Marlo Thomas, Actress
Marlo Thomas on breaking the mold with her forward-thinking 1960s TV series "That Girl" and using the power of television to change minds.
HILLARY CLINTON: If the 19th century was about ending slavery and the 20th century was about ending totalitarianism, the 21st century is about ending the pervasive discrimination and degradation of women and fulfilling their full rights. My father was a rock-ribbed conservative Republican. One of the worst things that you could say in our house was anything positive about any Democrat. And when I went to Wellesley, I initially was the president of the college Republicans. And then I got to thinking, you know, I'm not sure I really agree with what the Republican Party was standing for.
I get a little annoyed when people denigrate the 60s and kind of characterize it as drug, sex, and rock and roll. It laid the groundwork for the success of our civil rights movement, for the continuing equality of women. It was about human empowerment and freedom. After graduating from law school in 1973, Hillary Rodham began making a name for herself in Washington, working in children's rights and government. Career opportunities were opening up for her and other women as a result of the women's movement.
It was exhilarating. It was also somewhat torturing, because we were breaking new ground. We were trying to figure out, you know, how you balanced what you wanted to be individually, with being in a relationship. I certainly fell in love with an extraordinary, complex, dynamic human being. Now, there were many friends of mine who helped me pack up and drove me to Arkansas, who all along the way was saying, do you know what you're doing? Do you know what you're getting into?
I didn't know. I couldn't have sat there and said, oh, yes, I'm going to go to Arkansas, and eventually I'm going to marry Bill Clinton, and eventually he's going to become President. No. I mean, I did it because it felt right for me. I continued to work when I was the first lady of Arkansas. And I had been my husband's partner on really significant policy efforts on education and health care and children's welfare and the like. After her husband was elected President of the United States, he appointed her to lead an initiative to reform healthcare. Opponents dubbd it "Hillarycare."
Oh my goodness. It was just such a firestorm. And I really understood that, to some extent, it was because there were greater concerns about the influence that the first lady might exercise on policy. And I think that you know, it was a great lesson for me. The First Lady moved on from the healthcare fight, but continued to work for children's and women's rights at home and abroad.
Human rights are women's rights, and women's rights are human rights once and for all. What seemed to me to be a common sense statement of values has become a rallying cry. In 2002, Hillary Clinton became the first former First Lady to win a seat in the US Senate. In 2008, she became the first woman in serious contention for the US Presidency. Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it. A month after Barack Obama won the Presidency, he named Clinton as his Secretary of State. She set up the first Office of Global Women's Issues, and within two years had traveled more miles than any of her predecessors.
There's a great hunger for women to look for examples, role models, mentors, even someone all the way across the ocean. You know, the recent Nobel Prize winner from Yemen, this incredibly brave woman, had a picture of me on her mantle. And I cannot even tell you how honored I was that she would look to me to try to give her courage when she is on the front lines of bullets and clubs.
I want to see more of the reality of women's lives changed, in however much time I've got left on the earth, so that I don't continue to cringe at women denied the right to be whoever god meant them to be.
MARLO THOMAS: You know, my father was one of nine boys. So I observed nine Lebanese marriages. And when they had a fight with their wives, the comment would be, where is she going to go? And the truth is, she had nowhere to go. So I really had it in my soul very early that I was always going to have somewhere to go.
I was this young actress, you know, struggling and doing auditions. And I got a call from the head of the network, Edgar Sherrick. And he said, we believe that you can be a television star. I said, look, everything I've read that you sent me, the girl is either the daughter of somebody, or the wife of somebody, or the secretary of somebody. Have you ever considered doing a show where the girl is the somebody? And he looked at me and he said, would anybody watch a show like that?
I said, today's girls, we don't want to be our mothers. We want something completely different. I want her to be a girl like me, who's got a college education, who wants to be an actress, who wants to be independent, who doesn't want to get married, who wants to find out who she is. That's what I want to play.
- Now, daddy, just a minute. Before you go any further, yes, Don and I are very fond of each other. But at the moment, marriage is the furthest thing from our mind.
- It's time it got a little closer.
- Well, besides, I don't want to get married just yet. I have my career to think about.
MARLO THOMAS: I had called her Miss Independence was the name I gave the show. And they called it That Girl, which is a way better name.
And the opening night, you know, we got a 40 share. And in fact, it wasn't just young girls. It was moms and grandmothers. I would get letters, because a lot of women in those days, like my mother, had given up their dreams. And they were kind of encouraging me to stick with it, kid.
