It has been my thought that yesterday doesn’t have to make your tomorrows, that you just need a dream and the courage to go after it, and don’t question what your inner voice whispers to you in the quiet of your day. My reason to reach out to all of you is to share the amazing and unexpected highs of my incredible life as well as the earthshattering lows that threatened to bring me down. In doing so, my hope is that you will find a connection to your own lives.
I had the pleasure to interview philanthropist, and socialite Toni Holt Kramer. Toni a woman of major versatility, has had a life as multi-faceted as one can dream. From her childhood days as a cover girl model with the Huntington Hartford Agency to her illustrious career as a renowned Hollywood reporter, her diversity and perseverance know no bounds. Actually, it’s not far-fetched to say that Toni Holt Kramer could be three different people…leading three very different lives! One of those lives centers around Toni’s successful Hollywood career hosting and co-hosting everything from “Good Morning L.A.” and “Mid-Morning L.A.” to being a live, on-air columnist for the afternoon and evening news. Toni also had her own syndicated show, “Toni Holt in Hollywood”, as well as a TV feature called “Toni’s Tips”. In later years, she co-hosted the “Talk of the Town” series, which was filmed on location at events and parties all across Hollywood, New York, and Europe. In the course of her television career, Toni has interviewed upwards of three thousand major celebrities, including movie and television stars, famed athletes, political VIP’s, and even the Former First Lady, Nancy Reagan. Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Bob Hope, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Glenn Ford, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson are a few of the stars that Toni has met and worked with during her time on the Hollywood scene. Toni also works alongside her husband to oversee all the financial and real estate investments for her family and their charitable trusts. Toni, along with the love of her life, husband Robert Kramer, currently resides in Palm Beach, Florida, Palm Springs, California and Bel Air, California. She sits on the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University, is an active philanthropist. The Kramer’s love to travel and have friends all over the world, and, when they have a moment to themselves, they prefer to spend it playing golf, walking and entertaining friends.
Thank you so much for joining us Toni! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
A: This particular career path? There are those who have suggested I could be three different people… with three different careers! First a Hollywood on-camera reporter & columnist, then a Washington DC Insider, also a business woman. Becoming an author combines all of them. I owe it all to my mother who always told me, “If you think it, you can do it.”
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
A: There have been so many interesting stories throughout my career. UNSTOPPABLE ME: Toni Holt Kramer: My Life in the Spotlight is full of them. And there are many I did not include.
Chapter 10 is about the career advice I was given by Frank Sinatra, Ol’Blue Eyes.
“Ruby Dunes was the place to be on Friday nights in Palm Springs. That was the night they flew fresh lobsters in from Massachusetts. Irwin Rothstein, whom Sinatra had dubbed ‘Uncle Ruby,’ owned the restaurant. It was one of Sinatra’s favorite hangouts, and he went there every Friday he was in town with his entourage.
Mother and I loved the Dunes and went there frequently. By this time my TV show had picked up steam and was gaining popularity. I was becoming somewhat of a local celebrity, and the lady in White had turned into a full-time persona. For the first time in my adult life, I felt in touch with myself. I liked who I was, and who I was on the road to becoming.
I promoted my local fame with my light blonde hair, white outfits, and eating only white food in public. I kept my white Persian cat on my lap whenever I could. You get the picture. I wasn’t gaudy — at least I didn’t think so — and these eccentricities help to pave my road into the spotlight.
I often spotted Sinatra at the Dunes on those Friday evenings, along with his friend Jack Daniels. He would nod in my direction and say hello in that smooth, velvety voice. That was about the extent of our interaction, although there were nights we actually had the table right next to his.
I was still very young, and Frank Sinatra was about the biggest star there was. The fact that he even acknowledged my very presence proved (as the hit Sinatra song suggests) ‘Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you.’ To top it off, Frank was not only good-looking but he was extremely generous. Hundred-dollar tips for the waitresses were par for the course.
One night, Mother and I were having dinner when Sinatra enters without his usual gang. It was just Frank and Danny Schwartz, one of his best friends. We spotted him but didn’t think anything of it until our usual waitress came over to our table.
