INTERVIEW WITH GAIL JONES
Owner/Director of Talent+Plus/Los Latinos Agency - San Jose, Calif.
BY AUTHOR RACHELLE CHASE
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU GET
STARTED IN THE TALENT INDUSTRY?
I was a junior high school teacher in “the barrio” of East of San Jose for 11 years from 1970 to 1981. I taught Spanish and social studies with emphasis on current world events and U.S. government. My school was called the “riot school of Santa Clara County” so that gives you an idea of what the conditions were like where I worked. Most teachers quit after 3 years. If you ever saw the 1960’s movie “Up The Down Staircase” starring Sandy Dennis then you would know exactly what my school was like.
Gail Sherman Jones
(La Guera Chicana)
In my last year of teaching, I was freelancing as a photo journalist. I sold many photo essays about the Latino community where I lived and worked to the San Jose Mercury Newspaper Sunday supplement West Magazine.
I thought it was time to make a job transition and wanted to do photo journalism full time. However, I realized it was very difficult to make a living as a freelancer, so I nixed that idea.
It was my students who planted the seed in my mind of starting a talent agency that specialized in Latinos. I had given them an assignment called “Who Am I” and they had to make a collage of pictures, words and phrases from magazines that reflected them as a person and share their artistic creation with the class. They all complained because they could not find any images of Latinos in any publications. That gave me the idea of investigating why the Hispanic market was being ignored and that maybe I could start a business that specialized in and promoted Latinos.
I had no background whatsoever in the modeling and talent business. I had acted in plays in high schools and competed in theater competitions in Los Angeles where I grew up, winning accolades for my performances. I was also accepted into the National Thespian Society.
I even auditioned for the lead role of Gidget in 1963 for the television pilot of the same name. The director of the show (who also directed the sitcoms “Hazel” and the “Farmer’s Daughter”) lived across the street from my family in Woodland Hills, California and thought I had the perfect “surfer girl look” for the character. He set up an appointment for me at Screen Gems Studio to read for the part.
Once I received the script I just couldn’t relate to the bubbly, vivacious character and the storyline was so stupid. My lack of interest for the part during the read was obvious. Sally Fields read for the role and she was perfect for it. The rest is history. She became one of the best actresses of my generation and it all started with the role of Gidget.
Every time I see reruns of that show I think, “Wow, that could have been me if I had been serious about working in the industry and passionate about being on television!” But that was my decision to pass on that great opportunity. I loved acting but was more interested in becoming a Spanish teacher and working with kids, particularly in low-income communities.
In the 1960’s, television stars were not highly paid nor did they become instant super stars as they do today. I had grown up in the Hollywood community where it was commonplace to see alot of actors and production people who lived in my neighborhood. I wasn’t star struck and obsessed with the entertainment business.
I moved from Southern California to the San Francisco Bay Area to attend San Jose State College and graduated with a BA in Spanish and minor in Political Science with emphasis on Latin America in 1970. I did my graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley and received my teaching credential in Spanish and social studies through their Intern Teaching Program in 1971.
HOW DID YOU INVESTIGATE THE MODELING AND TALENT INDUSTRY
AND WHAT DID YOU FIND OUT?
In my last year as a teacher, I decided to do some research and contacted model/talent agencies throughout the Southwest United States to find out if they represented any Latino models and actors. I was amazed that they did not represent any or had only one token model. They claimed they rarely if ever received any casting calls for them nor were there any ad campaigns geared to the Latino market. They would use an English tv commercial and dub it in Spanish for Latino television and used the Anglo model print ads for the Latino media.
This was 1981 and the advertising industry was totally ignorant of the burgeoning, untapped Hispanic market. I decided to seize the opportunity to start a model/talent agency that specialized in Latinos. I took a leave of absence for one year from my teaching job, so if I failed in my business endeavor, I could always go back into the classroom.
I chose the name “Los Latinos” which means the Latin people, applied for my talent agency and business license, rented an office and started recruiting models. My former students were some of my first models. I had many attractive and talented Latino kids and asked them and their parents if they wanted to work with me. I photographed everyone who was seriously interested and prepared their portfolios at no charge since they were from low income families.
However, due to my ignorance and lack of experience, I did not realize that they were too short to be fashion models. To be a female fashion model the minimum height requirement is 5’8” and males 5’11”.
The average height for Latinas is 5’2” and Latino males is 5’6 - 5’8”. So I switched from being a fashion agency to a commercial agency which is based solely on a person’s “look” rather than their height and sizes.
After three years of business as a commercial agency, I also had to change from being solely a Latino agency. If I was going to keep my doors open, I had to diversify and not limit my business to one ethnicity.
Unfortunately, the decade of the Hispanic did not materialize in the advertising world until the end of the 1980’s. Therefore, I changed the name of the agency from Los Latinos (which became the Hispanic Division) and Talent+Plus was created as a full service agency representing all other races and ethnicities.
I began contacting and meeting with all the major advertising agencies, photographers, production companies and major corporations in the San Francisco Bay area to show them portfolios of my Latino and non-Latino talent and convinced them to start booking Hispanics for their ad campaigns as well as other talent.
I also had to clarify that we were now a full service agency and represented everyone - Caucasian, Afro-American and Asian besides specializing in Latinos in our Hispanic division.
I remember when I first started Los Latinos Agency, the older, established agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area thought we were not going to last more that a year.
I am proud to brag that since we started in 1981, those big agencies are no longer around, and 60 agencies have closed their doors since we have been in business. WE HAVE EARNED THE ESTEEMED REPUTATION OF BEING THE OLDEST AGENCY IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA.
Persistence and a lot of hard work paid off. Our talent and client base gradually grew and success followed. Talent+Plus Agency is still the only agency in the Northern California that has a Hispanic Division.
People ask me why a blonde Anglo started a Hispanic business and my reply is “Why Not?”. No one else thought about doing it. I have lived and worked in the Hispanic community since 1966 and speak fluent Spanish so I felt I had the expertise and familiarity of the Latino market to start this agency.
My students used to call me “La Guera Chicana” which means the blonde Mexican-American. I was very flattered by my nickname because they knew I love their culture. I told them many times I felt Latina in my heart and soul. And maybe for that reason, my passion for what I do shines through to others.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
It is an interesting fact that many teachers who have left the education field have developed successful businesses in a completely different arena. There are no schools for training talent agents. I just learned my new career on the job as it happened, through trial and error. I feel my teaching background and skills contributed to my success as a business woman and talent agent.