Marlo Thomas

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Marlo Thomas
Marlo Thomas - 1968.jpg
Thomas in That Girl (1968)
BornMargaret Julia Thomas
(1937-11-21) November 21, 1937 (age 77)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Southern California (B.A., 1959)[1]
OccupationActress, producer, activist, philanthropist
Years active1960–present
Spouse(s)Phil Donahue (1980–present)
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Marlo Thomas
Marlo Thomas - 1968.jpg
Thomas in That Girl (1968)
BornMargaret Julia Thomas
(1937-11-21) November 21, 1937 (age 77)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Southern California (B.A., 1959)[1]
OccupationActress, producer, activist, philanthropist
Years active1960–present
Spouse(s)Phil Donahue (1980–present)

Margaret Julia "Marlo" Thomas (born November 21, 1937) is an American actress, producer, and social activist known for starring on the sitcom That Girl (1966–1971) and her award-winning feminist children's franchise, Free to Be... You and Me. For her work in television, she has received four Emmys, a Golden Globe, the George Foster Peabody Award and has been inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. She has also received a Grammy award for her children’s album Thanks & Giving All Year Long.

Thomas serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which was founded by her father, Danny Thomas, in 1962. She created the Thanks & Giving campaign in 2004 to support the hospital.

Early life[edit]

Thomas was born on November 21, 1937 in Detroit, Michigan, the eldest child of comedian Danny Thomas (1912–1991) and his wife, the former Rose Marie Cassaniti (1914–2000). She has a sister, Terre, and her brother, Tony Thomas, is a television and film producer. Her father was Lebanese American and her mother was Sicilian American.[2]

Marlo Thomas was raised in Beverly Hills, California. Her parents called her Margo as a child, though she soon became known as Marlo, she told The New York Times, because of her childhood mispronunciation of the nickname. She attended Marymount High School in Los Angeles. Thomas graduated from the University of Southern California with a teaching degree: "I wanted a piece of paper that said I was qualified to do something in the world," she said. She also was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta.[3]


Early career[edit]

Thomas appeared in many early TV shows including Bonanza, McHale's Navy, Ben Casey, Arrest and Trial, The Joey Bishop Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Donna Reed Show, among others. Her big break came in 1965 when she was cast by Mike Nichols in the London production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park, co-starring Daniel Massey, Kurt Kasner and Mildred Natwick. In 1986 she was once again cast by Nichols on Broadway in Andrew Bergman’s Social Security, co-starring Ron Silver and Olympia Dukakis.

That Girl[edit]

Thomas (center) with co-star Ted Bessell (left) in a 1969 photo from That Girl

Thomas starred in an ABC pilot called Two's Company in 1965. Although it did not sell, it caught the attention of an ABC programming executive. He met with Thomas, and expressed interest in casting her in her own series. With their encouragement, Thomas came up with her own idea for a show about a young woman who leaves home, moves to New York and struggles to become an actress. The network was initially hesitant, fearing audiences would find a series centering on a single female uninteresting or unrealistic. Thomas, however, ensured the show's success and it was put into production.

The concept eventually evolved into the sitcom entitled That Girl, in which Thomas played Ann Marie, a beautiful, up-and-coming actress with a writer boyfriend, played by Ted Bessell. The series told the daily struggles of Ann holding different temporary jobs while pursuing her dream of a career on Broadway. The series was the first television show to focus on a working, single girl who did not live with her parents, and paved the way for many shows to come. Thomas was only the second woman, following Lucille Ball, to produce her own series. That Girl aired from 1966 to 1971, producing 136 episodes, and was a solid performer in the Nielsen ratings.

In 1971 Thomas chose to end the series after five years. Both ABC and the show's sponsor, Clairol, wanted the series finale to be a wedding between the two central characters. But Thomas rebuffed them, saying that she felt it was the wrong message to send to her female audience, because it would give the impression that the only happy ending is a marriage. That Girl has since become popular in syndication.

Later career[edit]

After That Girl, eager to expand her horizons, Thomas attended the Actors Studio,[4] where she studied with Lee Strasberg until his death in 1982, and subsequently with Strasberg's disciple Sandra Seacat. When she won her Best Dramatic Actress Emmy in 1986 for the TV-movie Nobody’s Child, she thanked both individuals.

