By Maria E. Garcia
When Tina Real opened Tina Real Talent Agency in 1972 the successful San Diego businesswoman drew upon her experiences and contacts as a John Robert Powers model and employee of John Alessio at the Agua Caliente Racetrack. She also continued the legacy of strong independent women established by her mother Priscilla Yanez and maternal grandmother Mercedes Murgia Morales. Tina’s path to this success was not always easy, but she persisted.
As we learned in the last month’s article Priscilla Yanez–Civil Service Worker or Spy? Tina was born to Priscilla and Antonio Yanez. After her mother divorced her father Tina lived with her mother and grandmother Mercedes. Antonio returned to Los Angeles to live with the aunt who had raised him. Grandmother Mercedes was protective as well as involved in the direction Tina would take in her growing up years.
Grandma Mercedes had a spunky personality. Once when visiting actor Leo Carrillo’s ranch in San Diego, she was dared by the actor and her cousin Crispin Martin to eat a raw egg. Without hesitation Mercedes went into the chicken coop, picked up an egg, cracked it and shot it down her throat.
Tina’s mother Priscilla was a spy during World War II. At that time her work was considered civil service and involved monitoring phone calls between Mexico and the United States. Her job site was at the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank which was located at 6th and Broadway in downtown San Diego. Tina would visit her mom at work but recalls that these visits always took place in the lobby and Tina says she never went past the wooden door in the lobby.
Priscilla met and married Isaac Calderon. Tina fondly refers to Isaac as “Daddy Ike”. At this time her birth father Antonio was serving in the military in Europe. He sent letters to Tina but she did not get to see him. Tina remembers one particular letter where he had drawn a comic strip in the margins. The picture showed a man waiting for a letter from Tina. Antonio did remarry a French woman. When that marriage failed, Antonio returned to live again with his grandmother.
By the age of twelve Tina was attending a class ran by Dorothy Farrar that focused on self-confidence and posture. She learned to walk with a book on her head and how to apply make-up. At that time the fashion trend was to use lipstick to enlarge your lips. Tina’s mother wanted to make sure she did not emulate the “Pachuca” look and felt the proper training would assure her daughter would be more selective how she wore her make- up. Tina would take what she had learned about applying make up and pass it on to her friends in Logan Heights. During the 1950s she also attended the John Robert Powers School to further her self-improvement.
During the war years Tina was dating. A girlfriend Charlotte Haro wanted to introduce Tina to her brother- in- law. As a little girl Tina’s mother and Charlotte’s mother had been friends. Charlotte’s mother owned a restaurant in Mission Hills called Alma Latina. Alex Real, Charlotte’s brother- in- law was divorced at the time. Charlotte invited Tina to go with Alex and her to a listen to a jazz group in Del Mar.
Tina say she did not go but did accept an invitation to Easter dinner at her future sisters-in-law Margie’s house. Alex who came from a large Mexican family was present at his sister’s house for dinner. There had been a baby crying and Alex picked up the baby and comforted him. Impressed with his gentleness Tina looked at Alex in a different way and they soon started dating.
After his divorce Alex had reenlisted in the service and was sent to Europe. He sent Tina a sweater which she proudly wore. She gleefully announced to her friends that her boyfriend sent her a sweater from Paris. To her surprise, Tina soon received a “Dear Tina” letter from him. She was hurt and saddened by the break up of their relationship.
At twenty-one, Tina was getting her feet wet in the business world. Tina got a civil service job at the Naval Station with the help of her mother. There was no bus service from 30th street to Harbor Drive so to make it easier Tina moved to the Young Women’s Christian Association that was located on the corner of 11th and C Street in downtown San Diego.
A classmate of Tina’s from her junior college day, Sherry Miller, told Tina that the Agua Caliente Racetrack was looking for two models and preferred a blond and a brunette to pose with the greyhounds. Agua Caliente Racetrack was located across the Mexican border in Tijuana but had its office located in the U.S. Grant. By the time Tina worked for John Alessio, he was the director of the Caliente Racetrack and he was held in high esteem in the cross-border business world.
At the same time Tina, La Vern Tarantino and Bea were roommates and shared a house in Del Cerro. The girls would host parties and had tremendous freedom for women of that era. In those days Laverne a manager of John Roberts Power modeling school and Tina would attend social events together. Sometimes a large group would caravan to Agua Caliente Race track where Tina would get her roommates into the Turf Club.
After the war, Alex Real settled in New York. When his father died he returned to San Diego where he remained for the rest of his life. Tina and Alex started dating again and were married June 3, 1961. They had three sons, one of whom died soon after he was born. Their two remaining sons were raised as Catholics. Chris lives in San Diego and Jimmy lives in Shanghai with his wife and three children. Alex died in 1988.
In 1972 Tina opened the Tina Real Talent Agency. In the 1950s while working for John Robert Powers Tina had been responsible for booking models and believed she was ready to do this on her own.
Tina says she had a lot of support and advice from people she had worked with at the Agua Caliente Racetrack. She speaks of these people fondly and is grateful for their advice. Tina had no idea she would be responsible for doing payroll or for the amount of paperwork involved in writing contracts and negotiating with studio heads. Vic Ramos, the casting director for the movie Hard Core took her under his wing and taught her about evaluating the atmosphere when casting extras.
Tina was very fortunate that her brother-in-law Chuck Boyd worked for Cinemobile and was in constant contact with the major studios that leased the Cinemobile units. Mr. Boyd knew “everyone.” More important, everyone knew him. Chuck, who was married to Tina’s sister Dolly, would tell others “you need to talk to my sister-in-law Tina” for whatever job they had to fill. This opened doors that may not have opened otherwise. A person once described her agency by saying she “only handles minorities.” This was no doubt meant as a negative slam at “Tina the Latina” who had dared to open her own business. There are many productions that Tina contracted extras for, including the movie Top Gun and the television series Simon and Simon to name only a couple.
With her new career, Tina also became involved in community service and helped fund-raise for civic causes. She was instrumental in planning and working with Evening with the Stars which was a fund raiser for what was once the Chicano Clinic.
At the age of eighty-two, Tina is a beautiful and very bright woman who still works casting actors for various projects. Her home office reflects years of work in the world of casting movies and TV actors. At the 2016 San Diego Film Awards Tina was the recipient of the Women in Films Award.