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Marlo Thomas - April 14, 2003

The main theme of Marlo Thomas' speech tonight was the power of words. It is best exemplified in a story she told.
She got her first acting job when she was 17. Right away all the reviews started comparing her to her father. Will she be as good? Will she last as long? She went to her father and told him she just wanted to go far away from it all. She did not want to be compared to anyone or have to deal with the namesake questions. Her father told her, "Look, I raised you to be a thoroughbred. And like a thoroughbred you need to run your race with your blinders on and not worry about the other horses." One night backstage she got a little white box from her father. Inside was a worn pair of horses blinders with a note that said, "Run your own race, Baby!"

Those words she carried with her and they have inspired her throughout her career. As a celebrity herself she notes that words, like those in tabloids, can destroy you. They can also motivate and energize you. She has recently written/organized a book called "The Right Words at the Right Time." In it she collects stories from famous people of words that they heard at the right time and carried with them.

One example she gave was of a teacher that Muhammmed Ali had, who kept telling him, "You'll never be nuthin'." Ms. Thomas guessed that it was not his English teacher. Anyway after he won the gold medal in the Olympics, Mr. Ali took that medal back and showed it to that teacher. The second involved a friend of Al Pacino, who, aware of his drinking problem at the time, told him, "Be aware of how many times you are lifting that glass." Those gentle words were enough to get the message through.

Women today have so many more options available. Most of those options have come about because of the long struggle of women since "That Girl" came out. In fact many women today have never known the struggle. Marlo suggested that you "tell your daughters what it was like in the old days and to not take any of their rights for granted." This stayed with me because the previous speaker Sarah Weddinton also echoed that theme in her talk.

During the question and answer session Marlo Thomas made the people for each question stand up so she could see who asked the question.


What has been your hardest challenge?

"Getting over the model of what feminine is." Or in other words she had to learn how to not feel bad for having non-feminine attributes. When she was growing up women were not expected (by men :-) ) to be strong, smart, aggressive, determined, and other masculine adjectives. "She's very ambitious," was pronounced in a negative tone. Marlo talked about women being "frightened out of their own power." If she could leave us with one message it would be that, "Power is fun! It's great! Seize it! Run with it!"

What is the political issue you and Phil argue about the most?

His campaigning for Ralph Nader in the last election.

Who do you think would be "That Girl" on television today?

Rachel on Friends. ("And I get to play her mother.") The other good role model was Murphy Brown. She was the first woman to play a woman who was not perfect. Before that all women had to portray the perfect good female.

How do you keep your sanity and your marriage intact?

"Who says I have my sanity?" Marlo notes that priorities are a myth. Everyday you have different priorities and you just handle them as they come. Life is a matter of balance. To stay balanced she jogs every morning, except when it is icy.

Is there anything you cannot do because you are in the public eye?

"Run naked on the beach." And she can't have a fight in public with her husband. She still has her mom's words ringing in her ears, "Honey, people are looking."

What are you most of proud of?

Marlo said that she was most proud that she "Ran her own race."

A question was asked about voting.

Marlo commented that white women are the one group least likely to vote in their best interests. She asked the audience how many people had voted in the last election and virtually every hand went up. Of course every speaker that year was telling us all to get our butts out there and vote. (The 2000 election was expected to have a major bearing on the make up of the Supreme Court.) "Politics is our lives." It affects everything we do. Be aware and be involved.

Do you think the Iraq situation would be different if there was a woman in the White House.

A lady behind me yelled "Yes!" but Marlo said, "I think it would have been different if there was a woman in Iraq." She noted that Margaret Thatcher was an aggressive war-monger and that Indira Ghandi sterilized two million men. (I have to look that one up someday.) Golda Meir she thought was good and quoted her, "I can forgive you for killing my children, but I can't forgive you for turning my children into killers." She believes there has to be a better way and that we can find a way to "settle our arguments without weapons." I hope so too.

Each quote had a context. However I think they all fit here. (Just in case you want to use them in your own speech.)

  • One woman alone is a pain in the ass. Two women is a coalition. - Marlo referring to her time in writers meetings. (I think a man said it after another woman was added to the writing team for That Girl.)
  • Marriage is like a vacuum cleaner. You stick it up to your ear and it sucks out all your energy and ambition - Marlo Thomas, early in her career. And posted on the wall at her bridal shower. A shower she said was hosted by Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug.
  • Phil Donahue is the greatest husband in the history of the Western world....(applause)....and he's nothing to brag about. - Marlo Thomas.
  • We are all role models, like it or not. A girl is watching. What is she learning? A girl is listening. What is she hearing? - Marlo Thomas.
  • Do something for yourself. Exercise. Eat well. Get a regular check-up. Buy a new pair of black shoes. Because you can never have too many black shoes. We all take care of everyone else. We need to remember to take care of ourselves. - Marlo Thomas.
  • You can always tell an Irishman, but you can't tell him much. - Someone once said.
  • A bubbly, blonde young lady winds up a proper dinner seated next to Albert Einstein. Striking up a conversation she asks him, "So what do you do?" Albert mumbles a bit then says, "I study physics." She says, "Oh! I finished that three years ago."