If Judge Cynthia Boris catches you singing "Who's That Girl?" in her courtroom, she'll whack you with her gavel so fast that your teeth will still be airborne by the time you can say "¿Quien es esta nina?"
Long before Mary Tyler Moore tried to make it on her own, another young woman packed her bags and left home for the big city hoping to leave her mark on the world. It may seem a boring concept now, but in 1966 it was new and exciting, and it inspired many young women to strike out on their own. Who am I talking about? Why it's That Girl!
Facts of the Case
Prior to the mid-1960s, most women followed the same path. They lived at home until they married, moved out to live with their husbands, became housewives and mothers, and stayed that way until death did them part. All that changed in the wild and wooly sixties. Young women, who always wanted more, finally found the courage and the support to go out into the world—alone! Yes, people whispered about it on street corners! "Did you hear about Margaret's daughter! She went to college! And what about Martin's little girl? She moved to the city to become an artist!" It was a crazy time and for many people, it's hard to remember, let alone imagine an era where a girl was shunned for trying to make it on her own. Want to see what life was like? Pop in That Girl: Season One on DVD and experience a slightly comedic—but still pretty realistic—view of what it was like to be a young woman in the sixties with dreams of hitting it big.
That Girl is what it is because of Marlo Thomas. As a young actress, Marlo caught the eye of studio heads, but they just couldn't seem to find a vehicle that worked for her. So she came in with an idea: a show about a young woman who goes out on her own and tries to make it as an actress. In a world where June Cleaver and Harriett Nelson were role models to young women, the studio execs weren't sure about the idea. But they gave it a shot and That Girl was born.
Dark-haired Marlo Thomas plays Ann Marie, the struggling young actress. She brings a real innocence and sweetness to the series with her wide-eyed expressions and deep, scratchy voice. Throughout the first season, we watch as Ann moves into her first apartment (a true thrill for any young woman), finds a boyfriend in the form of Donald (Ted Bessell), and juggles life as a wannabe star forced to earn a living in a nine-to-five world. Ann's father, Lou, was played by Lew Parker, recast after the pilot when veteran character actor Harold Gould was deemed "too ethnic." Ann's struggles for her father's acceptance play a large part in the series and add up to some of the most poignant moments. Rosemary DeCamp was frequently featured as Ann's quiet but supportive mother. You'll also find familiar faces Bernie Kopell (Love Boat), Dabney Coleman (Nine to Five), Ronnie Shell (Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C) and Ruth Buzzi (Laugh-in) as Ann's friends and neighbors.
I'll admit that Ann does get into some ridiculous spots, like where she has to play a mop in a children's program, where Donald saves her from a staged robbery, and when she gets arrested in a skimpy cave girl outfit. However, balance those with real life situations like trying to impress Donald's parents, trying to make auditions without losing her day job, and just trying to make ends meet and that's what sells the show. We root for Ann. We want her to get that job. We want her to be liked and we want her to do well. That's why even the most mundane storyline is captivating and charming.
What I like best about That Girl is Ann's never say die attitude. Though she faces disappointment after disappointment, she never waivers in her desire to make it on her own. It was that determination that made me (as a young teen) long for the day when I could spread my wings and fly, just like Ann.
Here I must give kudos to Shout! Factory for doing such an excellent job packaging this DVD. The foldout digipack is bright and colorful, and makes marvelous use of the series' distinctive graphics. There's a small booklet with a nice forward and detailed episode synopses, and a slipcase with a wonderfully bright-eyed Marlo on the front and more photos on the back. The DVDs each start with a moving montage of photos and sixties graphics. The navigation is clear and simple, while the quality of the picture and sound are both very good.
True fans of the series will definitely enjoy the extras on this DVD set. There's a present day interview with Marlo Thomas where she talks about the show and her career, several commentaries with Marlo and writer /creator Bill Persky, original promos, and the original pilot (where Don is Ann's agent and boyfriend—bad move). You'll also find a fun piece called "That Girl in New York." This featurette took me totally by surprise. What it is is raw footage of Marlo and Ted Bessell doing the location shoots in New York that would be sprinkled throughout the series to make it look like it was all shot there. Marlo and Bill Persky comment as you watch (otherwise it wouldn't make much sense) and it's delightful to hear them laughing about things that happened to them all those years ago. I quite enjoyed it.
As a young woman who left home for the Big Apple with dreams of becoming an actress, That Girl struck a real chord with me. But I don't think you have to be in that circumstance to enjoy this sweet comedy from the sixties. Sure, some of the sentiments may be dated, the clothing and hairstyles certainly are, but the plot really is timeless. For anyone who's ever gone after a dream, for anyone who's ever tried to make it on their own—That Girl is for you!
The court finds That Girl: Season One to be innocent as Marlo Thomas' smile.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Original That Girl pilot episode
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