Interview by Paul Salfen
MARLO’S DAD, DANNY THOMAS, FOUNDED ST. JUDE’S HOSPITAL IN 1962. SHE CREATED THE THANKS AND GIVING CAMPAIGN IN 2004 TO SUPPORT THE HOSPITAL WHICH PROVIDES FREE CANCER CARE TO EVERY CHILD WHO NEEDS IT. THE THANKS AND GIVING CAMPAIGN HAS RAISED OVER MILLIONS SINCE IT STARTED WHICH ENSURES FAMILIES NEVER HAVE TO SPEND A DIME OF THEIR OWN MONEY WHILE BEING TREATED AT ST. JUDE’S.
TO FIND OUT HOW TO GIVE TO ST. JUDE’S, CLICK HERE
St. Jude’s is proud that 82 cents of every dollar received goes to support the treatment, research and future needs of St. Jude. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% in the U.S.
Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh
Many well known and highly identifiable actresses have tried and failed to make the arduous crossover from fizzy TV sitcom star to mature, dramatic artist. Usually it was their hardcore fans who refused to accept them in any other light. Sally Field and Elizabeth Montgomery come first to mind as two strong actresses, with even stronger TV comedy character personas to contend with, who managed to make the none-too-easy leap to serious dramatic stardom after the fact. And then there’s THAT girl … lovely, glowing brunette Marlo Thomas … another prime example.
Born in Detroit, Michigan on November 21, 1937, Marlo was christened Margaret Julia Thomas. Raised within the mad Beverly Hills whirl of the entertainment business as the daughter of show business legend Danny Thomas, she was initially dissuaded from an acting career and began a half-hearted adult life as a school teacher.
Quickly switching to acting, however, Marlo began with early TV appearances in the late 1950’s on such series as “Dobie Gillis,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Thriller” and “Zane Grey Theatre” (an appearance with her father). Her first break came when she was cast as Joey Bishop’s sister and aspiring actress on the sitcom The Bob Newhart Show (1961) for one season, and she continued to build up her small screen resumé with assorted guest shots on “Bonanza,” “My Favorite Martian,” “McHale’s Navy,” “The Donna Reed Show” and “Ben Casey.”
Following her delightful work on the London stage as Corey in “Barefoot in the Park” in 1965, Marlo appeared in a failed TV pilot. The pilot was seen by ABC, and they had her tested for another sitcom lead and passed with flying colors. This one stuck did not fail. Audiences adored “That Girl” with the romantic entanglements and struggling ambition of Ann Marie, a single, independent and very trendy young lady in the real world as an actress wannabe. Marlo became an instant household name (as did co-star Ted Bessell) and earned a Golden Globe (“Best TV Star”) and four Emmy nominations during the five-year run of the groundbreaking show.
Cancelling the show on her own terms in 1971, the smoky-voiced actress was faced with a huge task of breaking a stereotype as a perky, fresh-faced, wide-eyed innocent. Capitalizing on her TV fame, she immediately pursued serious film roles. Playing the title dramatic role of Jenny (1970) opposite Alan Alda, she portrayed an unwed, naïve, pregnant girl who marries a filmmaker for convenience sake and earned a Golden Globe nom for “Most Promising Newcomer” in the process. Still, the box office take was mild and the public needed more convincing. When she made her Broadway debut successfully in the Herb Gardner play “Thieves” opposite Richard Mulligan in 1975, she made another stab at films by recreating her stage role. The reviews for Thieves (1977) co-starring Charles Grodin this time (who directed her in the Broadway version) were underwhelming. She would meet talk show icon Phil Donahue on his daytime TV program while a guest promoting the Thieves (1977) movie. They wed in 1980.
During this time Marlo broadened her focus and combined her deep love for children and education with her show business career. She took home bookend Emmy Awards for producing the “Outstanding Children’s Specials” Free to Be… You & Me (1974) and, later, Free to Be… a Family (1988). She would also win a Grammy for her children’s album “Marlo Thomas & Friends.” As for TV, she earned wonderful reviews starring in the ABC holiday mini-movie comedy It Happened One Christmas (1977) playing a troubled female version of James Stewart’s protagonist in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) but it was her dramatic work in the TV movies The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck (1984) Consenting Adult (1985) (Golden Globe nomination), Nobody’s Child (1986) (Emmy Award, Golden Globe nomination), and Held Hostage: The Sis and Jerry Levin Story (1991), Ultimate Betrayal (1994) and Reunion (1994) that forever erased her pristine stereotype image and saw her as a dramatic force to be reckoned with.
Marlo’s subsequent return visits to Broadway with the plays “Social Security” (1986) and “The Shadow Box” (1994) added to her list of successes and continued with demanding theater roles such as Beatrice in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigold” (1990), Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1992) and Ouisa in “Sex Degrees of Separation” (1992).
Marlo remained actively involved on TV in everything from classic comedy (as Jennifer Aniston’s mom in Friends (1994) to adult drama as a lawyer/mentor in the highly-rated crime drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999), with other TV guest appearances including “Roseanne,” “Ally McBeal,” “Ugly Betty,” “The New Normal” and an additional recurring role on Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (2017).
Sporadic filming into the millennium included the “Odd Couple”-styled comedy In the Spirit (1990) co-starring Elaine May and featuring May’s daughter Jeannie Berlin who also co-wrote, and featured roles in the romantic comedy The Real Blonde (1997), the drama Starstruck (1998), the social comedy Playing Mona Lisa (2000), the Miley Cyrus romantic dramedy LOL (2012), the witty comedy The Female Brain (2017) and the action comedy Ocean’s Eight (2018) headed by Sandra Bullock.
Younger brother/producer Tony Thomas and actress/sister Terre Thomas also involved themselves in show business careers. On a more personal level, Marlo is an accomplished author, humanitarian and social activist. She has also continued the tradition of her late father as National Outreach Director for St. Jude’s Children Hospital for cancer research.