Alice Rastani has a deep appreciation for Cincinnati history. As a member of the Xavier community for 33 years, the administrative assistant in the College of Social Sciences, Health and Education has watched the University grow to a nationally known institution poised for exponential growth. But it’s what the Indiana native did before coming to Xavier that truly sets her apart.
During television’s formative, innocent years—which some would argue were the medium’s most entertaining years, as well—Rastani was an important part of two of Greater Cincinnati’s longest running, most beloved shows, “The Paul Dixon Show” and “”Uncle Al.”
Rastani worked both behind the scenes and on camera on both shows. She served as assistant producer for “The Uncle Al Show” and associate director for “The Paul Dixon Show.” Those titles equated to “a little bit of everything,” from commercial aid, to audio simulation, to prop set-up. All in all, the jobs required a combination of responsibility and flexibility.
“If I did a very good job before the Dixon show started, I would have, right in my hand, what he was looking for, as far as the details of the commercials and what he needs to do next,” says Rastani. “There had to be one person, because the singers were busy with their voices, the band was busy, the prop fellows were moving the props around, the cameramen and the people up in the control room were getting ready, and I was the one person in the studio Dixon relied on for all the facts,” Rastani says.
One of Rastani’s highlights was portraying Mary Poppins on “The Uncle Al Show.” “Back when Mary Poppins had just come out, Uncle Al and Captain Windy went to see it,” she recalls. “Uncle Al came back that Monday morning, looked at me and said, ‘I watched it, and you remind me enough of Mary Poppins that I want you to play her on the show.’ It was startling that he would say that. When it was over, WCPO sent a tape to MGM and they sent a letter back to me congratulating me on the show and the presentation. That was an interesting time.”
Improvisation was a key part of both jobs: A big part of early, live television involved taking situations that went wrong and making them a part of the show. That could include anything from technical difficulties to someone forgetting their lines, to a commercial error. When the cameras started rolling each weekday at 9:00 a.m., quick thinking took over for an hour and a half.
“People wanted to come on Paul Dixon’s show because they could potentially have a starring role and dictate what happened. They would come geared for that, with special clothes on, or short skirts for the Paul Dixon show,” says Rastani. “The ladies loved Paul. He could tell the same jokes over and over again, and they would know what the joke was, and always laugh anyway, because it was Paul Baby’s jokes—Paul Baby was his nickname. It was like they were insiders.”
Ultimately, it is the human interaction and close relationships that lie at the heart of Rastani’s most cherished memories. “To be able to meet so many people and be around so many happy and uplifting moments during the show. Everybody knew the people that were on the show,” Rastani says. “Every day was the same. You made sure that certain things always happened. One of my tasks was to bring this salami out every day to Paul Baby. It was an important moment for an audience member to receive the salami from Paul Dixon. It was a unique experience to have known those celebrities so closely.”
Despite her love of live TV, Rastani chose to come to Xavier when Dixon died, rather than continue her broadcasting career. She says it was the right decision.
“Before I came to Xavier, there was another television show I was thinking about going to, and my husband said, ‘Why don’t you let that go?’ Which I did, and it was the best thing I could do. Live programming is no more, and this community at Xavier is special. The longer I’m here, the more I realize that, watching it grow, watching the changes, I did myself a favor coming here instead of pursuing programming any further.”
Still, with all the great memories and a host of wonderful stories that lead one to another, Rastani finds it hard to describe the glory days of Greater Cincinnati broadcasting. “You can’t even put it into words,” she says.