Thomas at the 41st Primetime Emmy Awards, September 17, 1989

In 1972 she released a children's book, Free to Be... You and Me, which was inspired by her young niece Dionne Gordon. She went on to create multiple recordings and television specials of and related to that title: Free to Be... You and Me (1972, 1974) and Free to Be... A Family (1987), with Christopher Cerf. Also in 1972, she served as a California delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida.

In 1973 Thomas joined Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin as the founders of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the first women’s fund in the U.S. The organization was created to deliver funding and other resources to organizations that were presenting liberal women’s voices in communities nationwide.

In 1976 Thomas made a guest appearance on the NBC situation comedy The Practice as a stubborn patient of her father Danny Thomas '​s character Dr. Jules Bedford, and the chemistry of father and daughter acting together made for touching hospital-room scenes.

Adept at drama as well as comedy, Thomas appeared in the television movies It Happened One Christmas (1977) (a remake of It's a Wonderful Life),[5] Consenting Adult (1985), Nobody's Child (1986), The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck (1984), Held Hostage: The Sis and Jerry Levin Story (1991), Reunion (1994), Deceit (2004) and Ultimate Betrayal (1994); while she starred in the films Jenny (1970), Thieves (1977), In The Spirit (1990), The Real Blonde (1997), Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo (1999), Playing Mona Lisa (2000), LOL (2010) with Demi Moore and Miley Cyrus and Cardboard Boxer (2014).

Thomas's Broadway theatre credits include Thieves (1974), Social Security (1986) and The Shadow Box (1994), and in 2011 she starred as Doreen in Elaine May's comedy George Is Dead, in an evening of three one-act plays entitled Relatively Speaking. The other two plays were written by Woody Allen and Ethan Coen.

Thomas in 2008

Off Broadway, Thomas has appeared in The Guys and The Exonerated (in which she also appeared in Chicago and Boston, co-starring with Brian Dennehy). Regional Theatre productions include: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff? at the Hartford Stage; Woman In Mind at the Berkshire Theatre Festival; Paper Doll, with F. Murray Abraham at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre; and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds at the Cleveland Playhouse. In 1993 she toured in the National Company of Six Degrees of Separation. In the spring of 2008 she starred in Arthur Laurents's last play, New Year's Eve with Keith Carradine, at the George Street Playhouse.

Thomas has published six best-selling books: Free To Be ..You and Me, Free To Be A Family, The Right Words at the Right Time, The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn, Thanks & Giving All Year Long, and in 2009 her memoir, Growing Up Laughing.

Thomas also is active with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where she serves as the national outreach director. She donated all royalties from her 2004 book and CD, Thanks & Giving: All Year Long (also produced with Cerf), to the hospital, which was started by her late father, Danny Thomas.

In recent years Thomas has made guest appearances on Ally McBeal, Friends (as Rachel's mother, Sandra Green), as well as on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (she played Judge Mary Conway Clark, a mentor of ADA Casey Novak).

She currently narrates the series Happily Never After on Investigation Discovery.

In 2010 Thomas created, a website for women aged 35+ on AOL and the Huffington Post.


Thomas is the recipient of four Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a Grammy Award, a Jefferson Award and the George Foster Peabody Award.

In 1996, she was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.[6] President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.[7]

In 2014, the Marlo Thomas Center for Global Education and Collaboration was opened as part of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.[8]

Also in 2014, Thomas was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Thomas's godmother was actress Loretta Young.[10] After her relationship with playwright Herb Gardner and a relationship with David Geffen,[11] Thomas married talk show host Phil Donahue on May 21, 1980.[12] She has five stepchildren as a result of that marriage.


