Scott D. Pierce: Women's rights saga is fascinating. Really

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If you have difficulty believing how different life was for American women in the '50s and '60s, check out "Makers: Women Who Make America" (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., PBS/Channel 7). Just watching advertisements of the era is shocking — like the print ad in which a husband spanks his wife because of her failures making coffee.

Women were expected to be wives and mother. Maybe secretaries. And they were expected to be happy with their lot in life.

"When I graduated from college, I was a bridesmaid 17 times," said actress/activist Marlo Thomas. "I didn't want to get married, and I really wanted a career. And I wanted to express myself."

And she wasn't interested in the sitcom roles that ABC's vice president of programming was offering her. "I said: 'Every script you've sent me is either the wife of somebody or the daughter of somebody or the secretary of somebody. Have you ever thought of doing a show where the woman is the somebody?'" Thomas said. "And he looked at me like I was speaking Swahili."

She gave the ABC exec Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, and he eventually offered her "That Girl."

Almost half a century later, it's difficult to imagine how revolutionary Thomas' 1966-71 sitcom was. Her character, Ann Marie, wanted a career, and she was in no hurry to get married.

Thomas was a producer on her series, but she got "a tremendous amount of pushback" from the writers, producers, composers and more — even though they were at Desilu Studios, where Lucille Ball was the boss.

"The joke around the studio was that, if you couldn't find me, I was probably in the men's room having a meeting with Lucy," Thomas said. "I mean, it's funny. But, imagine, that was the climate."

"Makers: Women Who Make America" is a dreadfully titled but fascinating look at 60 years of the women's movement. Three hours of this sounds deadly dull, but it's not. It's an eye-opening, engrossing and thought-provoking history.

It's not a whitewash. It covers the movement's failures as well as its triumphs, its detractors as well as it proponents.

"I think that's so crucial, because this film shows you what has happened up till now," said longtime activist Gloria Steinem. "It's up to us what happens from now on."

KUED leads into it with a half hour titled "Utah Makers: Voice of Utah Women" (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Channel 7), which provides a local perspective.

"The idea that a woman would want an independent identity was a shocking idea," says former Congresswoman Karen Shepherd. Shocking to people like Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka, who is quoted in the Utah documentary as calling the women's movement "very divisive."

"Makers" is all about progress, but the struggle isn't over.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.