The Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of "Bloom County" on the revival of his beloved comic strip after a 25-year hiatus and a new book about the origins of Bill The Cat.
Emmy award-winning actress and author Marlo Thomas is a master of reinvention. She is best known to baby boomers for her starring role in the 1960s sitcom “That Girl.” In the 1970s she wrote the classic children’s book “Free to Be…You and Me,” which became a hit show and song. Thomas has since written five best-selling books and become an active fund raiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In her latest book, “It Ain’t Over … Til It’s Over,” Thomas tells the stories of 60 women who, like herself, have found happiness by reinventing themselves. Whether it’s starting a new career at age 50 or getting a PhD mid-life, Thomas argues that it is never too late to strive for the life you really want.
- Marlo Thomas Emmy award-winning television actress and author. Her other books include "The Right Words at the Right Time" and "Free to Be... You and Me."
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “It Ain’t Over … Till It’s Over: Reinventing Your Life–and Realizing Your Dreams–Anytime, at Any Age” by Marlo Thomas. Copyright 2014 by Marlo Thomas. Published by Atria Books.All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Emmy award-winning actress Marlo Thomas has reinvented her career several times. She's become a bestselling writer, activist, and fundraiser. Her latest project is a website that shines a spotlight on women who've launched new careers or businesses. The site became so popular she compiled the stories into a book, its title, "It Ain't Over: Reinventing Your Life -- and Realizing Your Dreams -- Anytime, at Any Age."
MS. DIANE REHMMarlo Thomas joins me in the studio. I'm sure there are many of you who have done the same, whether you're women or men. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Marlo Thomas, it's so good to see you.
MS. MARLO THOMASThank you so much. I'm thrilled to be here.
REHMWell, it's great to see you. Tell me about the website and how it got started.
THOMASYou know, I've -- I go on the road a lot for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, raising money, and I meet so many women. And they started saying to me, you know, there's no place for women over 40 on the Web. Where do you go? Everything's for kids.
THOMASEverything's about tweeting and all this stuff that I don't want to do. So, you know, I heard it over and over again. And I'm always curious. And I said, well, if there was such a website -- I wasn't thinking I was going to do it. It just -- if there was such a website, what would you want on it? They said, information, information and how to start over and...
THOMAS...financial information and medical information and all kinds of things for women over 40. And so I -- as one woman said, alimony information, you know. So it was -- so I got to thinking about it, and I -- so I went to Tim Armstrong, who's the CEO of AOL, who's just a great a guy. And I went to him, and I said, look, I have an idea for a website. I don't know anything about electronics. I'm a completely, you know, ill-equipped woman when it -- I could barely cut and paste my email. I said, I'm not going to be the technological side of this.
THOMASI want to be the communication side of it. And he said, I think it's a great idea. And so I have a series called "Mondays with Marlo" where I interview a person every Monday for half an hour. And we've had everybody from Jon Hamm, that big hunk of a guy, and then Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz and Judge Judy and Suze Orman. Suze Orman's been on, like, five times. I had Jill Abramson, the executive editor of The New York Times, the first female editor ever, Chelsea Clinton, all kinds of people, and the women write in their questions. And then our guest answers their questions.
THOMASIt's wonderful. It's just wonderful.
REHMNow, we have a link to that website. It's on The Huffington Post...
THOMASYeah, AOL Huffington Post.
THOMASWell, they can just go to marlothomas.com.
REHMGood. And then you'll get it.
THOMASMarlothomas.com -- you couldn't be any easier than that. Yeah.
REHMSo from this website, I gather you began hearing stories about women.
THOMASRight. I did -- on my Facebook pages, too. You know, we would put out a question, and the answers would come back. And it was apparent to me that women are stuck. There's an awful lot of women who are stuck. And it has a lot to do with dreams, dreams not realized, dreams that have worn out.
THOMASYou know, if you're a woman, 43 years old, and your dream was to raise a family, well, you know, once your 16 year old gets a driver's license and your 18 year old goes to college, you're out of a job, my dear. You are out of a job, and you'd better have a second dream. And I have a lot of friends in their 40s who are feeling the pain of this, and...
REHMYou know, it's so interesting that you talk about that because when my son turned 13 and my daughter was 10, I was 37. And that's when I volunteered for this job.
THOMASSee, there, see, you were smart, right off.
THOMAS'Cause you knew you were getting out of a job.
REHMAbsolutely. I was going to be out of a job, and that's exactly the person you're talking with.
THOMASRight. Exactly. So your dream ran out on you. And there's another -- so that's one set, one kind of woman.
