“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

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Who could turn the world on with her smile?

Mary Tyler Moore, of course!

Those of us who loved Mary Tyler Moore and her pioneering work as an actress and comedian were not surprised to hear of her passing last week – but we were sad nevertheless. Moore, who was 80 when she died, had fought Type 1 diabetes and its complications since she was 33.

Moore’s television career started with her role as “Happy Hotpoint,” a dancing elf on Hotpoint appliance commercials that ran during the Ozzie and Harriet TV series. She also had minor roles in television and movies during the 1950s.

Moore’s big breakthrough came in her role as Laura Petrie, wife to comedy writer Robert Petrie, on The Dick Van Dyke Show. As the show ran from 1961 to 1996, Moore became as famous for her portrayal of the dancer-turned-homemaker as she did for her fashion sense. Her form-fitting capri pants quickly became iconic, just as popular as Jackie Kennedy’s dresses.

But it was as TV newsroom associate producer Mary Richards that Mary Tyler Moore really made her mark. I was hooked from the first episode, which aired in 1970 when I was ten years old.

I can vividly recall watching that episode in my parents’ bedroom, where the extra TV was kept. My parents were watching something else out in the living room, but I had the good sense to be watching the premiere of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which had been advertised heavily in the weeks leading up to its debut. I remember laughing out loud at Mr. Grant’s grilling of Mary during her job interview. I laughed so hard, in fact, that my mother came to see what was going on. Eventually, I convinced my parents to watch the show as well. Saturday nights would never be the same.

Like many girls and women across the United States, I loved everything that Mary represented. She was single and independent. She worked in the male-dominated world of TV news. And she had a way-too-groovy apartment. I grew into adolescence with Mary Tyler Moore, and I set my sights on the life she led. I longed to be a writer and live on my own – and there on TV was Mary Richards, making it after all.

My dear friend Jennifer Soule and I share a lifelong love of all things Mary Tyler Moore. In addition to visiting her Minneapolis haunts on one weekend getaway (complete with throwing our hats up in the air on a downtown street), we were also fortunate enough to meet her.

Moore’s ancestors were among the early residents of Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where Jennifer and I taught at Shepherd College. Moore’s great-great-great-grandfather, Conrad Shindler, owned a house on German Street (the main street in Shepherdstown). Like most of the other buildings in Shepherdstown, Shindler’s house took in wounded Confederate soldiers during 1862’s Battle of Antietam (across the Potomac River in Sharpsburg, Maryland).

In 1995, Mary Tyler Moore donated the house to Shepherd College for use as the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War. Of course, that meant that Moore needed to visit Shepherdstown to dedicate the house. She spoke at Shepherd’s 1996 commencement, hosted a signing of her autobiography, After All, in the Shindler house, and graced a reception at an estate outside of town. You can be sure that Jennifer, her mother, Leone, and I took every opportunity to meet and talk with Mary Tyler Moore. When it was my turn to have my book signed, I worked up my courage and said, “I know you probably hear this from women across the country, but you were my role model. You made me see that a life as a single, independent, career woman was possible.” She smiled and graciously said, “Yes, I do hear that often, but it means so much every time.”

So much has been written about Mary Tyler Moore and her show, but I’ll just point you to a few resources. A thorough history of the show is available in Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic. In her reflections on Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Pauley pays tribute to Mary Richards as her role model. Two New York Times features examine Moore’s impact on 1970s fashion and The Mary Tyler Moore Show “look.” “Sex and That ‘70s Single Woman” looks at the ways The Mary Tyler Moore Show addressed social issues of the day. The Washington Post points to “Five Ways The Mary Tyler Moore Show Revolutionized Women on Television,” and the LA Times tells the story of the show’s theme song, “Love Is All Around.” Video clips from an interview with Moore are available at the Archive of American Television. Numerous articles from The New York Times – published throughout her career as well as after her death – are available in a special collection. And to make sure you win your next Mary Tyler Moore trivia contest, check out Mental Floss’s “15 Awfully Big Facts About The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” And if you really can’t get enough Mary Tyler Moore, consider buying “her” Minneapolis mansion for $1.695 million!

In the end, there’s no substitute for seeing Mary Tyler Moore in action. Luckily, the entire run of The Dick Van Dyke Show is available on DVD – and so is the complete seven-season collection of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both DVD sets are in my collection, and I highly recommend them. Mary Tyler Moore is classic and ageless. You’ll enjoy the shows just as much as you did in your youth.

As we say goodbye to this beloved icon, join these Minneapolis fans in your own hat-tossing tribute to Mary Tyler Moore!

Watch:Watch the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The episode aired on September 19, 1970. No matter how many times I see it, this episode still makes me laugh out loud! “You’ve got spunk,” says Mr. Grant. “Well, yes,” Mary agrees sheepishly. After a pause, Mr. Grant says, “I hate spunk.” Gotta love it!

Image Credit: Photo of StoryWeb host Linda Tate with Mary Tyler Moore, taken by Jennifer Soule, May 1996, at the Conrad Shindler House in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.