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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Marlo Thomas on her dad and why everyone needs to be free

    Marlo Thomas during a performance of “Clever Little Lies.” The play, by Joe DiPietro, is about what infidelity can do to two marriages. (Matthew Murphy/O&M Co. via AP)

    In a little off-Broadway theater — actually in a theater above that little theater — you can catch a woman who has four Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, a Peabody and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    Marlo Thomas doesn’t care where the work ends up as long as it’s good. So the actress and activist, who turns 78 in November, stars in “Clever Little Lies” at the upstairs venue of the Westside Theatre. The play, by Joe DiPietro, is about what infidelity can do to two marriages.

    Thomas, whose father was beloved entertainer Danny Thomas, has a knack for groundbreaking work. She starred in “That Girl” on ABC and wrote the kids’ book, album and TV special: “Free to Be ... You and Me.”

    The Associated Press asked her about her new play, her legacy, her father and her husband, talk-show pioneer Phil Donahue. 

    AP: What attracted you to this play?

    Thomas: I started to read it, and I knew where it was going. Well, I saw where I thought it was going. And then it made so many turns that I was just floored. I really was shocked by how many turns it made. The audience gasps. 

    AP: How do you pick material to act in?

    Thomas: The most important thing for me, as an actor, when I read something, or as an audience member, is: Is this true? Do I believe this? My dad used to say, ‘The audience will follow you down any yellow brick road as long as you don’t lie to them. Don’t get off the road for a cheap laugh.’ 

    AP: When Taylor Swift gave her acceptance speech after winning MTV’s Video of the Year Award in August, she said she was glad to live in a world where “boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” You pioneered that message.

    Thomas: It’s so important to raise people to grow up to be who they are and not be forced to be who they’re not. What an awful thing to do to people — it’s like being in prison. 

    AP: That original message — be who you are — fits nicely with today’s push for transgender rights. You were ahead of your time.

    Thomas: It encompasses everyone: Be who you are. Otherwise, you end up committing suicide. You end up marrying people when you shouldn’t be marrying them and having terrible, secret lives. 

    AP: You always return to the theater. Why?

    Thomas: What I love about the theater is the work ethic. I grew up with it. My father and Frank Sinatra and George Burns — they worked so hard at their craft. My father used to tape his performances when he was in nightclubs. He’d bring them home and listen to them on a reel-to-reel tape. I often would go into his room and he’d go, ‘See, here, Mugs? They’re laughing too hard here. I’m going to put a song here to give it some pacing.’ He was working it out with total respect for the audience. And I have that.

    AP: Your nickname was “Mugs”?

    Thomas: My father just gave it to me — Muggsy MaGoo. So it was ‘Muggsy’ or ‘Mugs.’ My whole family calls me ‘Muggsy.’ It’s not very sexy, but that’s it. 

    AP: You’re finally working in your home city. Does your husband come pick you up?

    Thomas: He does come and he’s a good Stage Door Johnny. He comes and waits for me at night. 

    AP: Does he bring flowers?

    Thomas: No, he brings himself. He’s the biggest bouquet I’ve got.

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