“That Girl” was a television before its time. The series, which aired in 1966, was in parallel with the tension from the Vietnam War, as well as the women’s liberation movement. It was an intimidating, yet thrilling time. The star of “That Girl,” Ann Marie, decides to relocate to New York City in hopes of becoming a famous actress and model. Ann Marie, expertly played by Marlo Thomas, is slightly blinded by her ambition and optimism, resulting in a fun, hilarious sitcom.
Keep reading to find out more about this one of a kind series, the beloved cast and crew, as well as some behind the scenes trivia about this series.
The series opens with the bright-eyed Ann Marie, who despite her inexperience with city living, decides to relocate to New York to pursue her desire to be a star. She lacks of any valuable acting experience, but Ann Marie picks up and moves from Brewster NY, taking on temporary positions between auditions to make ends meet.
Ann Marie was referred to in the pilot as “that girl”, hence the name of the show. The writers initially thought this would be a funny reference, but quickly learned that it could be a catchphrase for the show. What was initially a one and done line is now known as the most popular quote, and used in nearly every episode from the series.
Marlo Thomas, who played Ann Marie, was approached about doing a series after an ABC producer saw her in a failed TV pilot. Thomas went through a few scripts that characterized the leading lady very stereo typically, as a housewife or a secretary, which weren’t traits that Thomas wanted to portray. Instead, she wanted to have a character that inspired women to be more than what they were expected to be.
Thomas also heavily influenced the final episode of the sitcom, refusing to do the previously scripted wedding. Thomas wanted to end the series as she had started it, with a strong, independent woman who could pursue desires other than romantic relationships. Ironically, Thomas left the series so she could pursue other interests.
Mary Tyler Who?
For the first four seasons of the hit series, the openings were instrumental, by the preference of the renowned composer, Earle Hagen. The music Hagen made in the opening credits were likely modeled after the other popular shows that he had made tunes for. At the time, Hagen was known for his successful sounds, crafting the signature whistle for “The Andy Griffith Show”.
For the final season, however, the opening featured catchy lyrics. The very last opening theme was actually based off the popular show “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. In addition to this parallel, the show also drew inspiration from Mary Tyler Moore in different ways, beyond just some catchy tunes.
Marlo was the inspiration for Ann Marie, having a lot in common with the character. Marlo’s influential father, Danny Thomas in fact, cited the similarities between the two. Thomas said that his daughter was extremely independent, and this character trait had inspired the writers of the show to consider “Miss Independent” as a potential title.
“Miss Independent” was also a nickname that Thomas had for Marlo, and she lived up to it. Danny actually had preferred that Marlo stick with her initial plans to teach, rather than act. He grew to accept her role on the show and even made appearances. In addition to his cameos, the show also featured Marlo’s real life sister Terre, as well as her brother Tony.
Papa Don’t Preach
Ann Marie and her father, Lew, had one of the closest relationships of the entire series. Thomas, who played Ann Marie, said that her relationship with her actual father helped her model such a seemingly tight bond with her character’s father. Ann’s actual father was well-known actor, philanthropist Danny Thomas, who similarly to Lew, had reservations about his daughter breaking into show business.
In “That Girl”, Ann Marie’s father, who also didn’t want his daughter to pursue a career in entertainment, was played by actor Lew Parker. In this initial pilot, however, Lew was depicted by Harold Gould. Lew Marie, who still lived in Ann Marie’s childhood hometown of Brewster, was fairly traditional, still married to her mother, Helen, and owned a local restaurant. This was intentional, to depict the challenges that Ann Marie would face upon leaving home.
Speaking of Marlo’s actual father, in one episode, Danny guest-starred as himself, the television star. The episode was supposed to be some sort of surreal dream, but became strange when he actually kissed Ann Marie, his real life daughter.
In this episode of “That Girl,” a surreal plot featured Danny Thomas playing himself and Marlo Thomas playing her TV character of Ann Marie. What creeped out some viewers was the kiss Danny and Ann Marie shared at the end of the song that seemed a bit inappropriate between a father and daughter. Seems a little strange.
