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The White Owl girl roosts in Jim Thorpe

  • AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Model, actress, singer Toni Reid of Jim Thorpe is revitalizing her singing career with the hopes of producing a jazz album
    AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Model, actress, singer Toni Reid of Jim Thorpe is revitalizing her singing career with the hopes of producing a jazz album
Published January 26. 2013 09:02AM

If any woman could be called a chick in the 1960s, it would have been Toni Reid. Although she never smoked a cigar, Toni was the White Owl girl - the face and voice for the White Owl cigar campaign.

Dressed in a costume with a headdress, tunic and wristlet cuffs covered with white chicken feathers, in 1967 and 1968, Toni represented the company in personal appearances, magazine and newspaper advertising, and a dozen television commercials.

"That was my first big contract," she said. Toni, who had been modeling since she was 12 years old, had come to New York City to continue her modeling career. But at 5'-6" in a market where runway models started at 5'-10", realizing that she wasn't going to make it as a Big Apple model, she opted for work with the television sections of the modeling agencies.

The agency sent her to audition for the part. She made the first three cuts, and on her fourth callback, "I was up on a theater stage with eight men in front of me," Toni said. "They gave me a script and asked me to read. I read."

"Now we want you to read it all wrong," the director said. "Like you have never read a script before and you don't know what you were doing."

Confused, Tony turned her back to the audience, took a deep breath, and took 30 seconds getting her head around the request.

"I turned back to them and I read it like I had never read a script before in my life," Toni remembered. "I broke them up."

A week later, they told her that she was the White Owl girl. Toni filmed her first commercial in Los Angeles, where she came out of an egg and said, "Hi, I'm a White Owl."

She returned to New York City where she represented the company in print, radio and television for two years. At the same time, rival Muriel cigars had a competing series of commercials featuring Edie Adams, whose tag line was, "Why don't you pick me up and smoke me some time?"

Toni Reid's birth name was Gertrude Wally Wenstrand. "My mother didn't want me going through life called Gert, so she nicknamed me Toni. It was just as bad, believe me. There were four boys on my block who said that I wasn't really a girl because my name was Toni."

She grew up outside Chicago. Her father was an artist and her mother was a model. Toni drew inspiration from both parents. At six years old, her mother took her on her first modeling gig. "It was a 90 degree July afternoon and we were modeling fall clothing. My mother and I were dressed in matching red wool robes. I was hot and I wanted to go out and play."

Reid didn't return to modeling until she was 12 years old and learned that she could earn spending money modeling clothing for newspaper advertising.

At 19, she started at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana where she started singing with a trio at frat parties to pay for college expenses. She was discovered and invited to audition with the Tommy Dorsey Band.

When she told her mother about the opportunity, her mother, envisioning a wildlife on the road, put the kibash on the idea. "My sixth sense told me that she was probably right, that I didn't know what I was getting into. I was too young and inexperienced. I didn't have any Street Smarts." Instead, she stayed in Chicago and honed her musical style singing with the Bill Scott Orchestra.

Toni married and divorced three times, marrying her first husband, Bob Reid, when she was 19. "I changed my name to Reid. I was so happy to have such an easy name. It turned out to be good stage name and I've kept it all these years."

They met on an industrial filming in Chicago. Bob Reid was 26 years old and a member of the Screen Actors Guild. They moved to New York City, and by the time Toni and Bob divorced after 4-1/2 years of marriage, they had moved 11 times and she had two children.

During their marriage, Bob refused to allow Toni to sing - he was jealous and didn't want her out at night. Toni focused on modeling and found that she was a natural both in front of a camera and in voice overs where she would speak off camera in commercials.She would even lip-sync, dubbing for models who didn't speak English.

Modeling and acting, she worked for SAG contracts for 32 years, retiring to a New Jersey homestead at age 55. After her third divorce in 1997, she returned to New York City, started going to open mics, getting charts, and working with musicians. Toni was doing what she loved, singing in New York's jazz scene, rubbing elbows with other musicians, and going to one another's shows.

In 2005, Toni discovered Jim Thorpe, and bought an investment property on West Broadway. Several years later, she sold the rehab property, bought a second property, and moved there.

Now, she's working to rehab her properties, and revitalize her singing and acting career. She has worked with the Carbon Schuylkill Community Theater, and has begun working with pianist David Westrip, with whom she hopes to produce an album together.

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