'That Girl' star marks 50 years since TV's 1st lead young female professional

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Fifty years ago Thursday, actress Marlo Thomas began a five-year run as "The Girl." And a half century later, we mark the occasion because the comedy set a precedent in prime time that can still be felt today.

ABC and Thomas made history during a very different time, when almost all of the women on television were wives or secretaries.

Strong women dominate prime time shows today, but back then, such role-models simply weren't on the air until Thomas came on to the scene.

"There hadn't been a young girl with a dream who really wanted something," she said.

It's difficult to believe in this day and age, but it was considered revolutionary to have a young professional woman at the heart of a sitcom.

"She actually said in one of the episodes to her father, 'I don't want to get married. I want a career,'" she said. "Nobody had ever said that on television, and so that was a huge breakthrough."

Thomas based her character of Anne Marie on her real life, and she pitched it to ABC herself. So the star was determined to make her presence felt behind the scenes as well.

"It was very, very challenging, because I was the only woman in the room for so many years," she said. "And so I was in the constant situation of saying, 'Well, a girl really wouldn't say that to her boyfriend.'"

But as important as "That Girl' was, her impact was even greater for a generation of women who realized there was more to life than love, marriage and a baby carriage.

"It was confirming for me, and it was confirming for them," she said.

In the last season, Anne Marie's boyfriend, played by the late Ted Bessel, finally proposed to her. But true to the spirit of the character, Thomas insisted there be no wedding. She wanted to preserve Anne Marie's independence to the very end.
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