Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue | Source: Instagram.com/marlothomas
Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue | Source: Instagram.com/marlothomas

Marlo Thomas's Husband of 42 Years Already Had 5 Kids So She Decided Not to Try to Become a Mother

Titi Dokubo
Feb 15, 2022
01:40 P.M.

When Marlo Thomas married her husband over 42 years ago, she, who didn't have any children, inherited his five children and became a stepmother.


However, this was not a role she had ever dreamed of, and the stories about stepmothers were never lovely. Marlo Thomas decided to do things differently and never regretted it.

Marlo Thomas was born Margaret Thomas on November 21, 1937. Before it changed to Marlo, her nickname was Margo, and she is best known for her role in "That Girl."

Marlo Thomas at the AOL BUILD Speaker Series: "Answered Prayers" on July 23, 2015, in New York | Source: Getty Images

Marlo Thomas at the AOL BUILD Speaker Series: "Answered Prayers" on July 23, 2015, in New York | Source: Getty Images

Before starring in "That Girl," she had starred in "77 Sunset Strip," "The Donna Reed Show," and "Bonanza." Thomas became an executive producer and won the Golden Globes for Best TV Star in 1967.

She produced and starred in "Free to Be... You and Me," won multiple Emmy awards, and in the 1990s, she guest-starred in "Roseanne," "Frasier," "Law & Order: SVU," and "Ugly Betty."


The actress, who made her Broadway debut in 1974, became a best-selling author in 1987 with "Free to Be... a Family: A Book About All Kinds of Belonging."


While still contributing to TV and film projects, she became an activist and has won the American Women in Radio and Television Satellite Award, Helen Caldicott Award for Nuclear Disarmament, and the William Kunstler Racial Justice Award.


Growing up, Thomas thought marriage was not a good idea because her songstress mother had abandoned a successful career to support her father's acting career.

She came to see marriage as a place for one and a half persons. It was a place where she felt one person would live their lives fully, while the half-person had to support them. She had once compared marriage to a vacuum cleaner because it sucked out all your energy and ambition.


When Thomas got married to Phil Donahue, she understood that she could define her marriage. She said,

"I was always scared of marriage. I thought that I would have to become another person, that I wouldn't be able to be me, that I would sort of be living a lie. My impression was that you had this jailer that you have to please."

Thomas and Donahue met when she went to his Chicago-based talk show in 1977. When describing their courtship, she said they fell in love, had dinner, went to bed, and that was it.


Donahue first went into broadcasting in 1957 after graduating from University. He ventured into sales briefly before returning to television in 1967 to host his show.

In 1977, he won his first Emmy Award for being an outstanding host, and in 1987, his show became the first U.S. talk show to be filmed in the Soviet Union. In 1996, they awarded him an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement.

Thomas married Donahue in 1980, became a first-time wife, and suddenly a mother of five. She never had any kids before their marriage.



All of Donahue's children were from his first marriage. His boys lived with him while his daughter lived with her mother in Illinois. When she met his kids, she liked them and found it a real treat to be around them.

Even though her dreams of motherhood were frustrated by her ambitions and society, Thomas still had a chance because she wanted it all and didn't want to compromise a career for motherhood.


However, these dreams never included being a stepmother. She recalled not wanting to be a stepmother because they were the awful people in every children's story. When she realized she was going to have the title of being a stepmother, she said,

"Oh, no, I don't want to be one of those!"

However, she had no choice because she would be a stepmother whether she liked it or not. She just had to figure out a way to be a good one.


Once she accepted her new role, she decided that she would not try and be their mother because they already had one. Instead, she would be their friend because that was the relationship she also had with her mother.

Her mother was someone she could joke with, argue with, and talk to without harming their friendship. So she said,


"So I used that model with Phil's kids, and I'm proud to say that the friendships I established with them are as strong today as they were 30 years ago — even stronger."

Phil Donahue with his sons Michael and Jim and his daughter Mary Rose at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Donahue TV show | Source: Getty Images

Phil Donahue with his sons Michael and Jim and his daughter Mary Rose at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Donahue TV show | Source: Getty Images

Once she decided how to approach the kids, they got to know each other. As she got to know them and lived with them day by day, she became more caring, interested, and mothering.


The couple revealed that the secret to their marriage is communication and believing in the simple idea that nothing could break them up.


Over the years, they have learned that everything is not a big deal, and talking things out has helped them. Donahue also pointed out that screaming and a little humor go a long way.

When they initially started to wonder about the secrets to marital success, they decided to interview celebrity couples who had been married for a long time.


They came up with the book "What Makes a Marriage Last: 40 Celebrated Couples Share with Us the Secrets to a Happy Life." The book featured stories and tips from couples who joined hands and stepped up to the challenge of making a marriage last.

Their enduring marriage didn't come without issues. Donahue used to be jealous, but he learned that jealousy could be draining and is glad it's all behind him now.

Thomas has also learned that they have been married long enough not to react too fast, especially when Donahue says something she thinks is pretty harsh. She said,

"Marriage is really worth it, and it gets better. Always tell the truth about what you're feeling, and give each other the benefit of the doubt."

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