How To Keep Your Marriage Strong

The original "It girl" Marlo Thomas dishes on the secret to her 30-year marriage and how she keeps it going strong.
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How To Keep Your Marriage Strong

The original “It girl” Marlo Thomas dishes on the secret to her 30-year marriage.

-Shari Goldhagen

Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas

When Marlo Thomas burst onto the small screen in 1966 as aspiring actress Ann Marie on the ABC sitcom That Girl, it was the first time a female star wasn’t playing someone’s wife or secretary. In the 44 years since, Marlo, now 72, has continued to break new ground as an award-winning actress, social activist, and the author of five best-selling books. Oh yeah, and her 30-year marriage to talk show host Phil Donahue might just be the most successful coupling in Hollywood.

In her latest book, Growing Up Laughing, Thomas interviews 23 of today’s hottest comedians, including Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld and Ben Stiller, and recounts her own Beverly Hills childhood where father, Danny Thomas, regularly brought entertainers like Bob Hope and George Burns home for dinner.

Betty Confidential got the chance to talk to Marlo about the book, her marriage, and how to have it all.

BC: What was the most interesting thing you learned when interviewing the comedians for the book?
MT: I got my love of comedy at home; comedians were always hanging around my dad—George Burns, Milton Berle. And I started to wonder if today’s comedians also grew up with comedy. What I found was that every single one had a funny relative—Chris Rock’s grandfather; Billy Crystal’s uncle—someone who inspired their love of comedy.

I also found almost none of the comedians had been the class clown growing up. Most of them had been sort of shy high school. They said that they would maybe mumble something under their breath, but they weren’t known for making jokes or causing disruptions.

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It seems as though funny ladies are really hitting their stride. How do you think the scene has changed for women in comedy?
Up until recently there were only comedic actresses—women like Lucille Ball—but very few, other than maybe Phyllis Diller, were doing nightclub stand-up.

Now a lot more women are getting up there—Joan Rivers, Lilly Tomlin, Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg—and doing nightclub acts. Comedy has always been a voice for oppressed people and that certainly includes women. It’s exciting to see so many women getting a voice.

In your book you talk a lot about how never wanted to get married, and yet you and Phil have one of the most successful marriages in Hollywood. What changed?
What I did differently when I met Phil was I started making plans in ink. Before him my personal life was always in pencil—I’d write personal things in pencil in my daybook because I felt like they came second and could be moved around and erased. Work things I would write in ink, because I thought those things were more important.

Once I met Phil, I started making my personal plans in ink, too. That was a big thing for me, to make my relationship as important as my work. You have to take that balance and make both things important for a relationship to last.

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