THOMASThere's another woman who has just -- I mean, society, the culture, the world has done it. She's out of a job. She's laid off.
THOMASShe's laid off.
THOMASAnd when you're 45 or 50 years old, America's marketplace is not saying, hey, come on in, we want to have you. I mean, one woman told me she couldn't even get a job as a receptionist at a beauty parlor. They wanted somebody in their 20s. She couldn't get a job as a hostess in a restaurant. They wanted a woman in their 20s. So you say, OK, this is a crazy culture for women. So you have to invent your own next chapter.
REHMSo give me some examples of the kinds of things they do.
THOMASOK. There's one woman, for example, who her husband died -- she had three little kids -- and she was -- she loved to make jewelry. And she made it for her friends all the time as gifts. And she was devastated. She didn't know her husband was going to die. She got three little kids. She didn't have a job. She had no means of support. And her friends said, well, why don't you start selling some of that jewelry you make?
THOMASShe said, I can't make a living doing this, can I? They said, well, try. So she started making jewelry and taking it to local stores and selling it. And the great thing about the Web is you don't have to pay rent on a store. You can sell it online. And she began a business. And now she's doing quite well, raising her kids. You know, what I love about that story, it's something she loved to do.
REHMBut, you know, not everybody has a talent that they can fall back on.
THOMASThat's correct. Right. That's correct. And some women wanted to do something like maybe start a restaurant because they could cook. Right? Now, most women can cook, right? So...
REHMBut starting a restaurant's a huge deal, Marlo.
THOMASYes. Right. It's huge -- huge thing. So she couldn't exactly start a restaurant. So she decided to go to culinary school. She decided to take restaurant management. She got a job at a restaurant as an intern because anybody will give you a job if you go work for nothing. You can always learn a lot of stuff there.
THOMASAnd with some other friends, she started making food that she took to local restaurants and local bakeries and sold it that way, and started to deliver food to people's homes. I mean, there's a million ways to go about this. The thing that I learned -- and I'm excited to share it -- one of these women told me -- not in the book, but another woman in California told me that she created something -- I can't say what it is 'cause she hasn't sold it yet -- for moms and grandmoms, you know, who are taking care of kids, right, sitters.
THOMASAnd she went to QVC, and they turned it down. Right? They turned it down. She was devastated. And I said to her, you're starting too big. It's OK to think big. But start small. Start small. Don't go to QVC. Make your prototype and start selling it in local stores. Start selling it to your friends. It'll catch on. If it's good, it will catch on.
REHMDid that conversation take place on the Web itself?
REHMIsn't that something?
THOMASYeah. And that's what I think is interesting because women get scared. They get turned down. They get rejected. They get to have a couple of failures. And they think, see, I can't do it. I knew I couldn't do it. And they just go deeper and deeper into the lack of confidence. And I think it's very important. You know, there's a -- the scientists at St. Jude have a sign up that -- in their labs. Thomas Edison, who we know gave us, of course, the light bulb and several other wonderful things also, you know, he failed a lot of things, too.
THOMASAnd he said, I don't see this as a failure. I see it as my discovering 10,000 ways to do something wrong.
THOMASAnd that's a great way to look at it, you know.
REHM'Course, you've reinvented yourself many times.
THOMASI have. I have. Well, because in my business as an actress, you know, once you turn 55, the parts really kind of start shrinking. And I realized that I'm going to have to find all kinds of other ways to express myself. So I started working more and more in the theater. I did a play on Broadway two years ago. And I have a new play I'm starting in July. I write books.
THOMASI created my website. I started one of the -- as I said, one of them is a video series called "Mondays with Marlo". But I had another print series called "It Ain't Over Til It's Over," and just printing stories of women who were trying to start over, who were failing at starting over, who were succeeding at starting over, and all these stories were, you know, really inspiring people.
REHMI have the feeling that most people fell in love with you when you were the character in "That Girl."
MALEMy article on women's lib is missing.
THOMASOh, well, you're looking in the wrong place.
MALEI'm looking in the magazine.
THOMASWell, you won't find it in there.
MALEI know I won't find it in -- it's in my sandwich. You put the article in my sandwich.
THOMASWell, it's just my little way of saying I'd like you to eat your words.
THOMASAlthough I will grant you, they are a bit hard to swallow.
MALEThis article really bothered you.
MALEHoney, I told you I wrote this article about a fictional girl.
THOMASOh, Donald, really. Just because you called her Arlene Morgan doesn't fool me a bit. You didn't even bother to change the initials. Hmm.
MALEI'm telling you, it's just a coincidence. I wrote this article about a girl who believed in women's liberation and freedom for women and independence. Now, you're certainly not that girl. Are you that girl?
