Marlo Thomas updates “Free To Be You and Me” for a new generation

Marlo Thomas is an actress who means different things to different generations. Baby boomers know her as Danny Thomas‘ daughter and the star of That Girl (a show that has come up recently as the foremother of shows like New Girl).

Gen X knows her as Phil Donahue‘s wife and the creator of “Free to Be You and Me.” She’s often seen as host of that show about St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital that seems to run at random times, pre-empting other shows I want to watch. (The cause is a worthy one, but the show makes me tired.) And for all generations in NYC, she is frequently on stage — most recently in Broadway’s Relatively Speaking.

The 73-year-old Thomas is one of my celebrity encounters, although only people over 40 are duly impressed. She came to town for the world premiere recording of Songs of Wisdom from Old Turtle; she narrated and I was a chorus girl, er, in the chorus. The recording garnered a bit of silly controversy because the subject matter was God and most of the chorus was gay (this was in 1999). Someone who obviously didn’t know Marlo’s politics asked her about performing with us. She said, “Why not? After all, I’m Lebanese.”

Now Thomas is turning her attention to the subject of teen bullying. Last week she, in partnership with the Ad Council, released the first PSA in her campaign “Free to Be … Unbullied” to help parents talk with their children about the subject, with experts and counselors advising on the best way to approach kids who may be involved — as victim, bully or bystander.

The PSA is powerful and moving. Watch it and pass it along.

Thomas got involved in the cause after getting a letter from the parents of 14-year-old Kameron Jacobsen, who committed suicide in January. She realized that despite the gender stereotypes her “Free To Be … You and Me” campaign shattered, kids still don’t feel free to be who they are — and some end their lives as a result.

Thomas writes:

The idea that healthy children should die, not from an errant cancer cell, but because of the abject malice of another child, is something we need to take on. And stop.

Whether you’re familiar with Marlo Thomas or not, her involvement in anti-bullying brings a strong, influential supporter to the cause. And with things still happening like the ridiculous Michigan bill that permits bullying in the name of a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” we need all the supporters we can get.

You can read Thomas’s thoughts on the promotional campaign at HuffPo; expect to hear a lot more about it in coming months. Meanwhile, join me in thanking Thomas and share your thoughts on “Free To Be … Unbullied.”

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