It’s definitely not a hard-knock life for Toni Ann Gisondi Pugliese. Toni Ann, who starred as Molly in the 1982 movie musical Annie, has one of the most beautiful voices in the music industry today. Celebrity Parents Magazine sat down exclusively with Toni Ann (and her mom, Linda!), as she spoke to us about her love of singing, the significance of the name Molly and all things Annie.
How did you begin your career?
Toni Ann: I started dancing when I was 3 years-old. At the end of dance class, the teacher would let us sit in a circle and sing. I was singing one day, and my teacher said I had a nice singing voice, and encouraged my mom to take me for singing lessons. I started taking singing lessons at 4.
How did you get the part of Molly in the movie Annie?
Toni Ann: The word was out that there was an Annie audition in NYC. I went to audition, and the line was around the block. Some girls were even dressed like Annie! There was an Annie cut-out, and you had to be the height of the cut-out in order to audition. I was a head smaller than it, so they didn’t even let me try out.
Linda: I felt badly. I thought, “Oh, if only they could have heard her sing…”
How old were you when you auditioned?
Toni Ann: I was in kindergarten, so I was five years-old.
What happened next?
Toni Ann: About a month went by and then we heard they were auditioning for the principal roles. I had to sing “Tomorrow” and then walk out. I sang, and when I came out of the room, I was skipping down the hallway. My mom said, “Where’s your sheet music?” and I said, “They want to see you.”
Linda: I heard her sing “Tomorrow”, and then after she finished, I heard murmuring in the room. I got excited, just so happy that they heard her sing. When I went into the room, the casting directors said, “Needless to say, we’re all very impressed.” They wanted her to meet the director, John Houston. My knees were shaking! After that, she got the role of Molly.
It was a big carnival. All of the orphans were friends. In fact, I still keep in touch with “Pepper”, Roseanne Sorrentino. Everyone on the set was so nice to us. Carol Burnett, who plays Miss Hannigan, was super sweet, nothing like her character at all. She was like a mom to us. John Houston was a nice guy. I remember that we used to play Chinese jacks between scenes. It was a wonderful experience.
Can you tell us some fun, behind-the-scenes stories?
There are so many of them! Well, they filmed the movie backwards, so the end scenes were shot first. If you look closely, I have my grown-up teeth in the beginning of the film, and my baby teeth at the end!
Also, I was really afraid of dogs when I was younger. There was the “Dumb Dog” scene where I had to touch “Sandy” and it freaked me out a bit. When I finish singing “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” and I have to stomp Miss Hannigan’s foot, that’s actually our wardrobe designer Bunny’s foot! Carol was sick that day, so we had to use a stunt foot!
In another scene where I hear through the vent that Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters are going to pretend to be Annie’s parents, I say to the orphans, “They’re going to do something bad to Annie!” They say, “Who is?” I say, “They are!” You only see the back of my head, but after I said my lines, I would stick my tongue out at the girls and make them laugh. Finally, the orphans got in trouble and they ratted me out, saying, “She’s making us laugh!” John Houston laughed and he said, “She’s truly a Molly!”
Since you were only five years-old, how did you rehearse your lines, especially the songs you had to sing?
I was just beginning to read when we filmed Annie, so my mom would go over the lines with me. I had to memorize them.
What happened after you finished filming Annie?
I went back to school, and was like every other 6 year-old. It was easy for me to get back into the routine. No one treated me differently, and I was happy about that. Of course, if people mentioned Annie, I loved to talk about it (as I still do!), since it was such a wonderful experience for me.
Annie was your first film. Did you act in any other movies?
I also starred in The Children’s Story. At age 9, I played a flower girl in a wedding in the movie Harem, and also some extra roles here and there. I also did a few commercials and voice-overs.
How did you meet your husband, Ted?
I was substitute teaching at a school and Ted was a biology teacher there. He came over to a table where I was sitting and said, “I just wanted to let you know I think you’re absolutely beautiful.” Little did he know at the time that I had noticed him as well 🙂 A few days later he asked me out on a date and we’ve been together ever since. When you know, you know! I sang a song at our wedding called Together Forever that I wrote.
I love how you named your daughters Molly and Melody.
I have always loved the name Molly, and of course, it’s from the movie. I chose the name Melody because of my love of music. It’s cute, because Ariel from The Little Mermaid has a daughter named Melody, too!
How are Molly and Melody’s personalities?
Molly is much more introspective. She is more serious, while Melody is very bubbly and outgoing. They say the second child is usually like that. They both like acting, and have been in plays.
You had mentioned earlier that the girls also model.
Yes, they’ve modeled for Disney; they’re on the tags for some of the Disney princess clothing. They’ve also appeared in commercials and on Sprout as well. I would love for them to continue acting, or be in theater, if they wanted to do it.
Do you think that you will return to movies in the future?
Actually, I would love to be the voice of a character! That would be so much fun for me. I’ve done local theater, and I still sing at weddings. It’s hard to say what could have happened if I had stayed in acting. I don’t think I would have all this, my family and my daughters. I have a really nice life, and I’m so grateful for what I have.