Before Lena Dunham ever stripped naked for a guy on “Girls” there was another girl — “That Girl.”
Playing a pretty, spunky single actress trying to make it in New York City, Marlo Thomas never took off her clothes. (She would have mussed that iconic hair.)
But in the mid-’60s she did fight to be one of the first women on TV in a role other than someone’s wife, daughter or secretary. And as a producer of the show, at age 24, she ignored the comments from writers and network execs who didn’t want to take orders from a “girl.”
So you’re welcome, Lena Dunham.
Thomas, who stopped in Kansas City on Friday to promote her new book, is still going to bat for women. She has 56,000 followers on Twitter —@MarloThomas
— where she recently posted this quote from Hillary Clinton: “You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance isn’t doing anyone any favors.”
Speaking to women’s groups across the country, Thomas heard their beef that there was no place on the Internet for women over 35. So she startedMarloThomas.com
, now visited by millions every year.
There she plants stories about real women and their passions. Sixty of those tales, all about women who somehow reinvented their lives, have become her new book, “It Ain’t Over …,” which hits bookshelves on Tuesday.
Though she’s no sports fan, Thomas borrowed the title from that old saying by New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
She meets a lot of women, mostly over the age of 40, who “are looking at themselves and saying … ‘What am I going to do with the next 40 years?,’
” Thomas says.
“For most of our moms, they weren’t looking at an 80-year life span, even 90-year life span.
“It’s a new way of thinking, and you don’t have just one dream in your life. You can have a second dream and a third dream.”
A lot of people these days, not just women, are being forced into new dreams by circumstances, she says. Late in life they get laid off and shown the door. Now what?
“So now it’s time to make a new dream. And society isn’t really telling you that you should,” she says.
The women in her book created new lives by inventing products, losing weight, traveling, starting businesses and getting college degrees.
A former Chicago Tribune reporter started a reclaimed lumber company. A hockey mom with cold toes invented fashionable inserts for her boots. Another woman, tired of tight undies, designed underwear called Commando, now sold in 1,000 high-end department stores and boutiques.
Thomas is fond of the story about the English teacher who discovered her husband was cheating on her, dumped him and started over.
“It’s not that it’s my favorite story,” she says, “but it’s a strong story about a woman who did not accept that she had to be a victim.”
Like the women in the book, Thomas is busy reinventing herself.
“When I was 22 and wanted to be an actress the world was open to me. I could play anything,” she says. “As you get older the network executives are younger than you are.
… OK, how do I navigate that?
“I still work as an actor, I just don’t work in the same places. I write more books. I find more ways to be creative.”
At the end of June she begins rehearsing for a new play called “Clever Little Lies.” Between that, her book tour, her daily work on behalf of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, “it’s just hectic,” says Thomas.
Right before she came to Kansas City she was in Paris to attend the birthday party of a longtime friend.
“Everybody says, you have to set your priority. But everything is a priority,” she laughs.