Picks and Pans Review: That Girl and Phil
updated 11/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST
"No one would ever dare write a book about me!" Mario Thomas supposedly once declared. "I'd either pay the f——— off or kill them!" Well, Mario, get your Uzi out. The former head of her household has written a hilarious tell-all tale about life with Thomas and husband Phil Donahue.
From the endless details offered by Atholl about his three years in the Thomas-Donahue orbit, a more fitting name for "That Girl" would be "That Churl." Mario, whose early-morning voice, "to the untrained ear, sounds like Styrofoam crunching," is, according to Atholl, a spoiled, petty Hollywood princess on a perpetual reign of terror.
It's hard to choose the funniest story in this memoir. Maybe it's Mario in a swivet when Desmond brings home tulips that are not the correct shade of white. Maybe it's Mario on a tear when she can't find a certain black dress for an important event and accuses the staff of stealing it. "It was ridiculous to suggest that I might have stolen your dress," Atholl says he informed Thomas when the garment had finally been located. "You know I never wear anything strapless."
Maybe it's Mario rebuking Desmond for serving snacks to Phil's college buddies with linen napkins, then ordering him to count the napkins.
"I told her that since she hated paper napkins, I presumed her guests should have linen.
" 'Not for these people,' she replied. 'Give them paper in the future. They'll never know the difference.' "
Or maybe it's the terrified-of-being-kid-napped Mario selling up elaborate security systems—and the fact that the butler would sometimes trigger the alarms just to frighten Thomas.
One can only wonder why Atholl stayed so long on the payroll. Perhaps it was out of regard for Phil, who's portrayed as even-tempered and easygoing (except when confronted with his wife's especially irrational and intemperate shenanigans). Perhaps he was trying to collect material for this book. Or maybe it had to do with Mario's uncanny ability to "transform herself from a savage beast into a sympathetic little girl in less than 30 minutes—and both portrayals were completely convincing."
The book could have used some editing. There's considerable repetition of details about the New York City and Westport, Conn., homes and about the domestic staff. After a point, the parade of Mario horror stories becomes numbing and tedious. Still, Atholl has a very nice sense of irony and a breezy style. Book him on Donahue. (St. Martin's, $16.95)