REHMWow. And that surely had to get you started.
THOMASThat was fun. I haven't heard that in a long time.
REHMI'll bet you haven't.
REHMBut, I mean, there you were as a young woman really putting forth your own ideas about what it was to be a young woman.
THOMASYes, right. And I think that the reason it was so successful is that every home in America had one of those girls in it. Everybody wanted to be independent and wanted to break out of those stereotype that our mothers and our grandmothers were sort of constricted by.
REHMDid you feel constricted growing up?
THOMASOh, definitely, definitely. Well, as you know, my dad was Lebanese.
THOMASYes. And my father was one of nine boys and a girl. So I saw whole lot of Lebanese marriages dominated by these Lebanese men. Now, I worship my father, as everyone knows. But they are dominating men. And my dad was pretty -- much different than most of them, but -- 'cause my mother was Italian, and she kept him in line.
REHMMarlo Thomas, her new book, "It Ain't Over..."
THOMAS"Til It's Over."
REHM..."Reinventing Your Life -- Realizing Your Dreams -- Anytime, at Any Age." Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's a first email from Liz who says, "As a child of the '70s, I believe that 'Free To Be...You and Me' was an essential contributor to the development of my attitude toward gender and roles. And I'm passing it forward. I tell my sons and daughter, they tell their friends, girls can do anything boys can do. And boys can do anything girls can do. We read to and read 'Free To Be...You and Me' and it is still relevant today." Talk about the background.
THOMASThat's very exciting. Thank you so much. Well, you know, I was reading to my little niece Dionne (sp?) when she was about five or six years old. And all the books that she had were the same books that I had when I was a kid. And I thought, these are so backward. I'm sorry. Oh, and so I wanted to find other stories and I couldn't find them. Stories that would free her mind and not put her mind to sleep.
THOMASAnd so I decided that I'd make my own record for her, because my sister and I used to love story records when we were children. And so I made a record that was non-sexist and non-racist that would show boys and girls that they could be anything they wanted to be and that the world was for them to cooperate and share together. And that mommies and daddies were people and they could be anything they wanted to be.
THOMASAnd that whatever a mommy did, she's still were the mommy even if she was a rancher or an astronaut or whatever she was and the same with the daddy. Daddy was a singer or an ice skater, he was still a daddy.
REHMTalk about that song.
THOMASOh, I love that song. That is the anthem of "Free To Be...You and Me" and it talks about where the horses run free and the land is free. And the song so speaks to children. You know, it puts them in the same place as animals and nature. You know, that we all own it together and it isn't a place where you -- the world should not be a place where you have to be one thing or the other. And one of the things that -- one of the lyrics says, where every girl grows to be her own woman, every boy grows to be his own man.
REHMConsider it the fact that you did come from a pretty structured...
REHM...disciplined household. Where did that sense of freedom come from?
THOMASI think it came from two places. I think it came -- one place from my father who encouraged me that I could be anything I wanted to be. And it came from watching my mother not be everything she wanted to be.
THOMASYeah. My mother was a singer. She had her own radio show when she met my father and she gave it up to marry my father and travel the country while he worked in nightclubs. And then, of course, she had her children and that became that. And I always felt guilty about my mom. I always felt that she gave up her whole life for her family. And I think we could have done it on half. We didn't have to have her whole life.
THOMASAnd I did feel guilty about it. And she had some tears over it. So it really affected me. It made me feel that, you know, marriage was a very tricky place for a woman and you had to be very careful, which is why I didn't get married until I was 40 years. You know, I was scared to death of marriage. But my mother, God bless her, she used to say to me, you've done it right. You're doing it right. Good for you. So...
REHMWell, and then you did in fact meet Phil Donahue.
MR. ALAN ALDAI'm being inducted into the army and I don't want to go.
THOMASWhat a terrible thing to happen.
ALDAI just -- I don't see why my personal freedom should be taken away from me just, I mean, for something I don't even believe in.
THOMASWell, did you tell them that?
ALDAWho? Tell who?
THOMASI don't know, whoever it is that speaks on behalf of the army.
ALDANo, you see they're only exempting married men with children or at least married men with children on the way. Plus, I think we've gotten to know each other pretty well, you know, without any sentimentality or any -- I mean, just -- Jenny, will you marry me?
THOMASMy God, what I feel for you, I think it could be something that could develop into a very real love.
REHMAnd, of course, that was not you with your husband Phil Donahue. You were with Alan Alda in the movie, "Jenny."
THOMASYes. Yes, that was a lovely movie.
REHMTalk about that movie.
THOMASYou know, Alan and I are still the best of friends.
