Balancing Act

Marlo Thomas embraces reinvention -- and has a book to prove it

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 Actress-witer Marlo Thomas

Actress-witer Marlo Thomas (Randee St. Nicholas)

I once read that when "That Girl" was ending its five-year run on ABC in 1971, the show's writers wanted the series to conclude with a wedding between Marlo Thomas' character, Ann Marie, and her boyfriend, Don. But Thomas wouldn't go along, fearing it sent the wrong message to her female fans.

"That is correct," she told me this week by phone. (Unlike, she noted with a laugh, most things we may have read about her.)

"I felt it would be betraying all the girls who followed 'That Girl' to tell them the only happy ending is marriage," Thomas said. "It would be wrong to take them along on this journey and then say, at the end, 'You have to have a wedding.'"

Thomas has a new book, "It Ain't Over ... Till It's Over: Reinventing Your Life — and Realizing Your Dreams — Anytime, at Any Age"(Atria Books), which tells the stories of 60 women who changed their life trajectories — out of desire, necessity or both — and found, invariably, that happiness dwelt in places they never imagined in their 20s.

In other words, there's more than one happy ending.

"I look at my life and I've kind of been saying the same thing all along in a million different ways," she said. "A friend of mine said 'It Ain't Over' is 'Free to Be You and Me' for grown-ups. And it really is!"

Her book introduces us to a woman who started medical school at 42, a widow who turned her jewelry-making hobby into a family-supporting business and a psychiatrist who talked her husband into quitting their jobs and traveling across the country on a giant bus, among others.

"I think when you make decisions in your 20s, you think they're your decisions for life," Thomas said. "But dreams run out. Life changes.

"I remember when my parents died," she continued. "My sister and brother and I were going through all these photos and I had this thought, 'Look at the people in these pictures. These people think this is going to go on forever.' You see us laughing and singing and dancing with no inkling that someday that's all going to tatter."

The trick, she said, is not to view every change as a deficit.

"You have learn to roll with the changes or you're always going to be in a state of loss," she said. "When you lose your parents you're in a state of loss. When your kids go to college you're in a state of loss. When your house is suddenly empty and too big, you're in a state of loss.

"Life changes and we're not ready for it, even though there were signs posted all along the way," she said. "So we have to reinvent ourselves as individuals, reinvent our marriages, reinvent our careers."

Knowing that "happy" can still very much co-exist with "ending."

Marlo Thomas will be in conversation with Heidi Stevens at the Chicago Tribune Printers Row Lit Fest at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 7 in the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium of the Harold Washington Library Center. Free tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis; to pre-register, go to printersrowlitfest.org.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

 

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