Mary Tyler Moore’s timing as an actress was always impeccable. Moore, who passed away this week at age 80, seemed to say, to today’s phoenix-like women’s movement that has sprung up since President Trump’s election, “Well, girls, you can take it from here.”
Moore was a television and movie icon whose roles in two seminal, classic t.v. shows - “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” - showed two different evolving roles for women at a time where women were just breaking the shackles of being second-class citizens (some say that’s still happening).
Marriage, comedy, and capri pants never looked so cool, or sexy, as on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” when Moore was flaunting her acting chops. Legend has it that the show’s creator, Carl Reiner, said Moore tried out for the role of housewife/comedic foil Laura Petrie, and he knew right away that she had the part. Through her life, Moore had amazing highs, and devastating lows, such as divorces, alcoholism, diabetes, and the loss of her only son, Richie. But amidst the chaos and hubris of her life, the one role of legend, Mary Richards – that was the one that inspired women to either enter acting, or stand up for themselves, to their bosses, own their bodies, and assert their rights as people.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” premiered in 1970 - the bloodshed and body count in Vietnam was at a fever pitch, while Nixon was buttressing the moat around the White House to fend off his growing enemies list, preparing for the political folly of his entire career four years later. Something special, a watershed moment in television was happening on one particular channel, CBS. Shows were coming on that were starting to reflect the change in values, mores, and American society. “All In The Family,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” and “The Bob Newhart Show” were known as Saturday night’s “Murderer’s Row” because not only did these shows on CBS rule the video roost back in the early to mid -1970’s, but they used to mop up at the Emmy Awards with great frequency. All these shows are now considered classic t.v., with “All In The Family” addressing the growing class/race/generation chasm that was America back then, and looks to be today.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with its great ensemble cast, sharp writing, and groundbreaking scripts, cast Moore as a young, unmarried news producer at a Minneapolis television station, who rode the waves of discrimination, equal pay, gender issues, sex, and birth control through the show’s run, all with grace, humor, and a dash of vulnerability.
Moore, who later in her career was up for
an Oscar as the frosty matriarch who lost a son in the Robert Redford directed film “Ordinary People,” said that every role that she has played in her career has a little bit of her in it. But the role who inspired everyone from Oprah to Ellen DeGeneres, and to other shows such as “Murphy Brown,”was that of Mary Richards.
Currently, women in the United States, and around the globe, have sprung forth in massive groups to organize, and protest, what they say is amounting to present and possible future civil rights violations by the incoming administration.
Skeptics say the on-fire women’s movement is “an embarrassment” while proponents tout it as a source of pride, and assertiveness.
Nostalgically, Ed Asner’s Lou Grant character on “MTM” seems downright charming today compared to a certain former reality television star/business mogul, as some have stated. Ironically, as Mary Tyler Moore passes the torch of inspiration forward for new female role models, the same slate of issues her fictional Mary Richards character had to deal with, women are still dealing with today. The slogan, “You Mean I Still Have To Protest This Same Crap?” is again ringing loud and clear.
Mary Tyler Moore always seemed genuinely surprised that she had become a feminist icon after the show’s run ended, but looking back, it’s easy to see how great television, with strong messages, still carries on today. We would not have several successful women in business, politics, the military, medicine, and sports if not for early pioneers such as Mary Tyler Moore. It looks like she turned the world on with her smile, and she did make it after all.