Or, why we love That Girl and Phil
TRASH TALKING BIO, TAKE ONE There are so many exquisite moments in steward Desmond Atholl's tell-all that tells all. This ain't no roman à clef, in other words; it's a cutting, richly detailed, tension-filled diary of overseeing the Marlo Thomas–Phil Donahue household. Neither my favorite chapter title ("Free to Be ... Me Me Me") nor my favorite existential dilemma ("Each day as I rode up the elevator, I wondered, 'Will I be greeted by Joan Crawford or Joan of Arc?' ") comes close to my favorite anecdote, spilled in the ominously titled Chapter 26, "Who's Got the Cookies?" Seems Marlo'd gathered her posse (which included Gloria Steinem) for a cruise on the couple's yacht, the Mugsy (named after Marlo, of course). An oversight by the chef results in a snack smorgasbord that omits Marlo's favorite dessert. "Nooooooo cookieeeesssss!!!" she screeches at Atholl. "No fucking cookies?" His reaction: "I had an irresistible urge to laugh, overwhelmed by the absurdity of the situation. Standing before me was an adult woman throwing a temper tantrum over some forgotten cookies.... I had visions of her floating through the sound, screaming to the seagulls, the fish — any creature that would listen — about her lost cookies." After reflecting on his knee-jerk desire to spank her, he punch-lines by referring to the That Girl star as "that cookie monster." And mighty tasty too. (Eddy)
TAKE TWO For anyone who's been kicked while down, been laid low by an overbearing boss, or simply had to cope with some behemoth beeyatch, That Girl and Phil is the dog-eared paperback to keep by the bedside. Laugh yourself to sleep — or into a tumescent fantasy state over what you might poison-pen someday. My fave excerpt centers on Atholl's primo turf — party planning — his sympathy for Thomas's put-upon hubby, and a post–yacht cruise soiree for staffers on the 20th anniversary of Donahue. A disagreement over whether to sufficiently water the guests with cocktails turns into one of the volume's more memorable tiffs:
It wasn't difficult to locate the source of the scream. Marlo was in the dining room glaring at the buffet, her face pale and contorted. "How dare you serve cold cuts in my house!" she exclaimed. "It's just so low class and common! And white bread and pickles! And, my God, meat lasagna!! Fucker, you've done it again!!!"
Tired of her constant abuse, I replied, "Miss Thomas, please do not use the F word in my presence. It is not a word I am accustomed to hearing. In fact, I find it quite offensive. Phil requested this buffet, and these were his explicit instructions."
Marlo pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen and loudly announced so that all the help could hear, "Take no notice of Phil! He knows nothing about being graceful! And never, never serve cold cuts in my house again! Even if the guests are common enough to eat them!"
Later, waiters hired for the evening express astonishment that the hollering hoyden could really be that beret tosser they had seen on TV. Atholl's response: "Television is just a fantasy. This is real life!" Drama queens, start your sheep. (Kimberly Chun)
TAKE THREE I was a Borders book-shelving slave, making certain that Fiction, Mystery, and the all-important Film-TV-Radio sections maintained a sterile, organized-by-robots appearance. I did my time in the pre-Amazon, halcyon early days of the business, before it even chain-snaked out of Michigan, back when there were a mere two or three stores. (Oh woe, the lost income opportunities.) Somewhere up near the top of my overstuffed grab bag of Borders memories is the day the hardcover version of Atholl's That Girl and Phil arrived. Anytime I was literally on my knees with a new batch of Leonard Maltin guides, I could reach over, and there was that girl — looking like she was going to jump out of her skin and race mad-skulled toward me! Nothing cured the Borders boredom of shifting the same books a few inches up and down the same shelves better than a quick look at Atholl's huffily related tales of cold-cut and cookie rages and a glance at photos of his subject in full-on maniac mode. The only thing funnier: the day one of Paul Harvey's mass-market paperbacks arrived with a printing error so extreme that the cover photo made him look like his face was melting from nuclear fourth-degree burns. And that, my friends, is the rest of the story. (Johnny Ray Huston)