REHMOh, he's a lovely man.
THOMASAnd he's married to one of the great women. So Phil and I and Arlene and Alan spent a lot of time together. We just saw them the other night. It was a wonderful movie. It was a movie, you know, about the Vietnam era and about a young guy who did not want to go to war. He didn't believe in war. And this was a young woman who was pregnant and didn't have a husband, which was what was going on in the '70s.
THOMASYou know, girls not protected, girls not smart about things. And anyway, so -- but she's in love with this boy. And he asked her to marry him just to protect him from going and also to give her a father for the baby. And then of course they fall in love and it's a lovely story.
REHMWell, you finally fell in love and you met your husband on his talk show.
REHMPromoting one of your new movies. Let's hear it.
MR. PHIL DONAHUEI'm sorry that we are out of time. You are really fascinating and you are...
THOMASNo, but you are wonderful. I said it when we were off the air and I want to say you are loving and generous, and you like women and it's a pleasure. And whoever is the woman in your life is very lucky.
DONAHUEWell, thank you very much. Marlo Thomas stars in "Thieves" from Paramount Pictures and we hope that you have a nice day. Goodbye everybody.
REHMAnd, in fact, you became the woman in his life.
THOMASI know. And those women in the audience watching us, they had their -- they were just amazed, you could tell.
REHMThere was chemistry.
THOMASThat's right, you could see it.
THOMASAnd I know that a lot of them thought, well, whoever is the woman in his life better lock him up because she's going to go after him. But it turned out thankfully that he was divorced, living with his four sons that he was raising and he was unattached. And we shortly thereafter became quite attached.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting that you waited until age 40.
THOMASI wasn't waiting, I was never getting married.
REHMYou were never.
THOMASNever. Oh, I had already decided that.
REHMBecause of what you saw with your mom and dad.
THOMASYeah, yes. Right, and all my aunts and uncles, don't forget. Ten Lebanese marriages, five Italian marriages.
THOMASAnd the women had no say in their lives. And I felt really bad about my mother and my mother adored my father. So it wasn't like she'd lived a terrible life, but she cried a lot about what she didn't get to do. She had a lot of regret.
REHMDid she have a lot of family here?
THOMASShe had three sisters and a brother. And they were all -- they were close. She was close especially to her baby sister. But I just saw a lot of regret. And I thought, you know, why do I need marriage? I have a job. I make my own money. I have my own house. I had my own silver pattern and my own china pattern. I was my own my husband. I didn't need it.
THOMASYou know? And you don't need it. But when you fall in love, there's a some kind of other need that comes forward, which is you want to be with this person. I mean, we were together for three years. He asked me to marry him about after seven months. And I said to him, you're not listening, I don't ever want to be married. And so we didn't and we were together about three years. And then it just happened. It was like, it evolved. It's like your mom always says, you know, how will I know, mom, you'll know.
THOMASYou'll know, you'll know. And then I realized that I fell in love with Phil's goodness. He's a good, decent man. He's a lot like my father. He's kind and generous and sweet. And of course we had a lot of sexual chemistry, that didn't hurt. But he's a good man. And so I just knew that I could trust that. You know, he's from the Midwest and I was from Hollywood dating Hollywood.
THOMASThe kind of guy I wanted wasn't in Hollywood.
THOMASHe was in Ohio. I met Phil in Chicago, but Phil was raised in Cleveland just close to where my father was raised in Toledo. And they have very much the same work ethic. The same middle class values...
THOMAS...that I grew up with, that I understand. Even though I grew up in Hollywood, I was raised by parents who were middle class people.
REHMDid your mother ever expressed her own desire to get back into what she did?
THOMASOh, yeah, she did but she was afraid. She did and she was afraid and my father didn't really encourage it because by the time she really wanted to do it, she was in her 60s. And she thought, oh, well, I'll look ridiculous now being a singer. And I kept saying, "No, mom, you can do it. Come on my show and sing." You know, I wanted to help her, but she was shy by that time. She wasn't shy if it was a party. Frank Sinatra would be at a party singing and my mother would get up right after him.
REHMI love it.
THOMASShe had the guts of a lion and a voice of an angel, she sang beautifully.
REHMAnd your father I'm sure loved her voice.
THOMASHe loved it. Oh, he loved her voice. And she always got up and sang. And while we have tapes of her singing that she made for all of us.
REHMHow many of you in your family?
THOMASThree, three. I'm the oldest, then my sister, then my brother. And then with us five grandchildren.
REHMAnd what does your sister do? What does your brother do?
