Question: Two questions. Did Donald Hollinger ever marry Ann Marie on That Girl? And is it true Marlo Thomas created the show? Thank you. Alison F., Oxford, Miss.
Televisionary: No, and sort of, Alison. Though since Donald Hollinger (the late Ted Bessell) was seen getting engaged to gal pal Ann Marie (Thomas) and attending his bachelor party, I think it's safe to be optimistic and assume the two made it to the altar.
As for the creation of the series, which ran on ABC for five years beginning in September 1966 and focused on a struggling actress trying to make it on her own in New York, it grew out of two things: Thomas' desire to distinguish herself from megastar dad Danny Thomas, and her frustration with the TV work coming her way earlier in her career. (And though Thomas said she came up with the idea, an early TV Guide story attributed it to cocreators Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, who had worked for Thomas and his partners on The Dick Van Dyke Show.)
"My agent told me there was a great pilot script he wanted me to read," Thomas said in 1977. "I was so excited, it's a wonder I didn't run over anyone getting to his office. He handed me the script for My Mother, the Car. I read it and fell apart, crying. I'd never been so disappointed. It was obscene this man goes into his garage and sits in a car, and it's his mother. That night I went home and outlined That Girl. I decided, why not a show about me? About a young girl whose parents want her to marry a dentist, but she wants to go to New York and be an actress. I don't know if the audience realized how much of Ann Marie was really based on me. But when I moved to New York, my parents would call and want to know if my door was locked."
Pulling her own weight was high on Thomas' list, and while her dad's stature was an obvious advantage, it also made her a high-profile target for those who saw nepotism at every turn and thus wanted her to fail. (Early on, Thomas didn't help herself by giving conflicting quotes to publications acknowledging that Pop helped her get parts in one story, then claiming he did no such thing in another.)
As a result, when she held firm on a decision or used her influence on the That Girl set she was an officer and director of Danny Thomas Enterprises and her own production company held a major stake in the show detractors were quick to accuse her of being bossy. Even her defenders acknowledged she was no shrinking violet. "She is a very vocal girl, very bright, and she lets you know what she feels and thinks and wants," Persky, who called her "the velvet steamroller," said in 1966. That approach resulted in "a set full of hot arguments, out of which the creative flow is that much more rich," Denoff added.
By 1970, the tale of Thomas' strong will had made it back to her. "I've heard the talk about being a tyrant," she told TV Guide. "It isn't true. I never say, 'This is it.' But I can't be pushed around. I'll tell you that."
No, she couldn't. And her show, which helped set the stage for subsequent successful comedies with independent female leads, was a success with her input and influence helping it along.
Still, as these things go, there were some hard feelings left over. One nasty bit of commentary came from an unnamed former associate in 1977. "I wouldn't want to ever work with her again, but that doesn't mean I won't," he said. "She was a very tough cookie. And, frankly, I never thought she could act. At her best, she's barely competent, but I must admit she struck a nerve with the audience and they seemed to love her in distressingly large numbers. In fact, they loved Marlo nearly as much as Marlo loved Marlo. She hated having attractive women on the set, especially if they dared wear yellow; she regarded that as her color. Don't get me wrong. I do think she's got an enormous amount of taste, unlike her dear old dad, who's a terribly tacky man. And, so, while I'd never care to work with her again, I would definitely let her redecorate my house."
Understandably, Thomas was furious when told of the anonymous attack. "It's true that I'm not just a simple little person who shows up and hits the marks," she said. "I love preparation and rehearsal. I care very much about what I do and I have very little tolerance for ineptness, but I've never had a temper tantrum and I've never gone off to sulk in a trailer."
Danny Arnold (Barney Miller), who produced That Girl for two seasons, backed her on that. "I like Marlo," he said in her defense. "Her biggest problem is that she's much brighter than most of the people she has to work with.... And I'd have to say she's not at all difficult to work with... unless she has no respect for you."