I’ll Be There For You
It may have been a wink to the character of Ann Marie, or perhaps just a coincidence, but Marlo Thomas was cast in the 1990s as the mother of Rachel Green, otherwise known as one of the six famous “Friends”. Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston, left her affluent life behind to pursue a new, exciting life in New York City.
Thomas made a few appearances on the show, popping into Rachel’s apartment to comment on her independence and job as a waitress. Thomas was the more supportive of Green’s parents, which may have also been an intentional choice given her time starring as Ann Marie, who would have very likely supported Green’s choices.
Put A Ring On It
While the show took place during a time of women’s liberation, society was still pretty traditional in terms of marriage. Ann Marie, who was engaged to her loving boyfriend Donald by the last season, was slated to marry him in the series finale. But according to writers and producers of the show, Marlo Thomas had different plans.
Thomas was concerned that the marriage would send the wrong message to her fans, who were inspired by Ann Marie’s tenacity and determination in striking out on her own. Instead of the marriage, Donald and Ann remained engaged through the end of the series, to show women that they had other options besides marriage to look forward to.
Not Great Real Estate
So one apartment that Ann Marie lived in was in the East End Hotel. When Ann opened the front door once to greet her father, viewers see a letter D on the door. Later in the episode, when Ann opens the door, the door is suddenly a different color, and doesn’t have any letters or numbers on it. Ann mentions that it’s apartment 2C.
In another episode, Ann’s address is listed as 627 East 54th Street. Technically, that address would be in the East River, rather than an actual building or block in New York. While a lot of writers take creative license, most New York based shows have realistic addresses. We’ll chalk this one up to a funny joke. Maybe the rent was cheaper?
In the opening of the series, the popular train clips are supposed to look as if it’s going in the direction of Newark, NJ. Because of how the scene was shot, it was actually shot in a different direction. Editors decided to reverse the shot, in order to make it seem as if it were headed back to Newark. If you look closely, you can see that the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, which are visible in the background, are moving in the wrong direction.
However, not a lot of people remember that the train wasn’t featured in season one. In that opening, Marlo Thomas was instead shot running through New York City streets in a simple blue coat, with white gloves and a matching purse.
Donald, Ann’s boyfriend and eventual fiancee, was the character actor Ted Bessell was the best known for. After “That Girl” ended, Bessell acted on a few other television shows, although none of them gained him the same kind of notoriety. The most similar role to Donald he took after “That Girl” was his part as Joe Warner, Mary’s boyfriend, on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.
After he stopped acting, Donald moved on to roles behind the scenes. He won an Emmy for his role as a producer for “The Tracey Ullman Show”, in the best variety or comedy category.
Rosemary DeCamp, who played Ann Marie’s concerned mother, was an experienced Hollywood actress. Before her time starring in “That Girl”, she worked with A-List actors such as Jackie Gleason. In the 40s, DeCamp had a brush with death when a part of an aircraft piloted by Howard Hughes crashed into her Hollywood Hills home. The plane had crashed nearby, and the wing, as well as a portion of her neighbor’s roof, ended up in DeCamp’s bedroom.
Rosemary was sleeping at the time, as was her husband. Fortunately, they sustained no injuries. DeCamp went on to star in “That Girl”, as well as “Breaking Point”, and “Ensign O’Toole”.
Did Ann Marie have an identify crisis? When the show first aired, the script said that Ann was fourth in her high school class. However, another episode contradicted that fact. In another episode, Ann bragged that she made all of her own clothes, an impressive feat, and likely, was written in the show to explain how Ann could afford her clothing.
However, later on, Ann Marie said that she didn’t know how to sew, confusing viewers even further. What? It wasn’t ever addressed, and as far as the audience knew, she didn’t suffer from any type of memory loss. This might have just been an oversight by writers, but it was definitely a mistake that the most dedicated fans were quick to notice.
