Single Dad Phil Donahue Prayed 5 Kids Would Accept Childless Marlo Thomas in the Family — At First It Was a ‘Disaster’

Marlo Thomas never intended to marry until she met talk show host Phil Donahue, who was divorced with five children. Donahue was nervous about his four teenage sons not getting along with his wife, and on the other side, Thomas had to adjust to living with five men after being alone all her life.

Marlo Thomas is a woman of many talents. She’s a singer, actor, author, and social activist. Thomas was a famously single celebrity with no intention of getting married.

The actress confessed that marriage started to sound far-fetched when she looked at her parents’ relationship. Her father was a famous television personality, Danny Thomas, who traveled the country as a comedian and eventually landed his show, “The Danny Thomas Show.”

Marlo Thomas in New York in 2019 | Source: Getty Images

Her mother, Rose Marie, was an aspiring radio presenter and singer, but she quit her career to travel the country with her husband and start a family.

However, seeing her mother’s sacrifices, Thomas said it taught her one crucial thing in life: the ability to love unconditionally and live with no regrets.

Thomas is also a feminist activist who participated in the 70’s feminist movement. The singer said while she marched, she thought of how much her mother had left behind to be a present parent.

Looking at some of Rose’s pictures as a performer brought Thomas sadness because she found it unfair that her mother had sacrificed so much of herself to be a wife and mother.

Thomas even said she and her siblings would have been fine with half of her because their mother would have had it all—a career and a loving family life.

Although Thomas did not want a family, she grew up in a close-knit brood. Her parents usually spent time apart because of her father’s busy schedule, but Thomas and her siblings also spent much time out of school to be with their family.

As Thomas grew as an activist, she pledged to be her mother’s wildest dreams and live a life devoted only to her needs and wants both in her career and personal life.

But the older she got, the more she was asked about walking down the aisle. Her mother also used to tell her she would die alone, so Thomas learned early on to ignore outside voices telling her how to live.

However, Thomas found love and happiness with talk show host Phil Donahue, who was an unexpected choice for someone who had no children and had lived alone her whole life.

Donahue was divorced and had five children he lived with full-time. The two met on Donahue’s show, and the minute they went on air, the chemistry between them lit up.

Thomas shared a beautiful memory of the early stages of her dating days with Donahue. The couple was walking in a garden as they looked lovingly into each other’s eyes.

By the time Thomas was in her early 30s, most of her friends were married, and she had already been a bridesmaid several times, not to forget the number of times she was asked to be a Godmother.

Most of her friends longed for marriage and would cry about not receiving proposals. On the flip side, Thomas, who was vocal about not wanting to tie the knot, was always proposed to.

Thomas even brought her reality to a sitcom she was starring in and producing, “That Girl,” where she played a single aspiring actress living in New York.

Thomas said it was one of the first times on television that a woman openly confessed to not wanting to get married, lived alone, and had no family nearby.

She even said the writers wanted to change the storyline and have a six-year-old nephew or aunt visit her character because people feared presenting a single woman with no family on television.

The idea of not having marriage in her cards was never about her shortcomings. Thomas said she did not doubt that she could be loyal or love someone, but she thought marriage was not a space for two people but rather an environment for one and a half persons—one person with a successful career and a half person who supports and puts their career aspirations on the back burner.

Marlo Thomas  and Phil Donahue in New York in 2019 | Source: Getty Images

Essentially, Thomas understood marriage from the perspective of her parents and society then. She confessed she was scared of marriage and thought it would change who she was. From her perspective, the real-life commitment looked like a jail.

However, Donahue came along and changed her mind. Since the television host had already been married, he did not want to do it again, but one thing that also connected them was their Catholic upbringing.

Their differences were significant, too. Thomas had never been married or had kids, but their connection was instant, although the singer described their first date as awkward and their second one, “fine.”

Regarding having children, Thomas believed society and her career ambitions got in the way of motherhood. To have to choose strictly between her career and children was something she could not grapple with because “I want it all,” said Thomas.

Meeting Phil Donahue’s Children
Before meeting Thomas, Donahue had a romantic history with his first wife, Margret Cooney, with whom he shares five children.