THOMASWell, my brother is a very successful television producer. He produced "Empty Nest" and "Golden Girls" and soap and lots of wonderful show. And he's just producing a new show right now with Mary-Louise Parker, a new show, which hasn't gone on yet, in the fall. My sister raised her children, they're fabulous by the way, as a single mom. She got divorced very early and has two fabulous kids.
THOMASDionne, the one that I made the album for, the "Free To Be..." album for, she is very free to be. She is married to a producer. She's also a producer at Disney, has two little boys.
REHMGood for her.
THOMASAnd she's living the life I wanted to her -- I was hoping she would live. And my sister is a singer and she works very hard for St. Jude.
REHMI want to talk about St. Jude. We do have lots of callers waiting. And if you just joined us, Marlo Thomas is here. Her new book, on the front cover it says, "It Ain't Over..." and you turn it over and on the back it says, "...Till It's Over." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's hear from some of our callers. 800-433-8850. First to Gregory who's here in Washington, DC. Go right ahead, sir.
GREGORYThank you. Marlo Thomas, it's an honor and a privilege to speak to you.
GREGORYAnd, Diane, thanks for having her on.
REHMOf course, my pleasure.
GREGORYI heard you're coming on and I just had to reach out. I'm a 47-year-old guy who grew up in Brewster, New York.
GREGORYAnd as you know, Diane, you may not know but the characters of "That Girl's" parents lived in Brewster, New York. I think I'm getting that right.
THOMASYou're right, you're right.
GREGORYTo be with this strange element when I was a kid, which I watched the show religiously. You were probably my first crush. And I -- the strange reality TV aspect to it because here they were in Brewster. And it was almost, when we picked up my dad at the train every day, I would imagine that maybe I'd run into Marlo Thomas from "That Girl" coming off the train.
REHMHow wonderful. Well, that's a lovely memory, Gregory. Thanks for calling. Let's go now to Bedford, Ohio. Hi there, Barb, you're on the air.
BARBHi. Well, I have waited for years. If I may call you that, Marlo, hello.
BARBHi. I grew up, I was a child in the '60s. Obviously, I saw "That Girl." But what's really more important to me is I've waited for years to thank you, woman who changed the world for me. And I'm going to start crying.
THOMASOh, so am I. So am I.
BARBSo when I was like in first grade, all the schoolbooks were, you know, here's mother, she stays at home. Here's father, and of course, everybody's (word?). The world changed so much because of what you guys did and I have a brother who's seven years younger than me. I remember looking at -- when I was in high school looking at his reading books. There were people of color, there were women who had careers.
BARBMy mother was a woman with a genius IQ who was trapped in a very bad abuse of marriage. I knew education is my way out and you saved me from living that life.
THOMASOh, darling, you saved you. You saved you. You sound like you've got the resources to take on the world. And I'm thrilled that we were a small part of that, but you saved you.
REHMThat is the message, isn't it, Marlo?
REHMEach of us has it within ourselves.
THOMASYes. That's why I want to say to your listeners that what's good about this book, if you feel stuck, whether you're male or a female, but mostly they're all women stories. When you read these stories, it's not just for you to say, oh, isn't it wonderful how these women did it? It's for you to look at it and find a map for yourself so that you too can do it. There are 60 stories. And within those 60 stories, there are enough clues for you to get the life you want. It's not just about these women.
THOMASIt's about you.
REHMAnd to Greensboro, NC, hi there Marianne.
MARIANNEOh, good morning, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
REHMYou're most welcome.
MARIANNEI listen to you daily.
MARIANNEMarlo, you encouraged me because I'm a product of the '60s and I watched "That Girl" and just watching that show told me that it was all right to be single.
MARIANNEI got married at 20, divorced at 35. And once I got divorced, I was determined to see what freedom was all about. I was a single parent and I have reinvented myself approximately every five to seven years.
THOMASGood for you.
MARIANNEBecause I know that was the only way I could be in control and not allow someone else to be in control and up in my life.
THOMASThat's great, that's great.
REHMMarianne, congratulations to you. I have the feeling there are great many people out there who feel and behaved precisely as you did. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, comments, questions for Marlo Thomas who says, "It Ain't Over Till It's Over." Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. For those of you just joining us, Marlo Thomas is with me. She's written a new book from the website that she established talking with women basically about the rest of their lives. Her book is titled "It Ain't Over...Til It's Over: Reinventing Your Life--and Realizing Your Dreams--Anytime, at Any Age." And of course, Marlo Thomas, your dad, Danny Thomas, established the St. Jude Hospital. And I know you've done a great deal of work there. But talk a little about your dad and why he got so invested emotionally in that hospital.