‘Excuse me, Toni,’ she said quietly, ‘Mr. Sinatra would like to see you.’ She nodded towards his unmistakable figure at the end of the bar.
I looked back and forth between my mother and the waitress, contemplating my next move. ‘Frank Sinatra wants to see me?’ I asked.
‘She’ll be right there,’ my mother interjected, always Mama Rose from Gypsy giving her daughter a push. I watched as the waitress hurried back to Sinatra to relay the message.
Mother looked at me and I took a couple deep breaths. While I felt comfortable interviewing celebrities, this command performance had caught me off-guard.
‘Guess I’ll be right back,’ I said, smiling nervously. She gave me a nod, and I made my way across the restaurant to see The Man.
With Frank, there was no beating around the bush. ‘We’re watching you, kid,’ Sinatra said, and introduced me to Danny Schwartz. Frank’s eyes were piercing blue, and I was unable to look away from him as he spoke. ‘You’re good enough to make it in LA. Get out of here, kid, go work there.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Sinatra,’ I managed to say. I kick myself now for curse of moments like these is that we often think of the perfect thing to say or do only after the moment is gone. Before I could say anything else, Sinatra turned back to his drink and his friend. The conversation was over.
I don’t think my feet even touched the floor as I made my way back to tell Mother what Frank had said.
I’d have been a fool not to take Sinatra’s advice to heart, so I furiously began making phone calls. One led to another and thanks to some friends, I was set to audition for a job at KTLA, the local TV station in Los Angeles owned by the most famous cowboy of yesterday, Gene Autry…
“’I was set to do five-minute segment on the six and ten PM news. It reminded me of my time as an inexperienced teenager dancing at the Copacabana in New York. Only this time Mother wouldn’t be hanging out of the apartment window across Madison Avenue, keeping an eagle eye on my every move. No, I was on my own for sure, but totally lacking direction.
One thing I did understand was how to get attention and build a buzz about myself. Now that I had the job, I knew I needed to get my name out there. After all, that’s what Hollywood is all about. Noise, promotion, and publicity. Self-praise does not stink in La La Land.”’…
“’I needed to cause a stir to build suspense for my on-air debut. A few phone calls and a couple of weeks later, a giant billboard went up on the famed Sunset Strip.
Stretched across the picture were three words: ‘Move over, Rona, here comes Toni…’”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A: “As luck would have it, at a very young age, I went to work for a company called Sultana, where I sold hosiery from behind a counter. It gave me the opportunity to deal directly with people, something I loved, and I excelled at this job.
But money — or lack of it sometimes made it difficult for us, my mother and me, to make ends meet. The pinch that we felt was personified for me one muggy afternoon when I decided to take a taxi from my job in the city to the subway so I wouldn’t have to walk in the oppressive heat. My mother was ill that day and had stayed home.
When the taxi reached the station, I gave the driver a twenty-dollar bill to pay the fare. I was late and rushed into the station to catch my train, but as I was about to board, I suddenly realized that the driver had given me change for a five instead of a twenty. I was devastated. Twenty dollars was a lot of money in those days, enough to have taken the taxi all the way home to Brooklyn and then some. All I could think of was how many hours I had worked in order to get that twenty and how we could have used that money for other necessities. It was too late for me to correct the mistake — the taxi driver had already gone. I felt such a sinking feeling that I rushed to pay phone to call my mother.
‘I just did a terrible thing,’ I cried, and I told her what happened. The head and the rushing around had worked me into a tizzy, and tears welled up in my eyes.’ I didn’t look. I’m so sorry. I know we can’t afford to lose this.’
‘Don’t worry about it, honey.’ she said sweetly. ‘We’re okay…and sometimes people do bad things.’
There was no doubt in my mind that the cab driver knew exactly what he was doing, and I think that incident is why to this day I don’t like to carry cash. Cash makes me nervous. I much prefer credit cards. I always say to people, ‘I’m like the Queen. I don’t carry cash.’