Speaking of Flaws…
“That Girl” had a clever title, but a lot of mistakes. In addition to the discrepancies in Ann Marie’s character, the show also made a lot of mistakes during filming. In the episode where Ann Marie learned to drive a car, Donald tries to teach her how to drive a stick shift. In the reflections in the car windows, it’s obvious that there’s someone standing there with a camera.
In the first season credits, Ann is walking through Times Square, marveling at the sights. The shows listed in the marquees, such as “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” and “Cabaret” weren’t playing during this time frame, as well as another featured show, Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl.” That one actually didn’t even start until late December of 1966.
“That Girl” broke ground for women in television and feminism, but it also shed a light on another demographic that got little to no screen time. Native Americans, who rarely had recognition in Hollywood, were depicted in the pilot episode of “That Girl”, which unfortunately, was never aired.
The magazine reporter, who eventually was named Donald Hollinger, was originally named Donald Blye Sky, and played Ann’s agent and boyfriend. During the pilot, he explained that his namesake was to honor his heritage, which was Cherokee Indian. Even though audiences did not get to see him as this character, it was still a step in the right direction.
Marlo was an actress long before “That Girl”, starting in the late 50s and progressing into the early 60s. She starred on shows such as “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” and “Zane Grey Theater”. She gained recognition for her role on the “The Joey Bishop Show”, a 1960s sitcom that lasted one season.
After she wrapped “That Girl”, Marlo wanted some different, more diverse parts. She starred with Alan Alda in a film that actually gained her a Golden Globe nomination. Despite her nomination as ” for Most Promising Newcomer”, audiences couldn’t take her seriously as “Jenny”, an unwed pregnant girl.
For awhile, Marlo stopped acting to pursue other interests after her time in film and on “That Girl”. She went back to her initial passion for education, and ended up winning Emmy Awards for the children specials she produced called “Free to Be… You and Me”. She made another, “Free to Be… a Family” in 1988.
Marlo went on to star in television roles, such as “ER”, aside from the previously mentioned role on “Friends” as Rachel’s mom. She’s also in shows such as “Law and Order” and “Ally McBeal”. Currently, Marlo lends her voice to narrate a series called “Happily Never After”, that focuses on real life relationships gone wrong.
Today, in addition to some voice-over work, Marlo focuses on charitable organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she’s a national outreach director. In 2014, she was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama for her philanthropy and time spent giving back to sick and dying children.
This need to give back to the community likely stems from her father’s influence as well. Marlo has been quoted discussing how he raised her and her siblings, stating that her dad “said there were two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.”
That New Girl
The 2011 hit “New Girl” starring indie queen Zooey Deschanel, which had the same concept of an independent, slightly naive woman, borrowed from “That Girl” in more than one way. In addition to casting Deschanel, who had the same brown hair, bangs and big eyes as the young Marlo Thomas. Deschanel, like Thomas, also came from a family that was involved in the entertainment industry.
Deschanel’s character, Jess, rebounds after breaking up with her long-time boyfriend, unlike Ann Marie, who dated her boyfriend Donald throughout the entire series. But like Ann Marie, Jess is a feminist primarily focused on her career. “New Girl”, when released in 2011, poked fun at its similarities to “That Girl” with an ad campaign that showed Deschanel dressed as Ann Marie.
A Generation of Influencers
Marlo Thomas has admitted that “That Girl” opened a lot of doors for women in entertainment, citing the quirky female characters that have come after Ann Marie. In addition to Jessica Day of “New Girl”, Thomas penned in a 2011 Huffington Post essay that she also saw Tina Fey’s “Liz Lemon” from “30 Rock” as well Chris Coffler’s “Kirk” of “Glee” fame as influencers in the entertainment industry. Coffler, especially, for his ability to connect with young homosexual viewers.
In the article, Thomas also identified Kate & Allie, Rosanne Barr, Murphy Brown, Rachel from “Friends”, and Carrie Bradshaw as other groundbreaking leading women in television.