A new book celebrating the 40th birthday and impact of one of the greatest cultural touchstones of 1970s American childhood, “Free to Be… You and Me,” has just been published. “When We Were Free To Be You and Me: Looking Back at a Children’s Classic and the Difference it Made,” is a rich compendium of essays from people involved in the Free To Be project and others who, like me, were children affected by its lessons.
The new book, edited by Lori Rotskoff and Laura Lovett, with a prologue by “Free to Be” creator Marlo Thomas, features essays looking back with fond nostalgia. Other writers assess the ways in which the hopes that the “Free to Be” creators had when they first met in 1972 have yet to be fulfilled.
The messages in the original book and television special reflected the enormous changes sweeping gender roles in 1974. Previously fixed social norms were in flux. I was 10 years old then, and loved my big “Free to Be” book. Even as I watched my mother try career paths she had not been raised to consider, it seemed that my own possibilities would be limited only by ability and drive. There was something freeing about watching Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte sing about mommies and daddies having any job they wanted. The wonderful silliness of Mel Brooks voicing a baby puppet while sounding more like a Miami Beach retiree, and the sweetness of burly pro football player Rosey Grier singing “It’s All Right to Cry” were obvious even to children.