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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR CHILDREN TOO : 'Toon Town Kids' offers a fun alternative to this broadcast major

November 27, 1994|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One piece of advice most casting directors give aspiring actors is not to answer ads in the back of magazines touting modeling or acting schools.

"Toon Town Kids" star Liza Del Mundo, 19, didn't heed any such advice.

Del Mundo, who stars alongside co-host Trevor Lissauer ("The Skateboard Kid") in the weekday Disney morning show, wanted to be a model at 15. "I went through the modeling thing, went to Barbizon after I saw a magazine ad, had my pictures taken, took classes and then realized I wasn't model material."

At 5-foot-1, the Filipina American was too short. "I was always entering myself in teen model search things and I would make the finals, but never win."

While in high school in San Diego, she persuaded her parents--Mom is a realtor, Dad is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy--to drive her up to Los Angeles.

"I saw one of those magazine ads for a showcase," says Del Mundo, now a freshman at Cal State Northridge. She was asked to walk up on the stage, say her name and say she was really happy to be there.

"There were something like 1,000 of us there. After that, they chose 50 of us to go to acting school in Beverly Hills." Del Mundo's mother drove her every weekend for three months to attend an all-day Saturday acting class at Powers Development Center.

Workshops and showcase appearances at the center garnered her an agent and manager, which led to guest roles--on "Hearts Afire" and "My So-Called Life"--and eventually her "Toon Town" role.

Sixty-five episodes were shot at Disneyland in a period of six weeks. "We lived at the Disneyland Hotel and it was great," Del Mundo says. "An average day was 16 hours. Disneyland was like our huge set and it was very hard. Even if you're tired and up since 4 a.m. and there is a big crowd around you, you had to make sure you looked happy."

According to executive producer, writer and director Mark Israel, "The best thing about Liza is her youthful, animated voice, something young kids can relate to. It's almost like a cartoon voice."

Israel also points out that "she's completely non-threatening, but the strong one" in the Lucy-Desi dynamic he tried to establish between Lissauer and Del Mundo. And, he says, "she has one of the most beautiful smiles any director can ask for."

The broadcast journalism student, now housed at the university's dorm, thought she might change her major to theater after her "Toon Town" stint, but her mother advised her otherwise. "She told me, 'Liza, you don't have to have a degree to become a star. It could end any minute.' School keeps my feet on the ground."

Del Mundo continues to audition, but finds being a Filipina both a positive and negative in the entertainment industry. "Sometimes they (casting folk) are looking for just ethnicity, and then you have a good chance at it, but then you're often limited to a minor role."

With her "Toon Town" gig and a couple of national commercials--one for Polaroid and another for Burger King (she's the "weema-weh" girl)--under her belt, Del Mundo is ready to take on the acting world, but will keep school as a backup. "You never know what will happen," she says with a sigh.

The "Toon Town Kids" offer comedic skits between Disney cartoon classics. "Toon Town Kids" airs daily at 8 a.m. on KCAL. For ages 2 to 8.

More Family Fare

The classic tale of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," narrated by Burl Ives and based on the popular song by Johnny Marks, airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBS. A day after watching the story of the shy reindeer and his heroic red beacon, tune into "Frosty the Snowman," Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBS. For ages 2 and up.

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