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'Guiding Light' Star Tina Sloan Plays Not My Job

Actress Tina Sloan
Gotham Books

In 2009, the soap opera Guiding Light ended its 72-year run on radio and TV — and for 26 of those years, Tina Sloan played nurse Lillian Raines. We've invited Tina to play a game called "How can it be an opera if it's over in just an hour?" Three questions about musical operas.

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PETER SAGAL, Host:

And now the game where we invite on people who did one thing brilliantly and ask them to do something else entirely. The soap opera "Guiding Light" ended its 72-year run on radio and TV last year. For 26 of those years, our guest, Tina Sloan, played Nurse Lillian Raines. Tina's new book is "Changing Shoes." Tina, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Great to have you.

TINA SLOAN: Love being here.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: So, here's the thing about soap operas, they're great. They're involving, but so much stuff goes on.

SLOAN: Yes.

SAGAL: It occurs to me that if like a fraction of the things that happens to a character like yours would happen to somebody in real life, they'd have gone mad years ago.

SLOAN: I hope so.

SAGAL: Tell us some of the things, first of all, that happened to Nurse Lillian Raines.

SLOAN: Okay, do you really want me - want to hear this?

SAGAL: Go down the list. Go down the list.

SLOAN: I'll give you the minutes. Okay. My daughter drowned in a lake, leaving one red shoe behind. She came back to life. She was blind, aphasiac, burned in a fire. She drowned again, leaving another red shoe behind. This time she came back as a totally different character named Lorelei, who looked exactly the same, right down to the mole on her chest, but I don't recognize her - her mother. Then I do recognize. I murdered someone. My daughter murdered someone. My granddaughter at the age of seven murdered somebody.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: We have very good genes. I get breast cancer, which is a very nice thing. I mean nice that it was a good storyline. But, of course, I had to fall in love with my doctor, who was my breast cancer surgeon, but also happened to be my best friend's husband.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: She found out about the fact that we slept together, called us a suburban cliche, went off a cliff and killed herself.

SAGAL: All right, season two, go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: I could. I could keep going.

SAGAL: Wow. That's a lot to keep track of. I mean, did you ever like show up for work and you're like, who am I sleeping with and who do I hate this week? Did you know?

SLOAN: Yeah, I usually did know. I didn't sleep with a whole lot of people, unfortunately.

SAGAL: Oh, well, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: What about your relationship with the audience? Because you went through a lot as Nurse Lillian Raines. I'm sorry, I keep saying it that way, Nurse Lillian Raines.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Did people ever come up to you and express their sympathy for your latest tragedy?

SLOAN: Oh, yes. Oh, my lord, yes. I mean, but before Lillian, I was a really bad person and people used to smash me with their carts in the A&P or something.

SAGAL: No. Really?

SLOAN: Oh yeah, they just hated me.

SAGAL: You mean you played a villain on a different soap opera?

SLOAN: I did. I played a villainess, a bitch goddess.

SAGAL: Oh really? Which did you enjoy more?

SLOAN: Oh, are you kidding? The bitch goddess.

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

SLOAN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: People really used to physically attack you because of the mean things you had done on their fictional TV show?

SLOAN: Truly, they did, because I stole a woman away from a man on "Somerset." And this woman came up with a shopping cart and she just rammed, she kept ramming me. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Wow.

SLOAN: Yeah, it was quite upsetting.

SAGAL: And since you played a nurse, did anybody ever ask you for medical advice?

SLOAN: Oh, I'll tell you. I was on a plane coming from Phoenix and there was - somebody had a heart attack. And they came over the PA and said, is there a doctor onboard? Nothing. Is there a nurse onboard? Nothing. I had been a Nobel Prize winning cardiologist on another show. So I went up to the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: I truly did. I truly said to the stewardess, I said, look, this guy's in real trouble. I can say all the right words to him. You know, tell him about his blood pressure and the arrhythmia and calm him down until we get him down on the ground. But I said, you know, I'm not a doctor, but I played a Nobel Prize winning cardiologist.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: I know the words.

SAGAL: And did you do that? Did you actually...

SLOAN: I did it. I swear I did it. I calmed him down. And I sat, you know, he was lying down on the ground, and I was talking to him and pretending I was taking his pulse and his blood pressure. And, you know, telling him that he was fine and that he was doing really well. And I did all the things that I was supposed to do.

SAGAL: If you had gotten really carried away, you would have started sleeping with his best friend I guess.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Or something like that. Now you say you had to fake all that, but in the book you talk about how when "ER" and those other medical shows went on the air...

SLOAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: ...you had to start, like, getting more realistic in your medicine.

SLOAN: Yes. And I did this operation. They decided we should do an operation like "ER." And, of course, I had the worst sense of anything. I hated the sight of blood. But they put little chicken livers in this person's pretend stomach. And I was...

