The Betty Interview: Marlo Thomas
The actress, producer and social activist talks to BettyConfidential.
As the star of the ’60s sitcom That Girl, Marlo Thomas was an inspiration to a generation of young women determined to live different lives than their homemaking mothers. In the show Marlo played an aspiring actress much like herself, who moves to New York to have a career and live an independent life. Marlo was also the show’s creator, which reflected her emerging feminist philosophy and the changing role of women in America at that time.
During the past three decades since that breakthrough role, Marlo has appeared in movies, stage plays and a variety of TV shows. She also developed the record album, picture book and television special Free To Be You and Me, which helped redefine gender roles. In Friends she played the mother of Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel.
Although she had said she never wanted to marry, Marlo met talk show host Phil Donahue when he interviewed her on his program. They have been married for nearly 30 years. Now much of her time is spent raising money for the St. Jude Hospital, the Memphis, Tennessee, children’s facility her father, comedian Danny Thomas, started. St. Jude is the only children’s hospital that is both a research and treatment center and has been instrumental in finding a cure for childhood leukemia.
BettyConfidential spoke to Marlo about her career, her life and her commitment to St. Jude.
How do you feel knowing you really were an inspiration to several generations of career women?
It’s wonderful. I realize that That Girl and Free to Be You and Me really did have influence and that is great. The fact that That Girl was an inspiration confirmed to me that I wasn’t crazy to want to live the kind of life I wanted to live. At that time women were only supposed to want to be wives and mothers. I remember I was a bridesmaid 17 times for my friends. But before That Girl I went to London to play in Barefoot in the Park for a year. And when I came back things had begun to change. Suddenly there were a lot of women beginning to think and act differently. We didn’t know each other but it was a wave. Things were changing and That Girl was part of that change.
What do you think about young women today?
I think they are a little confused. We thought we couldn’t have it all. The next generation wanted to have it all. Now this generation is worrying about how to do it all. I think they have to learn you have to prioritize. One day it is all about work. One day it is all about family. Balance doesn’t mean having it all at the same time.
You played Jennifer Aniston’s mom. Are you friends? Do you ever give her advice?
We are friends and I like her very much. On Mother’s Day she sent me flowers. But do I give her advice? No. I don’t go into other people’s private lives.