Marlo Thomas broke ground in the 1966 television series "That Girl." As the first to feature a single woman lead character, it helped pave the way for Mary Tyler Moore and a new generation of woman stars on the small screen. With the first season "That Girl" DVDs coming out this week, Thomas spoke to NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh.
NEWSWEEK: Hi Marlo. What are you up to these days?
Marlo Thomas: I have a new book out called "The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2." It's only been out for a week and it's already on The New York Times best seller list. It's a follow up to my first book, called "The Right Words at the Right Time."
"That Girl" was revolutionary in that it was the first show about a single woman. Did it feel that way at the time?
I knew that we were breaking ground, because there hadn't been one. All the women on television were the wife of somebody or the daughter of somebody. But there was nobody who was just a somebody. I wanted to do a show about a young woman who has a dream—like me. I graduated from college, my parents wanted me to get married, but I didn't want to get married, [I wanted to] go to the big city.
Were there any barriers to getting the show on air?
They wanted to make sure that Ann and Donald didn't sleep together. We did a lot of shows about them not sleeping together. It was the ’60s and there was free love on the streets. But on television, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz couldn't even sleep in the same bed and they were married in real life.
Where did the conceit come from where someone identifies you as "That Girl" at the beginning of each episode?
The writers did it for the pilot. They had said to me, don't fall in love with this. We're not going to be able do this every week. But it'll make a great pilot. But once the show sold, the network said, 'we love that signature, so be sure to [keep] that.'
Do you ever get tired of being identified that way?
I thought it was great. To this day, truck drivers stick their head out of a truck and yell, "That Girl."
Do you think the show ended too soon?
No. I stopped it. They wanted us to sign up for three more years, but I thought we'd done it. There's a certain time in your life where you are that girl. And then you become that woman. It's about a girl-woman, not about a grown woman. There was some pleading with me to let Donald and Ann get married on the last show. I said, "absolutely not."
I felt like the girls of America had seen her as a role model. And her independence as a battle cry. If we got married in the last show, we'd be saying this is the only way to have a happy ending.
How did you get involved in "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo." You're uncredited in that movie.
I know. I wouldn't let them credit me. My friend was producing it and he asked me and I said, "OK." It was a kick, it was one scene and it was funny. I didn't want to be credited because it wasn't a real part. I was afraid they'd put it in the ads and stuff. I didn't want to say to the audience that I was in this movie.
What do you do for fun?
I go running in the park. I go to the theater at least once a week.
What have you seen?
The other night I went to see "Faith Healer." All the actors were wonderful.
Have you seen Julia Roberts on-stage yet?
Are you going to?