The coolest single lady on TV (back in the ’60s)
When we think about the 1960s — and if you’re like me, it’s more often than one would imagine — we tend to come up with images of the big stars: Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner. Beautiful women who were legendary in roles that challenged the previous expectations of entertainment from the “age of innocence.” These leading ladies addressed ideas of social change and women’s rights, and are timeless role models that will never be forgotten. They are some of my favorite women of all time, and I owe a great deal of my own dreams to their profound influence.
But I’d like to take the 1960’s spotlight off them, just for a little while, and focus on a less famous but equally influential star of that same era: Marlo Thomas. Specifically Marlo Thomas in the role of Anne Marie on That Girl.
Here’s why Ann Marie is my favorite mod TV icon:
Anne Marie is a young woman living on her own in New York City, trying to make it big in show business. Her father owns a restaurant and lives just outside the city with her mother. While the family is wealthy beyond worry, Ann is responsible for her own finances. She has a budget she is always struggling to stick to, and she won’t accept any money from her parents or anyone else. She buys her own groceries, pays her rent, and tries to keep her shopping to a minimum just like any single lady trying to work and make it on her own.
Her relationship is actually pretty realistic for a ’60s TV series:
She is dating a journalist, Donald Hollinger of Newsweek magazine, whom she mercilessly drags with her into the many catastrophes of her eventful life. The relationship between Ann and Don is a unique one, and is part of what makes the show different. A running joke throughout the series is Ann’s father’s suspicions about Don and Ann sleeping together before they are married. The two are constantly explaining situations that may seem suspicious but are actually mere misunderstandings. Though the no-sex-before-marriage policy from the “age of innocence” is maintained, the show is not altogether frigid. Don is not the inhumanly patient boyfriend who asks for no more than a peck on the cheek, nor is Ann a bashful heroine holding herself out of reach. They battle with their desires and responsibilities in an adult way that is still light enough for TV, and almost every episode ends with a kiss between the two.
Though the show has its romantic components, the two are more than star-crossed lovers: they are friends. Instead of only whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, they talk about things that normal couples discuss: where to go for dinner, what show to see, how his or her day went. Ann is not a goddess that Don bows down to; he teases her and questions some of her stranger decisions. Consequently, Ann is not a damsel in distress. She in turn pokes fun at Don and argues with his overly rational way of thinking. They don’t agree on everything, nor do they have violently oppositional opinions. They look after each other, but not in an angelic way. She makes him dinner. He keeps her company when she is sick. Her dinners do not always taste good. He is not always the most patient caretaker. She can’t tie his tie properly. He doesn’t understand her taste in art. The differences between the two make for more than just humorous possibilities – true companionship and compromise shines through the jokes and the mishaps.
She’s got killer style:
The relatable career struggles and relationship dynamics certainly set “That Girl” apart from some of the more robotic sitcoms on ’60s television, but the most important key in making the show quirky and unique is the main character herself. Ann is adorable: front bangs, cat-eye liner, gorgeous lashes. Sound like anyone else we know. . .? And of course, she has a fantastic wardrobe that stretches from the New York City sidewalk to the ballroom.
She is constantly getting herself into trouble, not because she is superficial or foolish, but because she is trusting, curious, and a little awkward. Though she never means harm, she often steps on people’s toes, and that is what makes her different from so many of the glamour queens of the era: not everyone is enthralled by her. She isn’t always right. She makes mistakes. She doesn’t throw temper tantrums. She laughs at her own jokes. She’s witty, charming and beautiful, but she’s also down-to-earth and nerdy.
I will always look to Elizabeth, Audrey, and Ava when I am in need of a legendary female icon, but during the day, when I need a little guidance or a surge of inspiration, I can now look to someone who is just imperfect enough to be real. If I’m due to present at the Oscars, I’ll ask Grace what I should wear; but for the everyday, I think I’ll try to be my very own version of “That Girl” instead.
Madeleine Ritzker is a German-Canadian living in the UK. She wishes she was as worldly as she sounds. She is studying History, Literature, and Creative Writing, and enjoys walking her dogs and filling up shopping baskets online. You can read more random ramblings on her blog.