Marlo Thomas might not have intended to start a mini-revolution in child rearing, or a multimedia entertainment franchise, but “Free to Be ... You and Me” eventually became both.
The daughter of legendary comedian Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas has said she was inspired to create progressive stories for children when she couldn't find anything but gender-specific, stereotypical books and records in the 1970s for her own niece Dionne.
Her first effort, a “Free to Be ... You and Me” album in 1972, was such a hit that it fanned out into companion books and an Emmy-winning ABC television special, “Marlo Thomas & Friends: Free to Be ... You and Me,” and later a spinoff, “Free to Be ... A Family.”
“Obviously, it hit a nerve,” Thomas told the L.A. Times in 2001. “I think a lot of parents and aunts and uncles were looking for something different for their children.”
The foray into children's entertainment was one of the first major projects for Thomas in her post-“That Girl” period. She'd starred in the sitcom, about a young, independent actress in New York, beginning in the late '60s, earning four Emmy nominations during its five-year run. Her stage career has included Broadway plays such as “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Barefoot in the Park.” She's banked a number of notable TV appearances, including the Emmy-winning lead in the TV movie “Nobody's Child” in 1986 and guest stints on “Friends,” “Law & Order” and “Ally McBeal.”
Thomas has been a lifelong advocate for youngsters, serving as national outreach director for her late father's favorite charity, the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. She married talk-show host Phil Donahue in 1980.