Marlo Thomas Reflects on Her Famous Dad, Meeting Phil Donahue
By Nicki Gostin Posted Sep 30th 2010 06:49PM
Marlo Thomas blends her tales of growing up the daughter of legendary comedian Danny Thomas with insightful interviews with over a dozen comedians in 'Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny,' There are stories about her Dad's circle of pals -- think George Burns and Bob Hope -- starring in 'That Girl' and meeting and falling in love with former daytime TV legend Phil Donahue. Marlo, 72, took a few minutes to talk to PopEater about the book, her dad's buddies, being a proud feminist, her new partnership with AOL, and what it's like marrying a guy with four teenage sons.
Out of your Dad's friends who was your favorite?
George Burns was definitely my favorite. He was my mentor, my patron saint and my role model. He loved show business, he loved to laugh, he loved to tell stories and he was very generous. He was my lawyer. My Dad didn't want me to be an actress so he was always saying, 'What do you want her to be? A milliner?' He said to my Dad that he felt sorry for anybody who wasn't in show business. He loved comedy and he really encouraged me to continue with what my dream was and I think he softened my father.
Your Dad was very opposed to you becoming an actress.
I don't think there are many people in show business who want their children to follow them. It's very tough, there's no map. You can do all the right things and never work. There's no rhyme or reason for it. It's so much luck and being in the right place at the right time. It's very ephemeral.
You hung out with your Dad's friends.
They got a kick out of me being their little mascot. I was always in the room whenever they were together. When I was on a date I'd rush back home to be with them. When the women would be in one room talking about whatever women wanted to talk about I would always be were the comedians were smoking cigars and having brandy. It was just the most fun room in the world.
You were and are a big feminist. Do you think the word has become sullied?
It's not a bad word to me. Now is a great time for women. When I was young there were not two female news anchors for the nightly news, there were no female economists or financial advisors. I think the world is wide open for girls today. Girls and boys really are free to be who they want to be. We're lucky in America that women have that kind of freedom. When you read the paper and see what's going on with Afghanistan. (Thomas was referring to an article in the New York Times about Afghani families who only have daughters passing off one of their daughters as a son).
You must be so proud of the legacy your Dad left. He established St. Jude's Hospital for kids. That's so amazing.
It's very exciting to got there and meet kids who have been given death sentences from other hospitals. I've met parents who told me they'd already chosen the music for their child's funeral. What really distinguishes St. Jude from everywhere else is it does an equal amount of research and treatment. I'm very proud to be associated with it and to be helping.
Do you think Ann-Marie, your 'That Girl' character, is Carrie Bradshaw's grandma?
I think she's certainly the forerunner. I don't know if she's the grandma. Definitely 'That Girl' threw the hand grenade into the bunker and everybody else got to walk through.
You're partnering up with AOL.
I'm so excited about my website. I can create a community of women who can talk and tell their stories and empower each other and make each other laugh. Laughter is so important to me. Every day there's going to be a joke, a tip, a quote and lots of video. I'm bringing a tremendous amount of content to the web. I have five different series I'm working on. [Check Out marlothomas.aol.com]
When you married Phil Donahue you moved into his home with his four teenage sons.
It was quite a shock from living alone in a big house in Beverly Hills to living with four sons. They didn't have a dinner time. I'd never seen so many jock straps and wet towels in my life. I couldn't find a towel.
What's your advice for step-parents?
Move very slowly. Don't think you're the parent. At first I wasn't quite sure what my place was and I wanted to be careful. I didn't want anyone to say, 'You're not my mom.' I took it very slowly but then I realized that Phil and I had to form a new entity in which I was a deciding adult and that takes some time. You can't just walk in there and take over. I was lucky because my husband's ex-wife had remarried so the children knew there was no hope of their parents getting back together. That was a great help.
I remember seeing the episode where you met on video or as I like to call it your first date. It's so obvious you two were smitten!
(Laughs) it's just so embarrassing. No one should ever have their first date photographed and we did. You're completely right that it was like a first date. His show had not been on in New York or L.A at that time so I had never seen him. His magnetism absolutely bowled me over. When he walked into the green room with those big blue eyes and shock of white hair I was taken aback.
It's so clear you two were ready to make out.
Oh, completely. We were completely turned on. It was hilarious.
You interviewed a lot of comedians. Anyone turn you down?
Actually no. Jerry Seinfeld was really interesting because he really takes the craft of comedy seriously just like my Dad did. I was very impressed with the work ethic of guys like him and Chris Rock. It's very much like my Dad and comedians from his time.
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