Single girl moves to the big city to make it on her own -- it’s a premise quite familiar to television these days, but one quite novel for the 1960s. The prologue of the 1966 show that first featured the concept ensured that viewers would always remember the program’s title, and star. Someone asked a question (e.g. “of whom do you think when you hear the phrase ‘diamonds, daisies, snowflakes…’?”), the camera zoomed in for a close-up of Marlo Thomas, and the answer was proclaimed: “That Girl!”
Created by Sam Denoff and Bill Persky, two writers who cut their teeth on The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl gave America its first televised, single gal in New York City. Fresh out of college, Ann Marie (Marie was her surname, not part of her first name) moved from Brewster, New York to Manhattan to be an actress. She lived in her own apartment, worked odd jobs to pay the rent, and dated journalist Don Hollinger, a reporter for Newsview magazine. She was a ‘60’s modern woman – or as close to one as primetime would permit.
Marlo Thomas, who portrayed Ann Marie, was no stranger to the spotlight, or to the burgeoning women’s movement. The daughter of legendary entertainer Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas not only starred in That Girl, but served as the show’s un-credited Executive Producer via her role as the head of newly formed Daisy Productions. Thomas did not want the show to be about a character who was a stereotypical wife or mother, or a woman longing to find a husband, but about a young woman out on her own for the first time. She fought for Ann not to get married, quarreling with ABC network executives when they wanted the series to end with the wedding of Don and Ann. Though the couple did get engaged in the fifth and final season, they did not marry on the show. Instead, the series finale featured Ann taking her betrothed to a women’s liberation meeting.
The program starred Ted Bessell as Ann’s boyfriend/fiancé Don Hollinger; Rosemary Decamp as Ann’s mother, Helen; Lew Parker as her father, Lou; and Ronnie Schell as Ann’s agent, Harvey Peck. That Girl also featured an impressive roster of guest stars, including Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and of course, Danny Thomas, who made one of two memorable appearances on Episode 79 as a clergyman into whom Ann bumps. Their exchange: Ann: “Oh, excuse me, Father.” Clergyman: “That’s all right, my child.”
The original contract for the half-hour sitcom was for five years, and though offered additional seasons, Marlo Thomas declined. According to her, “That Girl” had become a woman and Ann had already exhausted all of her acceptable-for-1960’s-primetime adventures. Since Thomas refused to portray Mrs. Hollinger, the show finished its fifth and final season in 1971, just as Mary Richards, another single girl in the big city (Minneapolis this time), made her debut on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, following in the always fashionable, independent, footsteps left by Ann Marie.
Co-creators: Sam Denoff and Bill Persky
Producers: Jerry Davis (season 1), Danny Arnold (seasons 2, 3), Bernie Orenstein and Saul Turteltaub (seasons 4, 5)
Programming History: 136 episodes, 5 seasons, ABC
September 8, 1966 – September 10, 1971
Thursday nights through September 1970, then Friday nights
- by Adrienne Faillace