Funny Women: Marlo Thomas
I’ve only done three funny women posts. This will be the fourth one. The first three were on Susan Harris, Dawn French, and cartoon character Daria Morgendorfer. I’m going to come full circle because one of Susan Harris’s characters on Soap mentions Marlo Thomas. Jessica Tate, played by Katherine Helmond, muses that Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas must be in a perpetual state of morning bliss when they each wake up in the morning to discover that they are married to the other one!
Marlo Thomas was born in 1937 to comedian Danny Thomas and his wife Rose Marie (not to be confused with the comedic actress Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show). She was named Margaret Julia Thomas, but that was shortened by her parents to Margo. Later, because she mispronounced her own name, the nickname became Marlo.
Marlo’s father was a Lebanese American and a big success in show business. Marlo’s mother was of Italian descent, and the family was Catholic. Marlo was the oldest of their three children.
Marlo went on to graduate from the University of Southern California with a teaching degree. She got into acting by taking a lot of guest starring roles, and eventually became the first woman to be the lead actress in a situation comedy about a single career woman. That Girl premiered in 1966, predating The Mary Tyler Moore Show and paving the way for shows like Murphy Brown, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Designing Women, Ally McBeal, and, yes, coming back around to Susan Harris again, Golden Girls. The show was successful and ran for five seasons.
After That Girl, Thomas went on acting, mostly in television movies, and became active in feminist causes. Together with Gloria Steinem and others, she helped found the Ms. Foundation, a charitable fund for the advancement of women’s rights issues in the United States. She’s probably most remembered by people of my generation for helping to put together the book and movie and record Free to Be You and Me. Free to Be You and Me explored and questioned popular gender stereotypes and Younger people will remember her as Rachel Green’s mom on Friends.
Later, Thomas produced Free to Be a Family, which presented alternatives to traditional nuclear families as being just as much a family as a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids. Marlo is funny, she’s a feminist, and she’s been married for the first and only time, since 1980 to the previously mentioned Phil Donahue. Before the advent of the phenomenon called Oprah, he was the King of the Daytime Talk Show. They were married the year she turned 43.
Today, Thomas devotes her time and attention to her father’s children’s hospital, St. Jude, and has raised a great deal of money for a charitable hospital that never turns down even the most challenging cases of terminally and gravely ill children, based on their families’ ability to pay. That’s a legacy that she can be proud of.