10 things you never knew about 'That Girl'

The Marlo Thomas sitcom paved the way for independent women on TV.

Image: The Everett Collection

The Mary Tyler Moore Show rightfully receives a bulk of the credit for pioneering sitcoms about single women — but half a decade before Mary Richards was tossing her hat into the crisp Minneapolis air, Ann Marie was strutting under the bright lights of Broadway on That Girl. This 1966–71 series blazed a new trail for women on television. That Girl was a reflection of its star and producer, Marlo Thomas, who fought for her vision of what a young, modern Sixties woman should be on TV. 

Thomas would go on to win four Emmys, a Grammy, a Golden Globe, a Peabody and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, Thomas is perhaps best known for her charitable work with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Still, half a century later, That Girl remains a delight.

You can watch the complete series right here on our Videos page. Let's a closer look at That Girl.

1. The show was initially called 'Ms. Independent.'

The working title of the series was Ms. Independent. It had personal meaning to Marlo Thomas. It was the nickname given to her by her father, Danny Thomas, comedian and star of Make Room for Daddy.

Image: Stadium Media

2. The show was a Thomas family affair, at least in one episode.

The season three episode "My Sister's Keeper" featured most of the Thomas family. Marlo's sister, Terre, played a major role as a nun and Ann Marie's secret singing voice for a soda commercial. Brother Tony Thomas turns up as a drummer. In the final scene, Danny Thomas bumps into Ann Marie. He is dressed as a priest. Naturally, she says, "Excuse me, Father." Her sister is a nun for an inside "sister" joke, too. Marlo's mother, Rose Marie Cassaniti, does not appear, but Terre and Tony's characters share the last name "Cassanetti" in the episode.

Image: Stadium Media

3. Marlo Thomas was almost in a series called 'Two's Company' instead.

"I did the pilot for a show called Two's Company," Thomas explains in the book We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. "It was a very cute show about a couple who had been married for a week or so." (This particular Two's Company had no relation to a 1973 pilot of the same name featuring John Amos, nor was it related in any way to Three's Company.) The pilot failed to make it to series, but the network liked what it saw in Marlo Thomas. More importantly, perhaps, so did a crucial corporate sponsor…

Image: Stadium Media

4. Clairol helped get the sitcom off the ground.

Loving Thomas' work in Two's Company, the network believed the twenty-something actress was ready to headline her own series. Clairol, the cosmetics giant, was a fan, too. "They were looking for a girl to sell shampoo," Thomas later explained. "They needed a young female star, and they thought I was it." Without the backing of the beauty company, we might not have had That Girl.

Image: Clairol

5. The landmark book 'The Feminine Mystique' helped sell the show.

With Clairol and ABC hungry for a Marlo Thomas sitcom, the network asked the actress for ideas. Thomas pushed to have a show about woman unlikely any other on TV — a woman who would not be a mom or a wife. She gave ABC head of programming Ed Scherick a copy of Betty Friedan's feminist landmark The Feminine Mystique. The bestselling nonfiction book of 1964, The Feminist Mystique proved there was a hunger for an inspiring, single working woman on TV.

Image: W. W. Norton & Co.

6. Marlo Thomas refused to have her character get married.

Both ABC and Clairol pushed Ann Marie to marry her beau, Donald, at the end of the series. Thomas fought to keep marriage out of the relationship, though she did somewhat reluctantly allow for the couple to get engaged. She said in We Killed, "No. No wedding. There will be no wedding… First of all, it's a betrayal to all the young women who have been following this show and finding their own independence. If we get married in the last show, what we're saying is that's the only happy ending there is. And that's dangerous." In fact, that engagement did not end in marriage. As explained on Emmys.com, there was a plan for a reunion TV movie in 1996. The film never came to fruition, but the had Ann Marie and Donald meeting decades later, having never wed. Donald was to have been divorced from someone else.

Image: Stadium Media

7. Anne Marie originally had the same TV dad as Richie Cunningham and Rhoda.

That Girl, like Gilligan's Island, is one of those comedies with a dramatically different pilot episode. In this case, Ann Marie's father, Lew Marie, was at first portrayed by Harold Gould. Gould was also briefly Howard Cunningham in the pilot episode of Happy Days, "Love and the Happy Days," an installment of Love, American Style. He would, at last, become an iconic TV dad on as Martin Morgenstern on Rhoda.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Donald's name in the pilot was Donald Blue Sky.

Ann Marie's boyfriend was quite different in the pilot, too. His character claimed to be part Cherokee, and thus was named Donald Blue Sky. Ted Bessell played the part in the pilot and stayed for the full series, though his name was wisely changed to Donald Hollinger.

Image: Stadium Media

9. There was a 'That Girl' gothic horror novel.

Shortly after That Girl wrapped in 1971, the character of Ann Marie lived on in a bizarre tie-in novel. Paul W. Fairman penned the book, which certainly seemed to be a steamy horror novel with the names changed to match characters on the show. This gothic murder mystery was set in Maine, and thus much closer to Dark Shadows. The cover alone seemed well off from the tone of the sitcom, as it proclaimed, "She's a frightened young maiden pursued on a haunted moor by a wrathful wraith." 

Image: Amazon

10. The Broadway marquees in the opening credits were technically impossible.

The show carried different sets of opening credits over its five-season run. There is what we'll call the "Marlo Thomas stop sign version" and the "train tracks version." In the latter, Ann Marie trots giddily around Manhattan. At one point she ends up in near Times Square, as marquees for popular Broadway musicals flash on the screen. Well, they are a bit of an anachronism. The Star-Spangled Girl with Anthony Perkins opened on December 21, 1966. Philadelphia, Here I Come! had closed on November 26, 1966. Ann Marie would not have seen both signs on the same stroll.

Image: Stadium Media

11. There were three theme songs.

Speaking of the opening credits, did you realize there were three different theme songs? Season one, with the star's name on a street sign, utilized a mellower instrumental. It was replaced for seasons two, three and four with a peppier instrumental. Finally, in the final season, lyrics were added, featuring memorable lines like, "Chestnuts, Rainbows, Springtime" and "Sable, Popcorn, White Wine." The music was composed by Earle Hagen, who had also given The Andy Griffith Show its unforgettable whistling theme.

Image: Stadium Media

Enjoy even more classic shows on-air! Find where to watch MeTV in Washington, DC