THOMASYes. Well, you know, he created it, though, with -- it did not exist.
THOMASIt was his idea.
THOMASAnd I think it came from the fact that my father was a very poor kid of immigrant parents in Toledo, Ohio. They were on relief -- we call that welfare now -- nine boys and a girl. My grandparents...
THOMAS...did not speak English. My grandfather sold hardware on consignment, off the back of a wagon. So, you know, you can't get much lower in retail than that. And my dad never went to a doctor. My grandma had all 10 babies at home with just hot water and her sisters, no doctors, no dentist. Children in his neighborhood died of influenza, appendicitises. And my father never went to a dentist. He had false teeth as a grown up. Yes, he had no -- they had never seen anything. They couldn't afford it. There was no health insurance. And so he had a front row seat at the inequity of healthcare in this country. And it was really there in the back of his mind. You know, we all grow up with these things we can't forget, these memories of friends who died and whatever happened in our childhood. And I think, as he grew up and he made a promise to St. Jude that someday he'd build him a shrine if he helped him figure out his life.
THOMASAnd when he made such a success, he thought, the shrine, I'm going to build -- since St. Jude is a patron of the hopeless -- would be a hospital for children with hopeless diseases where no child would ever pay for anything.
REHMHow did he go from this poverty-stricken family to the success he became?
THOMASTalent. He was a comedian. And he got -- you know, people recognized him. He started in little tiny nightclubs in Chicago, in Detroit.
REHMDid he go to college?
THOMASNo. My father had one year of high school.
THOMASHe was a sophomore only.
REHMAnd then what?
THOMASAnd then when they told him he had to go back and take his freshman year -- so stupid, right -- 'cause his brother Ray, who he adored, was a sophomore. So he just decided he'd become a sophomore. And when they found out at the end of the sophomore year, instead of passing him to be a junior, they said, you have to go back and be a freshman, which is so ridiculous.
REHMSo he quit?
THOMASAnd so he just dropped out.
THOMASHe dropped out, and he started becoming a -- you know, getting odd jobs in clubs and soda fountain places and everywhere he could. And he became a -- he started to do an act when he was, like, 14, 15 years old. And then he created -- was on the radio where he met my mother. And he decided he was going to build it in the south so that people -- children of all races would have an equal chance.
THOMASThey wanted him to put it in St. Louis or in Boston, where there are great medical centers. And he said, no, they've already got great medical centers. I want to go where there isn't a great medical center. And I want to go where it's a hub of the country and kids of all races, they'll be able to be a part of it.
REHMSo what is different about St. Jude Hospital?
THOMASWell, first of all, it's a research center as well as a treatment center, so we get children from all over the country, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, every place. And the reason is, is that we're -- most hospitals are working on what they know, and we're working on what they don't know and what we don't know 'cause we're a research center.
THOMASSo we get children -- the doctors send us kids that they don't know what to do with. So a lot -- they just don't know how to help them. So we've taken so many of our cure rates -- I mean, when my dad founded St. Jude in '62, only 4 percent of children with the most common form of cancer, ALL, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, only 4 percent survived. And just five years ago, we announced a 94 percent survival rate.
REHMOh my goodness.
THOMASAnd we're doing that with all the cancers...
THOMAS...85 percent with brain tumors. We're the epicenter for brain tumors in the country.
REHMYour father died at 79.
REHMWhat did he die of?
THOMASHe died of heart failure, and he didn't tell anybody in our family that he had heart trouble. And so no one knew that we should be looking after him and getting him to maybe get a bypass or a pacemaker or something.
REHMHe had gone to doctors and been told...
THOMASYeah. Well, I found out after he died. I called his doctor, and I said, what happened? How did my father just drop dead in the middle of the night? How is this possible? And I got his records, and I sent his records to Michael DeBakey, the great heart surgeon who was Lebanese and a friend of our family's. We Lebanese stick together, you know.
THOMASAnd he said, well, what killed your father's in the record. He knew it. So I was very upset by that, and I realized, when I said to the doctor, why didn't you tell my mother or my brother or me or someone? He said, there are laws, HIPAA laws.
THOMASSo I said to my husband, from that day forward, we are going to the doctor together. So we go together. We are each other's witness.
THOMASSo when the doctor -- and, anyway, you get nervous when you hear bad news. You can't -- don't know what to do anyway.
REHMOf course. You don't hear everything.
THOMASSo we try. So we sit there together. And when the doctor tells us where our cholesterol is or what our problems are, the other one is listening. And then the other one gets to be the policewoman or man to be sure that we stick to our regime. And that's the only thing that's come out of my father's death that -- in our whole family. All of the people in our family take a member of the family with them when they go to the doctor now.
