Phil Donahue Lowers His Center of Gravity to Raise Cash for Marlo's Cause

updated 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/27/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Free to Be...You and Me, Marlo Thomas' feminist catechism for kids, has already been a gold record, a best-selling book and an Emmy award-winning television special. Now it has appeared in yet another incarnation—as a freewheeling party at Manhattan's chic roller disco, the Roxy. Thomas and her husband, TV talker Phil Donahue, organized the affair, jammed it with consciousness-raised luminaries and charged $50 a ticket ($25 for children). The Lionel Train people underwrote tickets for 200 youngsters whose parents couldn't pay.

The party featured gourmet fudge and desserts handcrafted by ice-cream man Tom Carvel. Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown and wife Phyllis George skipped the skating, but they took out a $500 ad in the souvenir program—also signed, improbably, by their son Lincoln, 10 months. Proceeds went to Marlo's Free to Be Foundation, which provides start-up funds for child-oriented projects like preschool programs and nutrition education classes.

Commendably, the day was devoted mainly to partying, not polemics. Henry Winkler showed up to praise Donahue's March TV special on kids—"It was powerful," he said—and to provoke squeals from pre-teen fans of Fonz. One of the biggest stars of the day was barely older than most of the guests: Allison Smith, 11, Broadway's latest Annie, joined her sidekick Sandy to belt out Tomorrow. One of the most moving performances of all came from Rosey Grier, the awesome ex-NFL tackle, who warbled his way through It's All Right to Cry from the Free to Be album. Donahue emoted in exchanges with the kiddies: "Sisters and brothers love each other," he told one girl earnestly. "Not me," she replied. Later Phil spoke privately of the women's cause and proudly of Marlo's Free to Be efforts. "I think the movement has made it easier for women to be single and not be so emotionally and financially dependent on a man. It's good," Donahue summed up, "good for our daughters, good for our sons, and I think the result will be better marriages and better kids."

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