Tuesday, January 31, 2017

To Absent Friends - Mary Tyler Moore

Mary Tyler Moore

We were working our way through the Magic Kingdom last Wednesday afternoon when we learned of the death of Mary Tyler Moore at the age of 80, and even though I knew that it would be several days before I could get to it, I knew that if ever an Absent Friends post was deserved, it would be the one for Mary Tyler Moore.

Of course, everyone knows the basic facts.  She starred in two of television's all-time great sitcoms, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961-66) and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970-77). There were other series before and after those two shows.  Most notably, she played "Sam" the sultry voiced secretary on "Richard Diamond, Private Detective" (1959) wherein only her legs were shown.  There were also a few other series in the mid and late 1980's that went nowhere, but she made her bones and secured her place in television and pop culture history in the Van Dyke series and her own eponymous series.

Both roles were and are ingrained in our culture.  For example, my wife likes to wear black pants and/or black tights on occasion.  When she does, I refer to it as her "Laura Petrie look", and when I say that, everyone knows exactly what I am talking about.  It has been almost fifty years since "Laura Petrie" last appeared in a first run TV episode, but such was the lasting impact of both "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and Miss Moore's role in it.

However, Miss Moore truly broke new ground in television when "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" began in 1970.  Playing a single career minded woman who wasn't dying to get married and have children was something that just wasn't done on television up to that point.  In a medium that had been populated by Harriet Nelson, Betty Anderson, June Cleaver, and, yes, Laura Petrie, this really was new ground.  Mary Richards was unmarried and had a "man's job", and she wanted to succeed in that.

I have to admit that I was surprised in all of the tributes that followed Miss Moore's death that talked about the importance of Moore's show and the Mary Richards character had on society, particularly it's significance to young working career women.  I admit that I had missed out on that aspect of the show.  I liked the show because it was good, and it was funny, but I can't deny all of the testimonials that have been made about this element of the show that we have seen in the last week.  As someone remarked, it is almost as if people are mourning the loss of "Mary Richards" and much as, if not more, that the loss of Mary Tyler Moore.  If that is the case, then it speaks volumes about the impact that Mary Tyler Moore has had on all of us.

Mary Tyler Moore had her fling at feature motion pictures as well.  She was Oscar nominated for her role in "Ordinary People" (1980), she co-starred with Julie Andrews in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), and she played a nun opposite Elvis Presley in "Change of Habit" (1969).  She also played Mary Todd Lincoln in a TV mini-series, but it was series television where she was at her best - she won six Emmys - and for which she will always be remembered.  She truly was a giant in that field.

I close with a one of my favorite comedy scenes of all time.  This was from a Van Dyke episode where Laura went on a TV game show and was tricked into revealing that Alan Brady was bald.  Fearing that this would cost Rob his job, Laura went to Alan's office to apologize.  Here is "The Apology" featuring Mary Tyler Moore and the great Carl Reiner as Alan Brady.

RIP Mary Tyler Moore.

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