I’m a nerd for both The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (197077).  In fact, I was watching one of my favorite MTM episodes when I learned Mary Tyler Moore died today at the age of 80. She faced her share of sorrows, and in recent years had suffered from challenging health problems. More importantly, however, she helped define the modern working woman.

She started by re-defining the modern wife and mother in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Yes, Laura was first and foremost dedicated to her family, but she was her own person, with skills (or not), opinions and a fair amount of sass. The “Oh, Rob” persona that seems to popularly describe that character wasn’t the biggest part of who Laura was.

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Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) demands equal pay from her reluctant boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner).

But it was as Mary Richards, a single woman in her 30s with a decent, yet not particularly high-paying, job that she really made her mark. Mary’s friends would tell her she was “perfect” — of course, she was head cheerleader in high school! Of course, she gets a date from the only man at a meeting of 200 women! But part of the show’s humor was poking fun at that seeming perfection, revealing Mary’s flaws.

Forty-five years ago, The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired the first episode on network television with an openly gay character. Mary fought for equal pay when she discovered her predecessor was paid fifty dollars a week more than she was, simply because he was a man, and he didn’t even do a good job. Mary (gasp!) was sexually active, although that was discreetly discussed.

Perhaps most significantly for the time, Mary wasn’t married, and she wasn’t looking for a man. Sure, she dated, she even fell in love, but when confronted with the opportunity to marry a man just about as perfect as she was, she turned him down. She wasn’t ready, she said.

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Ed Asner, Valerie Harper (as Rhoda), Mary Tyler Moore

Cutting edge remains controversial until the edge is cut and the border for the shocking is moved back. Watching the shows now, both The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, we may not understand why some episodes of the former were banned in some cities and why both series were known for being forward thinking and daring. But goodness, Rob and Laura had Jewish neighbors (the Steins), even though you never saw them, and Rob’s co-worker Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) was also Jewish. Mary’s best friend Rhoda’s Judaism, and the episode that confronted anti-Semitism, was still controversial in 1973.

Thank you to all those who are willing to push the envelope and advance human rights in whatever manner you find is given to you. Mary Tyler Moore had a tremendous opportunity to change the role of women in the 60s and 70s, and while you can nit-pick the way it was handled and find fault here and there, what she did made a difference.

Rest in peace, Mary Tyler Moore.

Here’s a video that, yes, has a scene with a few things we wouldn’t see in a progressive show today (Gordy’s compliment to Mary, for example, would be considered sexist by many), but it shows Mary for who she was — capable, funny and flawed:

 

 

 

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20 Comments on “In Memoriam: Mary Tyler Moore

  1. Aw, I didn’t know she passed until I read your post. Yes – everything you wrote was spot on.
    There was a role that she played, which I thought was incredibly chilling. In the movie “Ordinary People” – I still remember how cold she was. Years later, I can understand more about that movie since I lost a child. But her performance was very affecting.
    Thanks for a wonderful tribute.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, and sadly she lost her only son only a month after that movie was released. I remember being somewhat numb for days after seeing that movie. Her performance was part of a whole that really knocked me out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What I remember especially was a scene where she made her son a delicious breakfast. When he said he wasn’t hungry, she grabbed the plate and threw everything into the sink. It was startling!
        I didn’t know she lost her son a month later. OMG – that is horrible.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved both those shows, but the MTM show was so awesome. Have you seen ‘Phoebe and Michelle’s HS Reunion’? “I’m the Mary and you’re the Rhoda.” I have always loved that line.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. RIP Mary Tyler Moore – Beloved for your work and helping us to learn how to be strong, vocal and empowered – before it was fashionable. Will miss you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful tribute to an actress that meant an awful lot to a lot of people. It is heartening to see the various tributes being presented in her honor from across the globe and from all ages. There was a quality about the Van Dyke and Moore shows that was so special not only in their time but for all time. Great choice of video!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, those shows were special. They focused on the characters and the humor came from the situations, not contrived scenarios, which I think made the programs more enduring. Plus, the situations were somewhat timeless, unlike many of the shows of the 70s, which were very topical. As for that clip, I love it. It’s a revealing look at all the characters.

      Liked by 1 person

    • She was really something else. I’ve been watching all the episodes of both “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” with a whole new appreciation since her death.

      Like

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