Superstar television duo Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue put their hearts and minds into 600 pages of one-on-one interviews with 40 celebrated and diverse couples who share secrets to their happy lives together. The resulting book, “What Makes a Marriage Last,” is not just another Pollyanna tale or raw expose. Only this pair could get useful and revelatory details from A-listers based on trust earned by their 166 combined years.
Thomas and Donahue will participate in a Zoom author talk May 14 in conversation with Arlene and Alan Alda that is part of the Book Festival of the MJCCA In Your Living Room series.
“We knew many of these couples, and many we did not,” Thomas said. “They knew they could trust us with no axe to grind, … couples of all races, ages, didn’t matter. They all wanted to find their soulmates, someone who has their back and a ‘love cushion,’ with support springs underneath.”
Donahue, in his deep velvety voice, echoed, “When we met with all the couples, it was like a double date. The emphasis was on honesty, not lasciviousness. This was part of their journey. Nothing was off the record. We did not go in as reporters.” Marlo added, “Well, some consented because Phil talked them into it. Like Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Bacon were initially reluctant.”
The banter between these two was both introspective and joyful. Listen in.
Marcia: Why write this book now?
Marlo: Our 40th anniversary is this month, and we wanted to do something positive.
We started with Rosalynn’s partnership with Jimmy Carter. Actually, we met at The Carter Center in Atlanta, which I thought was wonderful. Rosalynn worked with him on the farm business initially, then sat in on his Cabinet meetings during the presidency. They were among the few who talked about the role of faith is their marriage as did the Pogrebins about Judaism.
Marcia: How so?
Marlo: Letty and Bert Pogrebin had only known each other six months. On their honeymoon, she brought a menorah with tiny birthday candles, and he thought “I’ve married a fanatical super Jew.” On a deeper level, she talked about repairing the world and the “shonda” that her parents hid that they were divorced previously.
Marcia: What’s the role of therapy and problem solving in solid marriages?
Phil: Many spoke of professional counseling as a real act of love to seek an interpreter versus a referee so we hear each other better and don’t repeat a cycle of misunderstandings. Almost every type of challenge is mentioned in this book. Michael J. Fox’s illness, Judy Woodruff’s child with spina bifida, Jamie Lee Curtis’ addiction, Kyra Sedgwick’s financial devastation with Bernie Madoff, you name it.
Marlo: Add Mark Consuelos’ stormy times with Kelly Rippa – he threw his wedding ring out of the window – or his mistrust of her when she claimed to be “at home scrubbing toilets.” He paid her a surprise visit, and there she was with cleaning tools doing just that. Or Jessie Jackson’s wife dealing with his “indiscretion” [illegitimate child].
Marcia: Did you talk about your own marriage?
Phil: Initially I didn’t want to but thought it would not be “kosher” to refuse. It just came out naturally.
Marlo: Writing this book together was like editing a movie. After we finished an interview, we would collaborate in the car. “Wasn’t that part interesting?” Phil has written two books and I’ve written eight, so we put our thoughts together.
Remember we got married in our 40s. You have to know who you are to have a good marriage and not be some screaming baby!”
Marcia: What couples did you not get?
Marlo: The Obamas and the Bushs, though Laura Bush was in my other book. Michelle [Obama] has too many requests and couldn’t pick and choose.
Marcia: How has the pandemic affected you?
Marlo: Normally for our anniversary, we would go off to China, Indonesia or Italy. This year we are being strict about staying home and cleaning all the deliveries with Clorox like everyone else. This year we will go for a walk three times around the park. (laughing)
Phil: Being home watching Marlo for three meals a day and no housekeeper has taught me what a “waterbug” she is doing five things at once. It took me two weeks to figure out how to do laundry. I knew the washing machine and dryer were both round with windows. During this pandemic, we find that we can take care of ourselves.
Marlo: Yes, and I’m making a mean pasta sauce.
Join the Zoom presentation at 8 p.m. May 14. Hear about other couples such as Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone; Elton John and David Furnish; Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner; Chip and Joanna Gaines; Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan; and even the oldest living married couple in the U.S. A book purchase is required to attend. Register at atlantajcc.org/bookfestival.
Marlo Thomas is an award-winning actress, author, and activist whose body of work has earned her four Emmy Awards, the George Foster Peabody Award, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, and induction into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. Thomas is also the national outreach director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This is her eighth book.
Phil Donahue is a writer, producer, journalist, and media pioneer who revolutionized the talk-show format. The “Donahue” show was honored with 20 Daytime Emmys (10 for the show, 10 for Outstanding Host), and in 1996, Donahue was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to television journalism. He has been inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award.