“Free To Be…You And Me” 40 years later

Celebrating a classic in Manhattan

Celebrating a classic in Manhattan

Television, radio, film and listening to vinyl were a huge part of my early childhood in the 1970s. Simply being entertained was the focus over sticking with particular genres. I loved STYX and watched Hee Haw; enjoyed The Six Million Dollar Man as much as Broadway soundtracks (well, not really AS much but I did like seeing bionics in action).

I think that it is really something that as a kid, I was very attracted to broadcasting that had strong social messages:  “All in the Family”; “That Girl”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, to name a few. Watching these shows as an adult, I realize that the themes, with which I now agree, were totally over my head more than 30 years ago. Given that I most certainly did not fully grasp what I was ingesting, something in them captured my attentiveness.

My introduction to “Free To Be…You And Me” was around 1980 when my 3rd grade class performed songs from the album for our family and friends in the auditorium of our elementary school.

Invitation to the 3rd Grade Production (made by me)!

Invitation to the 3rd Grade Production (made by me)!

I loved the music, which was catchy and fun.  After getting to know the lyrics, the realization of the meaning behind the words began to sink in. It was very cool that Rosey Grier, with his “defensive end” NFL stature and deep voice, told children that it is totally ALL RIGHT to cry.  Marlo Thomas & Harry Belafonte instructing kids that parents are people who can be in any profession regardless of gender? Yes!  Mel Brooks as a baby in the nursery of a hospital trying to figure out if he is a boy or a girl? Fantastic!

The strong message of moving past stereotypes, treating people fairly, embracing friendships, embracing differences and most importantly, embracing ourselves was one heckuva lesson to learn decades ago.  Some feel that it was a feminist message. I disagree. I believe “Free To Be” communicates a human message: the importance of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin and respecting others.  All people. Not just one gender, one age range, one color, one religion, one “type”.  People.

Living in Manhattan, I have access to spectacular events, many of which celebrate things that I loved as a child and still love as an adult.  I should add that while protesting and liberation movements were not a part of my childhood, the fair treatment of other was a vital theme (also, I think that I was born with this kind of internal moral compass that sounds an alarm in my head when exposed to the unjust but that is a different story for another time!)

So, when I had the opportunity to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of “Free To Be…You And Me” hosted by Marlo Thomas and friends, I seized it in a New York minute.

Alan Alda, Rosey Grier, Carole Hart, Gloria Steinem & Marlo Thomas

Alan Alda, Rosey Grier, Carole Hart, Gloria Steinem & Marlo Thomas

The event at the Paley Center was co-moderated by Gloria Steinem (!!) and Marlo (!!) with a panel: Alan Alda and Rosey Grier, who were featured on the album and TV special; Carole Hart, the magical producer and Lettie Cottin Pogrebin, the visionary who co-guided the creation of “Free To Be”.  The panel discussions were intellectual, interesting and stimulating.  Clips of the TV special were shown and it was quite moving watching them on the big screen along with the “Free to Be” stars. Fortunately the talented writers, composers, lyricists, producers, comedians, poets and musicians behind the scenes like Dan Greenburg, Carol Hall, Sheldon Harnick, Stephen Lawrence and Tony Walton also joined the celebration. The list of brilliant contributors to the “Free To Be” album, book, TV special and Foundation is endless. I think that the prerequisite to be a part of the project (in addition to talent) was to believe in the premise:  “different does not mean wrong”!  Good stuff, right?

It was strongly acknowledged that while we have come a long way, our society has not fully achieved what “Free To Be” set out to do in 1974. We still have a lot of work to do on enriching the “sense of self” and empowering others to do the same.  What a great challenge for us!


Being a part of the celebration of something close to my heart was a tremendous experience.  I shall forever be “glad to have a friend like” Free To Be You…and Me.




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