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Marlo Thomas' Mother's Day Tribute

Actress says her mom inspired her career and her feminism

spinner image Marlo Thomas smiles in a vintage portrait with her mother
Marlo Thomas with her mother, Rose Marie
Courtesy Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas may be most associated with her famous dad, Danny Thomas, but she was extremely close with her mother, Rose Marie. Thomas pays her mom tribute this weekend of Mother's Day in the video below and on her website, When your parents are gone, says Thomas, Mother's Day or Father's Day can be sad. "What I'd give to spend the day with my mom and dad again, even for just a couple hours," she says. "I miss them both dearly."

Q. Your relationship with your dad was well-known but clearly you were close to your mother. Who was the bigger influence on the woman you became?

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A. Because I wanted to be in the same business as my father, he was the more powerful influence. I learned my work ethic from him, how to stand up for myself in business dealings and, of course, my sense of humor. He was the one I focused on and wanted to be like throughout my childhood. But what I got from my mother (and this is something that's become more apparent to me as I've gotten older) was a complete devotion and unconditional love and, yes, sacrifice, that helped me to become who I am.

Q. You talk about the singing career your mother gave up to give her family all of her. You say, "We would have been OK with half." Did that inspire your early and committed feminism?

A. Yes, very much so. When I look back at those pictures of my mother performing — and listen to her recordings — it makes me sad to think that all of that joy she found in her work came to an end. I wish she hadn't had to make that sacrifice, even if it was for the benefit of my father and siblings and me. So, yes, during the feminist movement in the '70s, the fact that my mother had given up so much played in the back of my head all the time; and I fought and lobbied and marched, in many ways, for her. And to help women everywhere know that, if it was their choice, they could have families and live their dreams.

Q. Your mother's approach, fully supporting everything her children did, is sometimes difficult to do. What did that support do for you and your siblings?

A. It gave us the knowledge that we had a safe home and a close family and that, no matter where we were or what we did, we'd never be further than one telephone call away from someone who loved us. Through her devotion, she instilled in my siblings and me the courage and confidence to live the lives we wanted to live. My mother was a strong-willed and opinionated woman — a Sicilian! — and if she didn't like something, she'd let you know about it. So her undying support of her kids went a long way in proving to us that we were on the right path.

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Q. You are a stepmom to husband Phil Donahue's children. What lessons from your mom's approach to parenting have you used in your role with your stepkids?

A. From the very first day, I decided that I was not going to try to be a "mother" to Phil's children in the traditional sense — they already had a mom — but, instead, to be their friend. When I was growing up, my mother was always a friend to my siblings and me (in addition to being all the other things a mom is), and I was always grateful for that because I knew she was someone I could talk to and joke with, and argue with and that nothing would ever harm that friendship. So I used that model with Phil's kids, and I'm proud to say that the friendships I established with them are as strong today as they were 30 years ago — even stronger.

Marlo Thomas' book, Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny, is available in paperback. It's both a story about her family and interviews with contemporary comedians such as Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Tina Fey.

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