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
A: Oh, I am working on so many exciting projects now… a second book that is coming out later this year, a TV show, and the fourth annual Trumpettes USA event which will be held again at Mar a Lago early next year.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
A: Because I spent years as a Hollywood reporter interviewing upwards of 3,000 major celebrities including movie and television stars, famed athletes, political VIPs, and even the Former First Lady, Nancy Regan. Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Bob Hope, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Glenn Ford, Frank Sinatra, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, storytelling is second nature to me. In addition to hosting and co-hosting everything from “Good Morning LA” and “Mid-Morning LA,” I was a live on-air columnist for the afternoon and evening news, I also had my own syndicated show, “Toni Holt in Hollywood,” as well as a TV feature called “Toni’s Tips,” shown exclusively in Latin America. I also co-hosted the “Talk of the Town” series, which was filmed on location at events and parties all across Hollywood, New York, and Europe. When I wasn’t in front of the camera, I spent time writing numerous columns for some of the top magazines and newspapers. The success of my column, “Toni Holt’s Happenings” in Photoplay magazine, led to Ideal Publications giving me my own magazine called Toni Holt’s Movie Life.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
A: The story that jumps out was when I was waiting backstage to go on the Dick Cavett Show and I was brand new in the business. I had recently met and interviewed Rock Hudson, and we hit it off so well he gave me his private phone number in case I ever had a problem. As I waited to go on I started panicking because, the guest, Tony Randall, and Dick Cavett were making fun of gossip columnists and Hollywood reporters, and I realized my career would be over before it began since they would have destroyed me. So, I borrowed change from a grip, crossed my fingers and dialed Rock Hudson. He answered! I was almost crying and he told me to take a breath and when the timing was right, to wait for the audience to be quiet and then say “Mr. Randall, if you hate gossip columnists so much, why do you pay your famous press agent, Mr. Springer, $2,500 a month to represent you? Is it to get your name out of the news?” At that moment the audience cheered me and I had them on my side.
What is the main empowering lesson you want readers to take away after finishing your book?
A: My greatest wish is that those who read my memoir leave with the belief that my mother taught me, “If you think it, you can do it.” It has served me well and I want to instill it in others. My big dream is that my passion and perseverance will inspire those who are just beginning their journey, whatever it might be. Please don’t feel that the only thing left on the horizon is the setting sun — your passion can take you anywhere you let it lead you.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring authors can learn from?
A: Dealing with self-publishing which is a nightmare. You have to do everything yourself. Unless I am published by a professional publisher, I would not do it again. It is worth the wait for a real publisher to publish your book. I wanted to do it quickly and that was a huge mistake.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
A: I like biographies. I am a curious person and I like to learn about what makes people tick. I don’t have any specific writers, I just like to read about all sorts of different people.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
A: It has been my thought that yesterday doesn’t have to make your tomorrows, that you just need a dream and the courage to go after it, and don’t question what your inner voice whispers to you in the quiet of your day. My reason to reach out to all of you is to share the amazing and unexpected highs of my incredible life as well as the earthshattering lows that threatened to bring me down. In doing so, my hope is that you will find a connection to your own lives.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming an author like you?
A: You had better have a lot of money because it is costly to promote yourself. You need IT people, press agents, and be able to host book signings. You also need to know people, and get glamorous people to endorse you.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
A: First, don’t self-publish. Second, have an unlimited expense account. Third, don’t be shy. Be ready to call anyone you can to get attention. Fourth, keep your sense of humor, especially when being interviewed. And lastly, have friends in every part of the world so they can represent your book.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A: On September 19, 2015, with the help of my dear friends Terry Ebert Mendozza, Janet Levy, and Suzi Goldsmith, I launched the Trumpettes USA. With tens of thousands of members, it is the movement that I believe will bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people. Our mission is to make people understand the kind of man Donald Trump is, behind and beyond the headlines. We want to inform and appeal to not only the women who voted for him, but also to the women — and men — who did not vote for him.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
A: Twitter: @TTrumpette
Unstoppable Me: www.unstoppablemebook.com/
Villa Paradiso Palm Springs: http://villaparadisopalmsprings.com/