Ann's silly, goofy charm made her so appealing. A perky, adorable single girl,
Ann was a struggling actress scraping to make ends meet in New York
without the support of a husband.
"That Girl" was a ground breaking TV series, the first sitcom with a lead
character who was a young, independent career girl. Ann Marie forged the
path for Mary Richards to make it "on her own" in Minneapolis in the 1970s.
Years later Marlo told an interviewer "'That Girl' threw a hand grenade into the bunker and everybody else got to walk through."
an inspiration [to young women] 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.
"Before 'That Girl' I went to London [to act in a play] and when I came back things had begun to change. Suddenly there were a lot of women beginning to think and act differently. Things were changing and 'That Girl' was part of that change."
Ann the character hustled to make a living and oftentimes was forced to take menial "acting" jobs: playing a dancing chicken for a fried chicken chain; modeling as "Miss New York Has Everything."
Yet she never felt a need for the safety net of a husband's support. In fact, ABC requested that Ann and boyfriend Donald Hollinger (Ted Bessell) get married, but Marlo, the show's executive producer, refused. She believed that a wedding would send the wrong message to girls -- that marriage is the paramount goal in a woman's life.
"I felt that would be a betrayal to all the young girls who watched," she told Larry King. "It's really saying that the only way for a story to end happily is for you to get married."
Ann and Donald, however, became engaged in the final season but the show was canceled before they got married.
Ann was a klutzy, accident-prone gal -- she got her toe stuck in a bowling ball and got stuck in the shower in another episode. She always seemed to fall into ridiculous predicaments. And she lived under the thumb of her overprotective father (Lew Parker), who suspected that Ann and Donald were making hanky-panky.
Although the sexual revolution was in full bloom when the show aired (1966-71), Ann remained a proper, chaste young lady. Ann and Donald never slept together; their physical contact was limited to hugs and kisses.
The daughter of comedian Danny Thomas, Marlo (first nicknamed Margo for her legal name Margaret) grew up as the self-described mascot of Danny's legendary comic buddies Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Bob Hope, who hung out at the Thomas house. Danny preferred that she choose a profession other than show biz so she obtained a teaching degree from the University of Southern California.
But Marlo was a natural born actor. In her autobiography, she recalled this story: When the 8-year-old Marlo refused to eat her vegetables, her dad chased her around the room, threatening to spank her. After he cornered her, she defused the tense situation by mimicking a Hungarian dictator for whom her father had worked. She shouted "Cut! Print" Very good!" in a thick accent.
Danny's friend George Burns stood up for Marlo when her father discouraged her from an acting career. "George would say, 'What do you want her to be, a milliner? Of course she's gonna be an actress,'" she said.
She became a regular on "The Joey Bishop Show" and then declined the lead in "My Mother The Car." She approached ABC with "Miss Independence," which became "That Girl."
The show was not a ratings success; "That Girl" never cracked the top 30 of the Nielsen ratings, and it was canceled after the 1971 season.
"When you do a show about a young girl who wants to be an actress and who doesn't want to get married and wants to find her own life, either she has to get married or has to become a star or something - or she has to give it up. Something else has to happen," Marlo told Larry King.
Classic TV Beauties 1960s Countdown
MARLO THOMAS as Ann Marie in "That Girl"