[MUSIC PLAYING - "THAT GIRL" THEME SONG]
The big conflict for the last show was that the network and the sponsors, even my writing staff, wanted there to be a wedding. They wanted Anne Marie and Donald to have a wedding at the last show. And I just couldn't do it.
And I said, I just can't. I have the feeling that there's these millions of girls who've been hanging on Ann Marie's every word and following her journey. And if she gets married at the end, it means that's the only happy ending. So in the last show, I took Donald to a women's lib meeting, which made everybody mad. But I thought it's the perfect end, that she's going to continue to try to change him and bring him into her way of thinking.
- You just keep forgetting that as a woman, you can't do everything.
- There are very few things we can't do as well as any man.
MARLO THOMAS: And I think television changes minds. I mean, I know it does. I know from the fact that to this day, women stop me on the street and say, I would have never come to New York if it hadn't been for you.
The creator of That Girl, Bill Persky, used to say that Ann Marie threw the hand grenade into the bunker, and all the other women's shows got to walk through it. That's a great feeling. That's a really great feeling.
DIANE VON FURSTENBERG: I never knew what I wanted to do. But I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be. I wanted to be an independent woman, a woman who could pay for her bills, a woman who can run her own life. And I became that woman.
I came to New York. I was 22 years old. I was a young princess. I had married a beautiful, good-looking prince.
I went to see the man that I worked for. And I said, listen, I'm moving to America. And I'm going to get married and have a child.
But I really, really want to work. Would you allow me to make a few samples from your factory? And I'm going to try to sell them in America. And that's what I did.
I started with little jersey dresses. And then there was a little wrap top. One day I just thought, it would be nice to make that top into a dress.
I took a small ad in "Women's Wear". And I was sitting on a wide cube. And when I saw the picture, the cube was too big and too white. So I said, oh. And I promise you, without thinking, I wrote, "Feel like a woman. Wear a dress."
And that picture and that phrase stayed with me forever. Little did I know that this was going to be the key of my fortune and the key of everything.
1976 was a big year for me. I was on the cover of "Newsweek". I was on the cover of "Interview". I was on the front page of the "Wall Street Journal".
Women were wearing a lot of pants and a lot of very hard clothes. And my clothes was very soft and all of a sudden, revealed the body. It was very much part of a movement of being a woman and enjoying being a woman. I was always a little bit of a feminist. It doesn't mean that if you're a feminist, you have to look like a truck driver.
Everything I touched went to gold. And whatever I made sold. But when you grow so fast, it doesn't always go up. It goes up, it goes down. And all of a sudden one day, I'm stuck with $4 million of inventory and that nobody wants anymore. That was pretty scary.
The reason I started again is because I realized that young women-- models and actresses-- were buying the old dresses in the vintage shops. And I thought, you know what? I should go back. And I did.
The dress is now much more than a dress. We have a huge collection, stores all over the world. It was major what happened to me the first time, because I lived an American dream. But to me, it's much more amazing to see that 37 years later. That dress is still relevant and still worn by very young women.
You just have to be confident and just go for it. And be a woman. Never forget to be a woman.
CONNIE CHUNG: The business that I've been in requires sticking your neck out. You can't sit back and wait for the story to come to you. You have to go pursue it. Dig, push, and be bold.
My parents and my four older sisters were all born in China. They arrived in Washington, DC. Less than a year later, I was born. In China, all you want are boys. So when they had yet another girl, it was like, eh, all right. I always wanted to be the son that my father never had. So I was going to make Chung memorable. With five girls, I could never get a word in. So I was the quiet little sister.
I'm Connie Chung.
They couldn't believe it when I got into television news and I had to speak to the world. And my father was such a news buff. We would watch Uncle Walter every night, Walter Cronkite. He was the man. So early on, when you could only see my hand holding a microphone-- that's Connie's hand. He was just eating it all up.
It was a little local station, and the only job they had open was for a secretary. And I thought, oh god, typical. I did that for several months, but they had an opening for a writer. It was the late '60s. The Civil Rights Act had passed in '64. There was a heavy push to hire women and minorities. So I became the writer in charge of the assignment desk.
There was this one reporter who was really lazy. So I'd say, why don't you watch the desk, and I'll do the story? I know you don't want to do it. So then I'd do stories. They finally let me go on the air, and then a short time later, CBS News, the network, was getting such pressure to hire women.
So in 1971, I was hired along with Michele Clark, black, Leslie Stahl, a nice Jewish girl with blond hair, and Sylvia Chase, a shiksa with blonde hair. Everybody was a male. I mean, everybody, the staff, the producers, the executive producers, the Bureau Chief, the people we covered on Capitol Hill, the White House, the State Department, men.