REHMNow, how soon after his death did you get involved in St. Jude?
THOMASIn St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Well, about three months after he died, I went down there just to let them know that I could help out if they wanted me to pick up a check or make a speech, which is what I'd always done when my dad was alive. He used to call me his bonus kid because, since I was famous...
THOMAS...I could show up instead of him if he needed me to. So I thought, I wanted them to know I would do that. But then, once I got involved there and met these children and their parents and saw them coming with death sentences from other hospitals -- I mean, I met a man who told me that he had already picked the funeral music for his child based on what he was told at another hospital.
THOMASI met a woman who told me that the doctors at the other hospital said, your child has four months to live, take a lot of pictures of her so that you'll have memories, you know. And we save their lives. We don't save them all, but we save a lot of children's lives that come to St. Jude.
REHMHow many children can the research and medical center help?
THOMASWell, we see about 250 to 300 children a day. So we have 7,000 active patients. And we don't want the children to stay in the hospital obviously. They're outpatients, most of them. So we only have about 80 beds in the hospital. But we have 30 -- 300 to 400 hotel rooms of Target House. The Target Corporation built the housing for the children.
THOMASYeah. So Target House and the Memphis Grizzly House and the Ronald McDonald House is devoted just to the St. Jude patients. So we put them up. No child, no family pays for anything, nothing at all. They come, and nobody gets a bill.
REHMAnd you and others raise all the money.
THOMASWe raise $850 million a year to pay for the research and the treatment for the children, and it pays for a child and the parent to travel to Memphis.
THOMASAll the housing, all their food, all their care -- and some of them have no insurance. If they have insurance, we'll take it. But their insurance runs out because a child -- if a child has cancer, it can cost between $600,000 and a million to $2 million.
REHMMarlo, why do you think you've been so successful in the fundraising?
THOMASBecause it's the truth. People know when something's a genuine article. St. Jude's been around since 1962. There's no place I go -- even in this radio station, I'll bet you there's some person in this radio station that has been touched personally by St. Jude, a neighbor, a relative. Somebody they know has been touched by St. Jude.
THOMASAnd that just goes out like fingers throughout the country. And the children come from all over the country. It's in Memphis, but they come from everywhere. You walk through -- I saw an Amish family. I mean, they don't even believe in zippers and cars, and they're in the most high tech building you could ever imagine. 'Cause when it comes to the life of your child, you put aside a lot of things and save your child's life.
REHMBoy, I'll bet that's also affected the economics of Memphis.
THOMASOh, very much so, very much so. Yeah, well, we have thousands and thousands of people who work at St. Jude. But what's most important is that every child has a scientist and a doctor working on their case because these are children who are deathly ill, and we are their last resort, the place where they can go.
REHMAll right. I'm going to take another call. This is John -- pardon me -- who's in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.
JOHNHello, Miss -- you Diane Rehm?
REHMYes. Go right ahead, sir.
JOHNMy name is John Burns, Diane Rehm. I'm a first-time caller. I listen to you every day.
JOHNMa'am, the only thing anywhere close to you in newer broadcasting would be Walter Cronkite (unintelligible) air. Ma'am, you are more than a treasure.
THOMASOh, that's so nice.
JOHNAnd I called because I heard one of you say when Marlo Thomas was on "That Girl," that (unintelligible) somebody that was attached to her. Ma'am, you were my girl. (unintelligible) about you, I mean, believe me, it's a blessing just to talk to both of you.
JOHNGod bless you both.
THOMASThank you for calling.
JOHNI didn't know Phil was your husband, but God bless you all. And, Diane Rehm...
THOMASYou know, Diane, I had more proposals from 6-year-old boys than any woman in the world. All these men are calling in and saying they had a crush on me. They were 6 years old when they saw me.
REHMExactly. And I found...
THOMASAnd I used to get marriage proposals in the mail.
REHMDid you really?
THOMASYeah, mm hmm, from 6-year-old boys. I want to marry you, and my mom says it's OK.
REHMNow, you and I are about the same age.
REHMYou have just written this book. You've established this website. You're involved with acting projects.
REHMYou're involved with St. Jude. What's next?
THOMASI'm going to do a new play. It's called "Clever Little Lies." I did it in New Jersey in November, and we got wonderful reviews. And now we're doing it in East Hampton for a month this summer before we go to New York.
REHMAre you excited about that?
THOMASI'm beside myself.
THOMASI just love being on the stage. I love making people laugh. I think it's in my DNA. And I also love the communication. I mean, I -- as I look at my life -- and we all do, especially when you get to be our age...
