When I went to see the movie Ordinary People in 1980, I knew that, like the character Beth, Mary Tyler Moore, who died this week, had a son die tragically, and during the filming period. It’s impossible to ascertain how that event affected her acting. But it was a ferocious performance; one of my friends said, painfully, it reminded him of his growing up.
Mary was deservedly nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, though she lost to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter. But it was clear, Beth was NOT “Our Mare!” that we knew from the show named after her, one of the most popular TV shows ever, which “helped define a new vision of womanhood.” Mary Richards is the cultural ancestor of Murphy Brown, Liz Lemon, Carrie Bradshaw, and so many others. There was initial talk of having Mary Richards be divorced, but that was nixed.
That theme, written and sung by Sonny Curtis, who wrote “I Fought the Law”, was changed after season 1. The iconic first line, “Who could turn the world on with her smile?” started in the second season after she actually moved, got her job and made new friends after a romantic breakup. The theme song’s original first line was “How will you make it on your own?” The last line was also changed from “You just might make it after all,” to “You’re gonna make it after all.”
It’s well-repeated that shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, produced by MTM Enterprises, Mary’s company with second husband Grant Tinker, had people staying home on Saturday nights, and it was true. Here’s the fall CBS Saturday night schedule, with # indicating an MTM show:
1970: Mission: impossible (hr), My Three Sons, Arnie [no, I don’t remember it either], MTM#, Mannix (hr0 -[Mike Connors just died, too – watched that show regularly as well]
1971: All in the Family, Funny Face, New Dick Van Dyke Show, MTM#, M:I (hr)
1972: AITF, Bridget Loves Bernie, MTM#, Bob Newhart Show#, M:I (hr)
1973: AITF, M*A*S*H, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Carol Burnett Show (hr) – THE classic lineup
1974: AITF, Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers#, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Burnett (hr)
1975 and 1976: The Jeffersons, Doc#, MTM#, Bob Newhart#, Burnett (hr)
I watched all the spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and especially the hour-long drama Lou Grant. And those other MTM Enterprises shows were among my favorites: The Tony Randall Show (1976-1978), The White Shadow (1978-1981), WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-1982), Paris (1979-1980), Hill Street Blues (1981-1987), St. Elsewhere (1982-1988), and Newhart (1982-1990)
But it’s the original Dick Van Dyke Show where I learned about Mary Tyler Moore, the “girl with three names” who Danny Thomas thought had too small a nose to play HIS daughter on his sitcom, but who he recommended to play Laura Petrie to Dick’s Rob. And when I was eight and a half when the show started, I noted that she was pretty.
But there was something about the episode It May Look Like a Walnut, featuring Danny Thomas, a month shy of my 10th birthday. I couldn’t have identified it in the moment, but I later realized that Laura Petrie rolling out of a closet on a wave of walnuts was sexy as all get out.
I’ve watched Mary Tyler Moore in all sorts of projects, from Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Special, to at least four other series she starred in, to that not very good Mary Richards/Rhoda Morganstern reunion in 2000, to a 2013 appearance in Hot in Cleveland with Betty White and Georgia Engel. Before the Dick Van Dyke Show, I probably saw her in a bunch of shows, but what I never watched a show hosted by Boris Karloff called Thriller