We all went through a very rigorous hazing period. There were camera people who, they didn't want to take orders from us. Or else I'd be covering some senator on Capitol Hill, and he'd say, "Well, sweet little lady, what sweet little question do you have for me?" And I just stuck it to him. They pitted the women against each other. Who would get the woman job? Leslie Stahl and I would frequently be told to go cover the First Lady doing something that we knew would never get on the air.
Ed Bradley would go up to the assignment editor and say no. But I really had a hard time saying no. There is this mentality on my part-- the good little girl, fear of being fired, fear of being uncooperative, fear of being the five-letter B word. Every step of the way, there were issues being a woman. The only way we could move forward was to do our job and do it better than anyone else.
- Here's to Connie Chung.
- (SINGING) Here's to LA. News to LA. And from our newsroom comes the history of the day.
- This is the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and Connie Chung.
DAN RATHER: Good evening, and welcome, Connie.
CONNIE CHUNG: Thank you, Dan. When I was first told that I would be co-anchoring with Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, I couldn't believe it. Walter Cronkite was my idol, and I always wanted to be Walter Cronkite. I didn't think that that would ever happen. There are always these self-doubts, but I felt like I did know how to do the job. But it was very clear from the beginning that Dan Rather didn't want me there. He would not have wanted anyone there. He was very gracious upfront.
DAN RATHER: See you tomorrow.
CONNIE CHUNG: But you ask someone who's been in the job forever to move over and make room for somebody else, it's a recipe for disaster. It was a constant battle. I would have appreciated it if the boss had said, you know, it's over. I want to tell you face-to-face. But that didn't happen. They told my agent, and then he told me.
DAN RATHER: I'd like to take this moment to wish my longtime friend and colleague, Connie Chung, good luck and godspeed.
CONNIE CHUNG: I lost my dream job. It was completely devastating. Remarkably, though, my husband and I had been working on adoption for a couple years. The firing occurred on a Friday. The next day, we get a call that our son was going to be ours. It was, oh my god. My life just went flip. Lose the job, get our son. Woo! I had a baby when I was almost 50. It worked well for me. Everything that happened in my career was meant to be.
One thing that women really need to remember is sing your praises the way the men do. Sing your own praises. I was indispensable. You're welcome.
ERIN BROCKOVICH: In high school, I was labeled the girl least likely to succeed. So I don't think that they ever saw certainly what I do today coming. I was a dyslexic every time I came home from school with another D stamped on a test and feeling defeated. My mom would say, oh, you have to buck up there and where's your sticktoitiveness? And that struck a chord.
Even today, when I hit that wall, I hear my mother-- sticktoitiveness. It's that persistence. It's that obligation. It's that stubbornness, and you can rise. And you can do it.
I saw medical records in there, and they were blood test results of two little girls. All these autoimmune problems. I couldn't even pronounce some of them.
May not have been the brightest tack in the box, but I certainly knew that the autoimmune system was something that would be very vital to how we survive in life. And if it's impaired, what could it lead to? And that's when I asked Mr. Masry if I could look further into the case.
Roberta shared stories with me about other neighbors. They were complaining not necessarily of diseases at first but chronic nosebleeds, chronic skin rashes, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, and chronic respiratory problems. I just found it odd, and that's when I really began to start digging. Going back out there and getting well samples myself and getting experts together and finding the documents and showing the readings.
We uncovered what was a massive groundwater contamination. This groundwater had been contaminated since the '60s. PG&E knew it. It was covered up.
It was a long process. There was moments where every single one of us felt defeated. Maybe we're in over our heads. And everybody said this is PG&E. You can't take on this company.
I'll never forget the day Ed Masry called me into his office, and Ed said, you know, I think we're going to have to give it up. I said, are you kidding me? We're sitting in this library of all of these law books that became these laws. How is it you think that came to be, Ed?
Because somebody somewhere went out on a limb, they created law. They changed a life. They made a difference, and you're going to give up. No. So I'm like, let's go get them, and we did.
I was overjoyed. Money wasn't going to give these people that their lost lives, their lost spouses, or children. I don't know that you ever had to give them a dime. The victory was they were heard. The victory was that they hoped something could change in the future.
Hinckley was a microcosm. I'm dealing with 1900 Hinckley's in the United States alone, and I think those people are a beautiful representation of their uprising to be heard. Not for the sake of the suits or for the money but for the sake of what's right.