Donahue was also a devoted Catholic in his teens; he was even a choir boy, but the television host distanced himself from the church after he divorced Cooney.

His reason for stepping away from church came from how he ended his first marriage. Donahue had not annulled his union with Conney before getting into his second matrimony; therefore, he wasn’t allowed to receive sacraments from the church.

The host met Thomas in 1977 and asked her for dinner the first day they met. Thomas thought of him as a handsome and charming Irishman.

Since both of them did not want to get married, the singer believed their relationship worked well because there was no pressure of chasing time.

While Thomas said her first date with Donahue was awkward, she also gushed about how instantly she fell in love with him. “It was kind of love at first sight. Or something. Something chemical happened,” she reiterated.

The couple eventually walked down the aisle in 1981, and Thomas had to live with five men after having lived with only two dogs. She admitted the transition was shocking:

“I went from having two dogs to having four boys and a husband.”

When the couple started dating, Thomas was impressed that Donahue was responsible for four boys while his daughter lived with her mother. Her first meeting with them was successful. The singer thought her stepchildren were well-behaved and friendly to her.

Donahue, on the other hand, had prayed hard for his boys to behave well, be kind, and to accept the woman in his life, and they lived up to his expectations.

Donahue and Thomas credited each other for bringing much change into each other’s lives. The television host said he learned to listen because he knew his wife would always have something to say, which has taught him much about the societal issues he was unaware of.

As for Thomas, she admitted it was a culture shock when she first moved in with the Donahue men. Thomas felt she had nowhere to go. The boys had their rooms; she and Donahue had theirs, and the living and dining area was open. Eventually, she found comfort in the dining room, where she would do some reading.

As for living with boys, Thomas revealed, “It was just a disaster. Everything was a mess. Everything was broken.” One of the things that annoyed her were the lack of towels to dry after a shower. So she got a lot of towels but made it clear that the white ones were hers only.

Naturally, the singer knew being a stepmother would be demanding, especially with five teenage boys in and out of college. When the house was full during school holidays, the place felt crowded for her because she had been accustomed to living alone for over four decades.

However, with time, Thomas got closer to the kids and loved spending time with them. Christmas with the Donahue boys had become one of the best times for her.

When asked how she and Donahue they knew they were meant to be together, Thomas revealed they had broken up three months before they got married. The couple realized that balancing work, living in different cities, and blending their families was starting to take a toll on their relationship.

They decided to separate, intending not to bring misery into each other’s lives. Donahue started dating, and Thomas rekindled a relationship with her old boyfriend, but they were both miserable.

One night, Thomas got a call from Donahue, and he said, “I never thought anyone could be irreplaceable.” They were married 12 weeks later. For Valentine’s Day, Thomas shared a special picture from the day of her wedding and gushed over her forever Valentine.

Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue’s Life in Their 80s
After being married for over four decades, Thomas said marriage has opened up several doors inside her. She explained there were doors for trust, jealousy, space, and teammate she had opened.

The singer also explained that her door for trust did not symbolize any distrust in her marriage, but she hoped to stay true to herself and put things dearest to her heart as a priority.

The couple loved to travel, and they’ve traveled a lot in the four decades they have spent together. They even visited the Great Wall of China, and Thomas shared a picture from that trip.

However, quality time together is also important, and the singer proved this when she shared a photo of her and her husband enjoying popcorn during the Superbowl.

This quality time is also extended to the couple’s grandchildren. They have special dinners and outings together. But when she’s not the grandmother of the year, Thomas gives her husband a haircut.

The actress shared a video of her trimming Donahue’s hair, and he appeared terrified at first but eventually trusted his wife to do a good job.

Donahue and Thomas are still head over heels in love. They still walk around holding hands, share a kiss in public, and dance together. The couple was asked how they keep their romance alive, and Thomas said their main prerogative is to make time for one another.

Some dates they love to keep in the rotation are spending weekends away, going out to their favorite restaurants, or staying in and having a cozy movie night.

Sometimes, Donahue takes his wife to comedy clubs or sports games. Luckily, Thomas appreciates spending time with her husband even if it means doing things only he loves.