For as long as I can remember I have seen St. Jude commercials on TV. When I was younger I had no real knowledge of who Marlo Thomas was outside of the pretty lady promoting this hospital. I use to think my God she passionate about what she does. Day and night I see her urging us to shop where you see the “looking glass” symbol (it is actually a magnifying glass) with the logo too hard to resist:
“Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life, and give to those who are not.”
Every time I utter those words it brings chills to my body and tears to my eyes. Before I knew anything more than that, I knew St. Jude and Marlo Thomas were special. Boy I had no idea how right I was.
The first time I truly learned the story of St. Jude and Danny Thomas’s vision was when I watched Marlo on the Larry King show. She was explaining how no child, rich or poor, is turned away from St. Jude because of their family’s inability to pay. In fact, families weren’t even billed. Those who could pay were asked to make a donation to the hospital instead. Then she proceeded to describe how the halls were lined with murals to brighten the children’s spirits and that they used red wagons instead of wheel chairs. That this was a place of hope and love instead of fear and death. People came from all over the world for treatment and cures. St. Jude is not only a hospital but also a research center. This means that for every patient, there is a doctor and scientist working to save a life and prevent another from having to suffer in the future. It is a remarkable mission. More about St. Jude in a minute.
Besides her work for the hospital, Marlo is also one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood. I have seen and loved her on Law and Order SVU and Friends. She is even mentioned constantly on Will and Grace by Megan Mullally’s character, Karen Walker. That is how much a part of our culture she has become. So when I heard she was going to be appearing at the 92Y with John Turturro in NYC I knew I had to be there too.
Marlo in person is everything you would want her to be. Her grace, beauty, and charm come across even from the stage. You feel like you have known her your whole life. I loved listening to her talk and I could have sat there for a week and never have been bored. She is a born speaker and entertainer. It doesn’t hurt that she has led an incredible life. But this kind of magnetism can’t be taught. In fact, I can’t even picture her as a little girl. She doesn’t seem mortal. She seems so perfect but in a super kind down to earth way. To borrow from Lady Gaga, Marlo was “born this way.”
I learned so many things at this lecture. I knew she was famous for her show, That Girl. I knew she was a pioneer for portraying a single woman on television. But I had no idea she created the concept, wrote the show, and even produced it. I wonder where that kind of brains and guts comes from. I loved that she never strived to be only someone’s wife but ended up happy married to Phil Donahue who was in the audience and looked as great as his wife. Marlo’s life makes having all seem easy and possible.
On February 16th, the 50th anniversary of the opening of St. Jude, this quote describing the funeral of founder Danny Thomas was re-tweeted a million times:
"The city of Memphis came out to say goodbye. By the thousands they stood in line -- citizens, doctors, scientists, bald-headed children whose lives were being saved -- to pass his casket and say thank you to a man who made a promise and kept it."
Last May I was in Memphis and had planned to visit St. Jude’s to pay my respects to Danny Thomas. I didn't end up having a chance but some day when I go back I plan to do just that. I would also love to be able to donate toys to the children and volunteer at the hospital.
When I found out I was going to be seeing Marlo Thomas, I purchased her memoir “Growing Up Laughing.” The best way to describe this read is by the USA Today quote on the cover that reads: ”this one is special.”
The chapter in which she writes so eloquently about St. Jude is the second to last of her book and while I sobbed like a baby the first time I read it, her words stuck with me like white on rice. No matter what I could not help myself. I keep rereading it over and over again and then to anyone who would listen. I just love what it says about the meaning of life, about Marlo’s talent for writing, her compassion as a person, and why everyone loves “that girl.”
I still hear this is my head:
“Pack up your bag, get out the door, you don’t need chemo anymore. Then I cried.”
Me too Marlo; Me too.
For Great Ways to Support St. Jude in Your Area
For St. Jude’s 50th Anniversary