1970JennyJennyNominated - Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1977ThievesSally Cramer
1990In the SpiritReva Prosky
1993Falling DownKTLA Reporter
1997Real Blonde, TheThe Real BlondeBlair
1998Starstruck'Linda Phaeffle
1999Deuce Bigalow: Male GigoloMargaretuncredited
2000Playing Mona LisaShelia Goldstein
2012In the Woods
1960Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, TheThe Many Loves of Dobie GillisFrank's GirlfriendEpisode: "The Hunger Strike"
196077 Sunset StripAminaEpisode: "The Fanatics"
1961Zane Grey TheaterLaurie DubroEpisode: "Honor Bright"
1961ThrillerSusan BakerEpisode: "The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell"
1961–1962Joey Bishop Show, TheThe Joey Bishop ShowStella10 episodes
1962InsightJeanne BrownEpisode: "The Sophomore"
1964Arrest and TrialAngela TucciEpisode: "Tigers Are for Jungles"
1964BonanzaTai LeeEpisode: "A Pink Cloud Comes from Old Cathay"
1964My Favorite MartianPaula ClayfieldEpisode: "Miss Jekyll and Hyde"
1964Wendy and MeCarolEpisode: "Wendy's Anniversary for --?"
1964McHale's NavyCynthia PrenticeEpisode: "The Missing Link"
1965What's my LineHerselfPanelist
1965Donna Reed Show, TheThe Donna Reed ShowLouise BissellEpisode: "Guests, Guests, Who Needs Guests?"
1965Two's CompanyCaroline SommersUnsold pilot
1965Ben CaseyClaire SchaefferEpisode: "Three Li'l Lambs"
1966–1971That GirlAnn Marie137 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress on Television (1967)
TV Land Award for Favorite Fashion Plate - Female (2004)
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1967-1971)
Nominated - TV Land Award for Hippest Fashion Plate - Female (2003)
1967Cricket on the HearthBertha (voice)TV movie
1973ABC Saturday Superstar Movie, TheThe ABC Saturday Superstar MovieAnne Marie (voice)Episode: "That Girl in Wonderland"
1973Acts of Love and Other ComediesVariousTV movie
1976Practice, TheThe PracticeJudy SinclairEpisode: "Judy Sinclair"
1977It Happened One ChristmasMary Bailey HatchTV movie
1984Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck, TheThe Lost Honor of Kathryn BeckKathryn BeckTV movie
1985Consenting AdultTess LyndTV movie
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1986Nobody's ChildMarie BalterTV movie
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1991Held Hostage: The Sis and Jerry Levin StoryLucille 'Sis' LevinTV movie
1994Ultimate BetrayalAdult Sharon RodgersTV movie
1994ReunionJessie YatesTV movie
1996RoseanneTina BeigeEpisode: "Satan, Darling"
1996FriendsSandra GreenEpisode: "The One with the Lesbian Wedding"
Episode: "The One with the Two Parties"
Episode: "The One with the Baby Shower"
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (1996)
1999FrasierSophie (voice)3 episodes
2000Ally McBealLynnie BishopEpisode: "Tis the Season"
Episode: "Love on Holiday"
2002Two Against TimeJulie PortmanTV movie
2004DeceitEllen McCarthyTV movie
2004Law & Order: Special Victims UnitJudge Mary Clark4 episodes
2007Ugly BettySandra WinthropEpisode: "Something Wicked This Way Comes"
2012The New NormalNancy NilesEpisode: "Baby Proofing"
2012"The Dr. Oz Show"HerselfEpisode: "Dr. Oz Takes on TV's Sextuplet Toddlers!"


  1. ^ Moore, Annette, "Nikiases and Marlo Thomas honored by Town and Gown", USC News, April 16, 2013
  2. ^ "International No Diet Day: When Temptation Calls...". The Huffington Post. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  3. ^ Judy Stone (September 4, 1966). "And Now—Make Room for Marlo". The New York Times ( Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  4. ^ Judith Michaelson (November 7, 1992). "Q&A with Marlo Thomas: 'In the Prime of My Craft Now'". The New York Times ( Retrieved September 7, 2012. 
  5. ^ Leonard Maltin, ed. (October 1990). TV Movies Video Guide 1991 Edition. Signet Books. ISBN 0-451-16748-1. 
  6. ^ "Past Recipients". Women in Film. Retrieved January 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ "President Obama Announces the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". The White House. November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 11, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Marlo Thomas Center Opens at St. Jude". WebProNews. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 24, 2014. 
  10. ^ Loretta Young
  11. ^ Tom King, The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood, pp. 263-266, Broadway Books (New York 2001).
  12. ^ Katie Kelly (March 11, 1973). "Marlo Thomas: 'My Whole Life I've Had My Dukes Up". The New York Times ( Retrieved January 2, 2012. 

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