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Hey Boys and Girls, LMD had the joy of an exclusive chat with a very cool lady.  As the child of funnyman and television pioneer, Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomasí life was filled with unique experiences and surrounded with laughter, courtesy not only of her dad, but by comic luminaries like Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Sid Caesar and George Burns.  In her long-awaited memoir, Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny, That Girl of 1960ís sitcom fame, who made us Free to Be.Ö You and Me, not only recalls her own history, but examines whether todayís top comedians like Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Stephen Colbert also grew up inspired by funny folks.

Dig it! 

Marlo Thomas


The Lady Miz Diva:  In Growing Up Laughing, you interview an amazing group of top comedians.  How did you decide who to interview and did you find a common thread amongst them?

Marlo Thomas:  Well, I chose people that make me laugh.  I mean, thereís nobody I think thatís funnier than Chris Rock. Heís absolutely hilarious. Jon Stewart?  I donít go to sleep until I watch Jon Stewart.  Theyíre all great; Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Robin {Williams}, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeldís brilliant-- every one of them.  When I started the book, I had no intention of doing these interviews.  My book proposal was really about my life because Iíd been asked to do a memoir several times.  And so I thought Iíd like to do the memoir now, but Iím not really interested in sharing my angst and who I slept with or didnít sleep with and all that.  Itís just like, who cares?  I really thought what makes my life unusual is that thereís such a thread of comedy and laughter through it and I really wanted to capture that.  And whenever Iím with my friends and I tell a story about my childhood they always say, ďOh, youíve gotta write that down. Nobody grew up like this, you gotta write this down.Ē  So finally I thought Iíll just start writing them down.  I didnít put it in chronological order, I just started writing things that came to me, thatís why some of the chapters are long and some are tiny.  It was just my life as I remembered with the laughter throughout it.  Then I remember thinking as I was writing one of the chapters about my fatherís family, I thought my grandfather was such a stern man and I was so scared of him when I was a little kid.  I mentioned {in the book} the fact that he hit my legs with a pussy willow branch because I was playing with the dog in his tomato garden and I was always scared of him.  I remember my mother coming out and saying, ďDonít you touch my child,Ē you know?  So, my fatherís sense of humour really came from his Uncle Tony, who was Uncle Tonoose on Make Room for Daddy.  So I was thinking it was so lucky that my dad had his Uncle Tony, because without Uncle Tony he might not have had the gift of laughter in his life.  And of course my gift of laughter comes from my dad and Milton Berle and Sid Caesar and George Burns, all those guys who hung out at the house.  I remember thinking, ĎWho was funny in Jerry Seinfeldís life?í  And I started thinking about all these other comedians, ĎDid Chris Rock have a funny uncle or father?í  So I thought I would just call them and ask them that question.  Maybe Iíd have a little section on how other people were inspired by family members, or a teacher, or maybe it was the boy next door.  So I made a couple of calls and went to see people and that became like a real interview.  It became something much stronger than I thought it was gonna be.  And then I just fell in love not just with finding out who was funny in their lives, but really dissecting more the craft of comedy which is what I learned from my dad.


LMD:  Seeing you on television all my life, Iíve always been so impressed by your confidence; you always seem so strong-willed and self-assured, which also comes through in the book.  I wondered if that quality came from your strong family background and if that confidence is in turn what propels your social activism?

MT:  I think the answer to the question is yes.  I think I have confidence because my parents made my sister and brother and I feel that we were important and what we had to say was important.  We didnít get shut up.  They took our side if we got in trouble in school.  I think I talk about my dad going up to Marymount when I was in trouble and really taking that nun on and saying to me later, ďDonít ever do that again.Ē  He was there to back me.  He didnít want me to be an actress, but he came to every play.  The support was there, I could do no wrong.  So I think when youíre raised that way, you canít help but have some self-esteem.  There was nobody telling me I was no good, Iíd never be anything -- all that stuff.  And I know children are treated that way and you canít treat a child meagerly, stingily and expect them to grow up with any kind of generosity about themselves.  Itís hard to be good to yourself.  People are so hard on themselves.  Iím hard on myself for the fact that I push myself and I expect the best out of myself and if Iím not giving my best, ĎYouíre not giving your best, you really gotta hone down here.í  But I do think I can do better and I push myself to do my best.


LMD:  I was very fortunate to have seen Free to BeÖ You and Me when I was small and I was very affected by it.  I would love to see a new version for todayís children.  Have you ever thought of creating an updated special and what new lessons would you include?

MT:  Well, the interesting thing is that we re-released the book last year and we changed the illustrations, but we kept the stories the same because strangely -- I donít know if itís good or bad -- but the same stories are needed.  Every child needs to grow up and feel independent, see they have good role models, be taught to cooperate with others, be taught to think about themselves as part of a global community.  Itís all the same, ďSisters and Brothers.Ē ďMommies Are People.Ē  Itís all the same stuff; gender identity, good role models, and independence and fighting for yourself and being cooperative. Those are the themes of Free to BeÖ You and Me.  It sounds very intellectualised, but it was; Iím an English teacher, I graduated as an English teacher.  So I really went about Free to Be in terms of those four areas and made sure that every song and every poem had to do with those four areas.  So, I donít know what I could change, you know, because every child needs the same thing.


LMD:  The other thing I always associate you with is your fight for the cause of feminism.  I believe a lot of young women have lost the lessons of feminism or even know what it means.  What does it mean to be a feminist?

MT:  I think it means that you care about other people and care about other women.  That you want everybody to have a fair crack at the world.  When I was growing up, all I wanted to do was just ďmake it,Ē you know?  Just get what I wanted and boy if I could that, Iíd be really happy.  When I started to learn about the plight of other women in different cities; women who werenít safe in their home environment, kids who were being raised in an unsafe place.  Women who couldnít get any legal help.  Women who couldnít afford an education, women who were being sexually harassed at the job, women who were being passed by for promotion.  I realised, you know what, itís not just enough that I do well; I gotta help other women do well.  I think thatís what feminism is.  Just putting out a hand and saying. ĎOkay, this woman deserve s a better break, letís try to figure out something and change laws and have new language.í  You know it used to be when a woman was beaten by her husband, she was just known as ďunlucky.Ē  Well, we now a word for that, itís called ďbattered wifeĒ and we now have laws that protect those women and we now have centers that protect those women and make them safe, hold them safe.  Thatís a huge thing that feminism did.

And I know that we a lot of us, you included, kind of bemoan the fact that young girls arenít waving the flag of feminism, but they are seeing women economists on television, there are two women in the major anchors on the news.  I mean these are huge, huge steps and hopefully young women will start to see as they hit their thirties that itís important that they help other women and then theyíll be doing it.  Theyíll be doing what we did in the sixties and theyíll be doing it do.  Cos thatís really what it is; whatever the heck you call it, itís about helping other women and fighting for it.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 22, 2010






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Book art courtesy of Hyperion Books







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