Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore

I just heard Mary Tyler Moore has died. I feel like I've lost a beloved friend. Not only was this woman a talented actress, dancer, and musical comedy star, she was funny, but she was also an unintentional feminist icon.

Her first ongoing television role in a series was the secretary of detective Richard Diamond. She was always shown behind a desk with her legs crossed as she answered his phone. In those days, women did not wear slacks at office jobs. They wore dresses. So the camera always caressed her legs crossed and wearing high heels as she talked on the phone. He called her "Legs" for good reason. Her voice was sultry as she offered him her take on his cases. We never saw her face on the show, only her dancer's legs.

Following in the footsteps of such shows as "Ozzie and Harriet" and even "I Love Lucy", Moore was hired to play Dick Van Dyke's wife on his show. She was known a Laura Petrie, a glamorous woman her husband met when a USO show came to his base during his stint in the military. She was a dancer for the USO. The action in the series took place several years later when they were married, living in New Rochelle, NY. Van Dyke played Robert Petrie, known as Rob. He was one of a trio of writers for the fictitious Allen Brady show. Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner's father, played Brady. The Petries had a son named Richie who went from being about 6 on the show to 10. Laura was frequently dressed in form fitting slacks, rarely did she wear dresses unless they were going out. Such outfits first introduced on "I Love Lucy" were still a rarity.

Unlike Harriet Nelson, Laura Petrie was no old-fashioned wife. Unlike Lucy, Laura's show business dreams were fulfilled. Rob never forbade her. He was very proud of her. It was a wonderful show, my favorite of that era. All of the regular cast were wonderful. The dialogue was bright, some of the situations were hysterical. Mary Tyler Moore added spice and an example of a woman who met her husband as an equal in certain things. The first of her kind on television.

A few years after the demise of The Dick Van Dyke show, The Mary Tyler Moore show was born. This time she was a 30 something single woman with a career and a cadre of "second bananas" on her show. The ensemble on this one was just as wonderful as that of The Dick Van Dyke show. Hired first as a secretary, Mary Richards (Moore) was elevated to producer in the world of the independent television station in Minneapolis/St Paul. Her character worked more as an equal with most of the men than any other female character on television at the time. The show ran several years and was finally cancelled. They had a killer final episode which left with a long laugh from the studio audience.

Just a side, come on you knew I'd do this, don't I always? The Dick Van Dyke show was famous for having the longest sustained laugh from a live audience in television history. I remember a longer one on the great show "Taxi" a few years later. But that one was interrupted by ongoing dialogue. Anyway, the cast on the Dick Van Dyke like the good stage actors they were, held their dialogue until the laughter wound down. Course Van Dyke and the guest star Greg Morris (who went on the be part of the original ensemble on "Mission: Impossible") both had tears running down their cheeks from laughing along with the audience.

After her sitcom successes, Mary Tyler Moore worked on Broadway and in occasional films. I heard her interviewed on NPR a couple of years ago.  She said she didn't really like California and preferred New York. She liked appearing on Broadway to live audiences.

She was nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Ordinary People" but did not win. Although the film won Best Picture. Directed by Robert Redford, his directorial debut, it won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Moore was nominated for Best Actress and Judd Hirsch for Best Supporting Actor - neither of them won.

Moore won an Emmy Award for her work on the 1977 season of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" - The show won for best comedy that year as well.

Later in her career, she won a special Tony Award for a production of "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"

During her time on Dick Van Dyke's show, she was diagnosed with diabetes, which plagued her the rest of her life. She never let it slow her down or affect her  performances.

Finally I say, Goodnight, Mary. Thank you for inspiring generations of girls and young women by showing what we could all do. No meek little housewife here. Even when she was young, Ms. Moore was a woman of substance with keen intelligence shining from her eyes, taking charge of her destiny. Rest well, you deserve it.

So begins 2017... I hope we won't lose as many celebrities as we did in 2016.

Until next time...

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