THOMAS...you look at your life, and you say, hey, you know what, I see a pattern. And my pattern is I want to communicate with people. So do you obviously. But I've communicated ideas through "That Girl" and all the TV movies and shows I've done, communicate through my books, communicating through my website, and on stage we're communicating. And you're communicating to people in the dark, who you've kind of made a contract with.
THOMASYou'll sit there, and we're going to tell you a story. It's very ancient, you know. The Romans did it. The Greeks did it. The Indians did it. They sit around a fire and tell stories. And I think that's also in all of our DNA. We tell stories to little children. The minute they're born, we're telling them stories, you know. And I love stories. I could sit at somebody's feet and listen to stories all night long.
REHMDid your dad tell you stories?
THOMASOh, yeah. He was a master story -- I mean, he told stories for a living in nightclubs. He was a great storyteller, as was my grandmother, his mother. And I'm a pretty good storyteller. I love to tell stories. That's why I love to write books 'cause it's all about stories. The women in my books, 60 of them -- I've told 60 stories of women who have taken themselves from nothing. Some -- one of these women -- couple of these women were homeless, completely out, and they found a way back. And I think that's exciting, encouraging, and important that women don't give up and know that it's not over.
REHMYou talk about a woman, Jane Alderman, and her foundation.
REHMTell us about her.
THOMASWell, Jane Alderman's brother Peter worked in the World Trade Center. And they were always texting each other and talking. She lived in D.C. He lived in New York. And he texted her, and he said, I'm scared. A plane has just hit the building. And she said, can you get out? And he said, I don't think so. And she kept saying, where are you? Where are you? Can you get out? Get out. Get out of there. And she never heard from him again.
THOMASAnd he died in that terrible, terrible horror of the Trade Centers. And she and her family decided that in his name, they would start a foundation to help other families of trauma. And it's a wonderful foundation. And it's what they took to make -- his mother said, there's really no good that I can see that came out of it, but it's good that we could do some good for other people.
REHMSo out of the ashes, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see, I think we've got Irene in College Park, Md. You're on the air.
IRENEWell, hi. I'm really enjoying your show today. I wanted to say I really like this topic that she's talking about, about reinventing yourself. I find myself that as a week short of 55. I'm starting a new business. I have a new job. There's just a lot of things ahead, and I think people need to just take advantage of that.
THOMASThat's great. What's your new business?
IRENEI have a horseback riding stable that I'm starting and getting that done. And...
IRENE...you know, I'm just -- and I don't see a limit 'cause of my age or anything. Some people say, why are you starting so late on this? It's like, why not? And I am...
THOMASExactly. Exactly. Good for you. That's wonderful. And is that something you've always loved to do, horseback riding?
IRENEYeah, something I love to do.
IRENEAnd I watched my mother and grandmother both were -- loved their children, but they both did what was expected of them and stayed home. And they both had said, as much as they love their families, they would have loved to have a chance to have careers.
THOMASThat's right. My mom, too. My mom, too. Good for you.
REHMNow, there's somebody else you talk about. And that's Natasha Coleman.
THOMASYes. Natasha Coleman weighed 435 pounds. And she was married happily with three kids. And she knew that she was too heavy, but she wasn't -- she never really did anything about it. Anyway, she got on a plane one day because she and her husband had won a trip from some contest. And she hadn't been on a plane. And she got on the plane, and they couldn't strap her into the seat. And all the -- she said the people in the plane were looking at her like, why is this fat person holding up our plane? Anyway, they finally found a seat in the back.
THOMASAnd they strapped her into it with a bunch of things. She was just mortified. And she decided that that was her -- as we call it, our starting over moment. She said, I've got to stop this. And she went on a diet and just threw everything out in her house that was white flour, potatoes, cereals, and, you know, sugar and candies and cookies and packaged goods. And her children have now lost weight. They were heavy, too. And they were on their way to becoming obese. And she went from a size 32 to a size 10.
THOMASMm hmm. And it's a wonderful story because she tells you how she did each step. And that's what I like about this book. It's a step by step by step. I don't know if I told you this. I think I did. But it's OK to think big and dream big but start small.
REHMAnd that's the way to do it whether you're Marlo Thomas or whether you're Natasha Coleman. You can do it. You can find your own life doing what you want to do. Marlo Thomas, how wonderful to see you.
THOMASThank you. This went so fast.
REHMI know. It always does.
THOMASThank you so much, Diane.
REHMOh, I loved having you here.
THOMASSuch fun. Such fun.
REHMMarlo Thomas. The book is titled "It Ain't Over Til It's Over." Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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