Thursday, December 16, 2010

Growing Up Laughing: Growing up with Marlo

Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of FunnyMy rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'm giving this four stars not based on the quality of the writing per se, but because of how much I enjoyed it. Having just finished David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice, I realized that my humor preferences are much more upbeat than cynical and negative.

This is not a straightforward memoir. Thomas intersperses recollections of her growing up with interviews of famous comedians, in which she asked them how they grew up to be funny. Most of the comedians she interviewed--Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Jon Stewart, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams--are my favorites. Many of the chapters start with classic jokes, and the book is chock-full of wonderful photos.

I grew up on Marlo Thomas...I was a "Free to Be You and Me" kid. I cried when I read the chapter about why she decided to create "Free to Be You and Me" (because she was looking for a book for her niece, Dionne, and she couldn't find anything that validated and encouraged girls' choices and independence). I memorized the sketches, and my sister saved up all her money so she could buy a copy of the record for her second-grade (and my third-grade) teacher, Mr. Sposito. "Free to Be You and Me" was like a lifeline for us little girls in the 1970s.

She wrote about how she became a the daughter of a conservative Republican Catholic. But even though Danny Thomas was traditional and conservative (Presidents Reagan and Ford spoke at his funeral), it was clear that he had the utmost faith in his daughter's abilities. He even embraced her liberal husband Phil Donohue, and he loved each member of his family passionately.

When Thomas married Donohue, he was raising four sons on his own, so she was seriously outnumbered. All of the males would constantly ask her where things were, including Phil: "Where are my shoes?" She wrote:
"What is it about men? They think we women have a radar attached to our uterus. And the thing that killed me was that I knew where they were. I knew where Phil's shoes were. I knew where all four boys' shoes were...I was beginning to understand why there hadn't been a female Shakespeare or Mozart. There wasn't room in their heads for symphonies and sonnets--their brains were cluttered with where everyone's shoes were."
The only sad thing about Thomas' life is her plastic surgery. In her younger days, she was a truly beautiful woman. Now her face has been changed by plastic surgery, and she's lightened her hair to light brown. Yes, she looks great for 73, but she doesn't look like herself any more.

Back to the book--some have criticized it for being too upbeat and "happy family," perhaps looking for more of a Sedaris tome. But her life has been happy. Clearly she is one of those people who exudes positive energy, and she draws that kind of positive energy to her. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish, but perhaps that reflects my own sentimental history with her work and my overall attitude about life.

Marlo Thomas seems to truly live this quote by Whoopi Goldberg in her book: "We're here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark."

Check out this little video clip of Marlo and Phil visiting Ellen DeGeneres' show.

If you're interested in following Marlo Thomas' current activities, check out her great web site. She features jokes of the day, interesting conversations with women, and other articles. I follow her activities on Facebook. I've checked out Season 1 of "That Girl" from the library and can't wait to dig in!

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