November 21 – Happy Birthday, Marlo Thomas

Posted on November 21, 2013

When I was young, I loved a show on television that nobody talks about these days. It was called That Girl, and it starred Marlo Thomas as a young woman who leaves home and goes to New York City in order to become an actress. With her dark bangs and great smile, Marlo Thomas was the Zooey Deschanel of the 1960s. (Is it just a coincidence that Thomas's That Girl is a remarkably similar title to Deschanel's New Girl?)

The show did well for five years, but Thomas pulled the plug because she wanted to go on to other projects. The advertisers and studio execs urged the creative people to end the series with a wedding between “That Girl” and her long-time boyfriend. But Thomas thought that that was the wrong message to send to the young girls in her audience (girls like me!), because weddings and marriage are not the only possible happy ending.

Flash forward a bunch of years—and I became a parent of some girls. Now it was their turn to be thrilled by Marlo Thomas's work. This time, it was a collection of songs called “Free to Be...You and Me.” (There was also a book and TV special by the same name, also by Thomas.) The songs were empowering to boys and girls to break out of gender stereotypes. A whole bunch of very big stars of music and acting sang and performed on the album, and important writers such as Shel Silverstein wrote the poems and stories and songs. This album was more than a decade old by the time my girls got to hear it, but the songs were just as fresh and meaningful to them as they were to kids in 1972, when the album was released, and as they are today!

To celebrate Marlo Thomas's birthday, check out Marlo Thomas's work on behalf of all girls and boys, and women and men, everywhere:

  • Here is the opening sequence to the TV special.
  • Watch this cartoon from the special; it's called “Atalanta.”
  • Here is another song, called “William Wants a Doll.”
  • Watch Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack singing and playing roles as young kids here
  • Here are the opening credits for That Girl
  • And here is the very first episode of the show That Girl.

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