close friends to this day.
On one of my jobs in LA I met a well respected director of commercials who lived in NY. He convinced me that there was more work in NY and that I should move there. I was looking to study acting and I knew that the best coaches were in NY, so I packed up my little VW beetle and drove cross country to NY City by myself.
New York was not as inviting as Los Angeles. NY was a cold, hard, "bitch" compared to LA. It was far more difficult for me to find work in NY, and the expenses were much higher, but like the song says, If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. Truer words were never written!
I stayed in New York until I almost ran out of money. I can remember being hungry and walking by a cafeteria and not having enough to buy a sandwich. At that point, I decided to return to Sarasota to stay with a friend until my residual checks came in for the Commercials that were running on the air. I borrowed the money to get to Sarasota and waited for the residual checks to come in. Before leaving NY, I had been booked for an Eastern Airlines commercial to shoot in Acapulco, Mexico, but the dates for shooting kept getting postponed, so I had to leave NY until that job came through. When the Advertising Agency gave me a confirmation date for the job, I left Sarasota and flew back to NY.
While shooting the Eastern Airlines job with Ali McGraw, before she became famous in Love Story, I met some very influential people at the plush resort where the crew and cast stayed. This was the beginning of another phase in my life.
A family I met at the resort turned out to be one of the top 20 wealthiest families in the US. When I returned to NY, I was invited to many social functions by them and doors started to open for me.
I was not tall enough to secure modeling work in NY, the fashion capital of the world. I depended on TV commercial work, and it wasn't easy getting that either. I had to supplement my income by taking another job. I began working at a film production company as a receptionist, but after a short while, I got a job there as a production assistant to one of the directors. In the meantime, I started looking for a good acting coach, which was my main purpose for being in NY. I got an interview with Sandy Meisner, a legendary coach. I was so fortunate that he accepted me into his professional classes. He and I became good friends over the years. I studied with him for 7 wonderful years. It was a privilege.
Through my friends, the wealthy family I mentioned above, I found a beautiful rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That is like winning the lottery. I went from struggling and scrimping, to socializing with the rich and famous, traveling around the world, and living the so-called good life. Those were my jet set years. I could write a book about the adventures that I experienced during this decade.
I was single for 10 years after David, my first husband died. During that time, I worked in a number of commercials, did a few films, did some TV appearances to promote one of the films that I had a small role in, attended the Academy Awards, and continued my acting studies. I thought that life was spectacular.
After one of these guest appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, I began to realize that I was feeling empty. With everything going on in my life, nothing seemed really meaningful for me. How could this be? For a while, I continued to go along as if everything was fine, but I knew deep inside that it wasn't. I could not stop feeling that there was a huge void and something was not in sync.
During this time, I met a handsome advertising executive and shortly after married him. I think I was escaping again. We were together for 5 years. My life during this marriage from age 30 to 35 was like an emotional desert. I was unhappy. He was not the person he pretended to be before we were married and I felt lost and alone and betrayed again. I tried to stick it out, but that's a lie too big to live, so I eventually asked for a divorce with no alimony, and moved on.
At 35, single and needing a job, I went to work for Horizon Films, a company that represented five TV commercial directors. I became their sales rep. My job was to go to the advertising agencies and try to get jobs for the company using one of their directors. During that time, I met my husband of today, Bob Veder. He was an award winning writer of TV commercials and print and also a wild and crazy fellow. He was handsome, smart, down to earth, and very funny.
After we were married, we had a daughter, Rivka. I was 38 at her birth. Around the same time, my son David Bartok, named after his late father, came to live with us. My in-laws had died, and at last my son was able to come back to me. I finally had the real family that I had longed for all my life. It was a delicious time.
Bob and I bought a lovely Tudor house in Westchester and I decided to stay home to raise our daughter, so I quit my job with Horizon Films. In the meantime, I had started to collect carousel art (antique merry-go-round figures). One day while walking in NY, I saw a carousel figure in terrible disrepair. I bought it and that began another new journey in my life.
After bringing home the carousel figure, I wanted to learn all about it, so I started researching carousel art. I restored that first figure, and started buying more figures when I could find them. Soon I had a collection, and had found a number of people across the country that also collected this art. Before long, after sharing photos of my restored pieces with fellow collectors, I started to get requests asking me to do restoration on their pieces. For the next 17 years I successfully bought, sold, restored, and lectured on carousel art. My work was featured in the quintessential book on the subject, Painted Ponies by Bill Manns, published by Zon Publishing. In reflecting on this phase of my life, I believe that my attraction to collecting carousel animal carvings was my sub-conscious trying to show me the way back to my first love.. horses.
I had been born into an equestrian circus family, the Cristiani Family, and having these brightly colored horse carvings with extravagant trappings in my home reminded me of my childhood and the time that I spent on my family's circus. Those early years were my happiest. To grow up on a circus is every child's fantasy. Everything is bigger than life. I remember that I was horse crazy from the time I uttered my first word. When I was old enough, I spent the whole day with my family's horses and loved every minute of it. It took me 41 yrs. of doing many other things to recognize and return to those feelings of connection and fulfillment.
Once I had the realization, I hit the ground running. In the mid 80's I started my own horse breeding & training farm in upstate NY. I will attach my professional farm bio to this personal one to save time. (As you may have noticed, I go into a bit of detail.) The farm bio will fill you in on the last few decades and bring you up the present regarding my life.
So to recap, I have two children, David Bartok (named after his deceased father, and Rivka Veder, my daughter with my husband, Bob). I also have two unbelievable grandchildren from David and his wife Jackie. They are Brittani and Daniel. Brit is at the University of NC on a soccer scholarship and Daniel is in high school playing soccer also.
My father passed away a few years ago. My mother is with me. It's funny how things turn around. She is 90 yrs old and I take care of her now. She gave up drinking 6 years ago and finally became the mother that I'd always dreamed of having, but her memory is quickly fading so it is bitter sweet for me to have her here and yet feel her slipping away after waiting so long for her. Without the alcohol she is the amazing person I always believed she would be.
I spend winters in Florida to get out of the cold, and summers in NY to get out of the heat. I have a small training facility in Ocala, FL, with the main facility still being in Saratoga, NY.
I will attach some photos with this so you can put faces to names. My professional bio follows...forgive if it repeats certain events covered in this bio.
Big hugs and smiles go out to all of you! Thank you for being a part of my life.
Tina Cristiani Veder