Looking Back at Marlo Thomas’ ‘That Girl’ and How It Changed Television

When looking back at TV history, and the evolving role of women in it, there seems to be this jump from June Cleaver on a show like Leave It To Beaver (the woman of the house who vacuums in a dress) to Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And Mary, of course, leads to things like Ally McBeal and Murphy Brown. Yet somehow often left out of the discussion is That Girl, the show starring Marlo Thomas, which is actually an important stepping stone in terms of female characters who broke the mold of traditional television sitcoms in the 1960s.

Marlo plays Ann Marie, an aspiring (in other words, hardly employed) actress who moves from her hometown of Brewster, New York to Manhattan, where she works in a variety of temp jobs. Playing her boyfriend is Ted Bessell as Newsview Magazine writer Donald Hollinger; with Lew Parker and Rosemary DeCamp as her parents (Lew and Helen Marie), and Ruth Buzzi, Bernie Kopell, and Reva Rose as Ann and Donald’s friends. Although the show was created by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff (writers on The Dick Van Dyke Show), Marlo was very much in charge as her company, Daisy Productions, owned the series, giving her power that few women wielded at the time. Naturally, she had learned from the best: Her father, Danny Thomas, whose shows include TV classics like his own Make Room For Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Mod Squad and, of course, That Girl.

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