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Marlo Thomas: Words Can Change Lives

It's no secret that ordinary words have the power to change lives.

Marlo Thomas proves that once again in her latest book, "The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn!" It's a collection of inspiring stories from regular people who heard exactly what they needed to hear, when they needed to hear it.


some of her favorites from the new book in a discussion with co-anchor Julie Chen on The Early Show Wednesday.

The first volume was a bestseller four years ago. It contained stories from celebrities about words that changed their lives.

This volume has 101 first-person stories from average Americans that were selected from thousands of letters.

All the proceeds from both books go to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital for Children in Memphis, Tenn. It was founded by her famous father, the late actor/entertainer Danny Thomas, in 1962.

Marlo also has a new DVD out with the first season of episodes of "That Girl," the comedy TV series in which she starred from 1966 to 1971.

Words make a difference, Thomas observed, "and they live long, even after people are gone."

Thomas told Chen a story of her own, about what motivated the first book, and how that led to the second one.

"I was asked by a father to send a story from my life to guide his 16-year-old daughter on her birthday," Thomas said. "She was a big fan, and I remembered the time in my life when I was struggling to be an actress and I got my first big break — in the play, 'Gigi.'

"I was 17 years old. All the reviewers and all the interviewers were comparing me to my famous father. Would be I be as good as Danny Thomas? Would I last as long? It was very scary.

"And I went to my father and I said, 'Daddy, I never thought I'd say this, but I don't want to be a Thomas anymore. I want to change my name and get as far away as I can.'

"And my father said, 'I raised you to be a thoroughbred, and thoroughbreds run their own races. They don't look at any of the other horses. They just raise wear their blinders and they run. And that's what you have to do. Don't look at me or anybody else. You just run your own race.'

"Those words, 'Run your own race,' have been a real touchstone for me. Whenever anybody's advising me and I'm trying to figure out what to do at a crossroads, I always think, 'Is this my race I'm running, or somebody else's?'

"So, I thought, 'I'm sure a lot of people have a story like that.' So, I asked a lot of my famous friends, and they all did. And my other friends, as well. And that's how the first book came along.

"And then, after the first book, when I was promoting it, people started writing me and saying, 'I have right words.' I'd be in a bathroom in an airport, and a woman would come up to me and say, 'You know, I have right words.'

"So I started collecting them. And then we did a contest, and readers from Parade magazine wrote in. And we did all kinds of, went to prisons and newsletters to the military, and everywhere, to get a wide range of authors."

Asked by Chen to tell some of her favorite stories from the new book, Thomas quickly said, "Well, I love the one about the young man who was in the Navy, and he came from the Gulf War. And he was really disgruntled, and he hadn't been promoted, and he just wasn't sure he wanted to stay in the Navy any longer.

"And he came home, and got off the ship, and all these big blowups of beer cans were everywhere and he said, 'Oh, they're marketing the war,' and he felt very despondent about that.

"And, he and his wife and the three boys were in the car and they were rushing to see his parents, and they stopped at a Burger King in the middle of the night. And he had on his Navy uniform and he made his order, it was $20, and he gave the $20 to the young waitress.

"And she said, 'Oh, are you in the Navy?' And he thought, 'Oh, she's going to ask me ask me if I ever killed anybody, am I a Navy S.E.A.L.?' And he was already kind of disgruntled about the whole thing. And he said, 'Yes, I'm in the Navy.' And she gave him back the $20 and she kissed his hand and said, 'Thanks.' And he said tears just came down his face.

"Just that one word, he said, and he realized that his life did have meaning, and that he was doing the right thing, and that he was doing something that nobody else could do.

"And you know," Thomas continued, "no matter what you think about this war, the fact that these young men and women are really sacrificing their family lives, and risking their lives, you know, there is a gratitude that we have to that. We need to express it. The fact that he felt it at that moment; he said it was like a whole country had said, 'Thank you.' And I said, 'Yes, they were.'"

Another story Thomas shared involved "a woman who lost her husband, and she talks about the fact they were married 43 years, they had six sons and they traveled all the time. They moved around because he had different jobs. Every time they moved she had to find schools for these six boys and everything. It was kind of distressing. And he would always say to her, 'Oh, don't worry honey, you're just getting started.'

"When one of the boys would make it on the baseball team, he'd say, 'Look at you, you're just getting started!' Or if they didn't make it.

"Anyway, he died, and she was very despondent, and she woke up one day about six months later and she heard a little voice in her had and it said, 'Don't worry, sweetie, you're just getting started.' "

To buy "The Right Words at the Right Time, Volume 2: Your Turn!" click here.

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