The show debuted in 1966 and it was an inspiration. The lead actress received “bags and bags of fan mail that came in from women around the country.” I’m talking about That Girl, with Marlo Thomas starring as the single woman who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress.
It is nearly a half-century later, and people are still marveling at what it achieved. Marlo Thomas recently discussed the show with Gloria Steinem. Here are some highlights.
- About the origins of That Girl: Thomas recalled her conversations with a man who was sending her scripts for possible shows. . “I said look, everything you’ve sent me, the girl is either the wife of somebody or the daughter of somebody, or the secretary of somebody. Have you ever thought about doing a show where the girl is the somebody?”
- Marlo Thomas’s thoughts about her mother’s decision to give up her radio and singing career to be a mother and wife: “She didn’t regret having her children of course, but she really regretted that she walked away from her career. And I had guilt about that for most of my life. She gave us her whole life, and we really could have done it on half.”
- About marriage and career on That Girl, and in Gloria Steinem’s life:
In one clip from the show, Thomas’ character Ann Marie said to her father, “I don’t know that I want to get married just yet.” Thomas explained that she was forced to add the words “just yet” to the line: “It was very revolutionary, no one had ever said, ‘I don’t want to get married, I want a career.’ Gloria sometimes says that women are embarrassed to say they love work. They say, ‘I have to work,’ they don’t say, ‘I can’t wait to get to work’ because it somehow puts the family down or puts the husband down or femininity.”
“It took me a while to stop saying that,” Steinem said. “I would say I was on a deadline instead of just saying, ‘I want to write.'”
- About the battle over how That Girl should end:
“The writers wanted a wedding. Clairol wanted a wedding. The network wanted a wedding, and I said I won’t. I won’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I can’t say to all of these girls that this is the only happy ending. Everybody else can get married but let this one show go off without a wedding.” So in the last episode, Anne Marie took Donald to a women’s lib meeting. “That made nobody happy but me!”
Can you think of any long-running 21st century TV show that did not feature a wedding? I don’t even mean just shows about single women. I mean any shows. They are rare. What about single women on TV saying explicitly and without qualification, “I don’t want to get married”? Can you think of any?
[Note: Thanks to my sister Lisa DePaulo for the heads-up about the article about Marlo Thomas and Gloria Steinem’s discussion of That Girl.]