SAGAL: Wait a minute. What?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: Little chicken livers.

SAGAL: So was there an actual person who had to have chicken livers, or it was a fake person?

SLOAN: No, no. It looked like, you know you had the thing, the gown open and it looked like we cut them open.

SAGAL: Oh wow.

SLOAN: But I remember, instead of a scalpel, I said, here's the spatula.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: And he kept asking for the C-SPAN instead of the C-section. I mean, it was just ridiculous.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: And he has killed 39 people, the doctor that I was working with.

SAGAL: What?

SLOAN: Thirty-nine. He was called Dr. Death.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So wait a minute. So how would he kill them? How had he killed them?

SLOAN: Oh, every time you went to an operation for him, you were going to die. I mean, that was the end of your contract. You sort of knew it.

SAGAL: I mean, really, so when they decided that they wanted to get rid of you as an actor in the soap opera, they decided your character got ill and had to go see that doctor?

SLOAN: Absolutely.

SAGAL: Oh, that's terrible.

SLOAN: I know. And we'd just - you'd be insane, because you didn't know if they were going to let you die or they were going to kill or not. But the minute you said, oh, I'm going to see Dr. Bower, everybody would just go uh-oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Is there anything you miss about it, the soap opera?

SLOAN: Oh, I miss it every day. I mean where else? I mean, you go sit down for Thanksgiving dinner and there'd be somebody murdered in front of you or a ghost would appear at the window. I mean it was so much fun.

SAGAL: Do you ever try to recreate those in your actual life just to keep yourself interested?

SLOAN: You know, nobody on the show was divorced, in production, in the makeup room, the hair room or any of the actors. And there were about 100 of us. And I swear to God it's because we got all the drama out there. I'm waiting to hear when the divorces start now that we're off the air.

SAGAL: Really? Because you think you all...

SLOAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Got like your need for drama and craziness out fictionally?

SLOAN: I think so. I do, Peter. Think about it. You got to scream and yell and cry almost every day, so you never did it at home. It was all gone. And now there's plenty of energy for it.

SAGAL: Tina Sloan, we've invited you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL, Host:

How can it be an opera if it's over in just an hour?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We don't know why soap operas are called operas because, among other things, nobody sings and you all speak in English. So we're going to ask you three questions about musical operas.

SLOAN: Oh, wow.

SAGAL: Get two right, you win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Are you ready to play?

SLOAN: Sure.

SAGAL: Carl, who is Tina Sloan playing for?

KASELL: Tina is playing for Andrea Porreca of Abington, Pennsylvania.

SAGAL: Here is your first question. Operas, of course, are sometimes accused of being inaccessible. That may be particularly true of a new opera that just opened in the Netherlands because the opera is what? A, performed entirely in the dark? B, performed in Klingon? Or C, because it is three days long?

SLOAN: Oh, I think three days long.

SAGAL: The entire opera three days long?

SLOAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: It's actually in Klingon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Klingon, of course, being the made-up language created by fans of the TV show "Star Trek." The opera tells the story you so well know of the first Klingon emperor, Kahless the Unforgettable.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you still have two more chances. This will go well. I know it will because you're a soap opera star. It always ends happily, right?

SLOAN: Mm-hmm.

SAGAL: As the saying goes, it's not over until the fat lady sings. But back in 2001, a leading opera diva, Deborah Voight, did not sing at all. Why? A, she was too fat and wouldn't fit into the black cocktail dress required for her? B, she had a terrible bout of hiccups? Or C, the theater refused to accommodate her demand for her own pony in her dressing room?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: I hope she couldn't fit into the black dress.

SAGAL: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: She was too fat, even by opera standards.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The director decided she wouldn't look right in a black cocktail dress he wanted for one scene. The dress stayed. She left. But she did eventually lost the weight and come back. All right, you got one out of two with one to go here. You get this one, you will in fact win, and all shall be well. New operas are being written all the time. Opera lovers will soon be able to see a new work based on the life of whom? A, the presidency of Millard Fillmore? B, the balloon boy? Or C, the late Anna Nicole Smith?

SLOAN: Oh, I hope it's Anna Nicole Smith.

SAGAL: It is Anna Nicole Smith.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Stuff that happened to her wouldn't have flown in your soap opera. The opera based on her life will be premiered at the Royal Opera House in Britain.

SLOAN: Wow.

SAGAL: Carl, how did Tina do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well enough, Peter. Two correct answers, so Tina wins for Andrea Porreca.

SAGAL: Well done, Tina.

SLOAN: Thank you, Peter. Thank you everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Tina Sloan appeared in "Guiding Light" for 26 years. She's the author of the book "Changing Shoes," in bookstores now. Tina Sloan, thank you so much for joining us.

SLOAN: Thank you, Peter.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

SLOAN: Bye.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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