Remembering Mary Tyler Moore, A Feminist of Her Time
Dear Friends & Neighbors,
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Mary Tyler Moore (December 29, 1936 – January 25, 2017) was an American actress, known for her roles in the television sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977), in which she starred as Mary Richards, a thirtyish single woman who worked as a local news producer in Minneapolis, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966), in which she played Laura Petrie, a former dancer turned Westchester homemaker, wife and mother. Her notable film work includes 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie and 1980’s Ordinary People, in which she played a role that was very different from the television characters she had portrayed, and for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Moore was active in charity work and various political causes, particularly the issues of animal rights and diabetes. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes early in the run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also suffered from alcoholism, which she wrote about in her first of two memoirs. In May 2011, Moore underwent elective brain surgery to remove a benign meningioma. She died from cardiopulmonary arrest because of pneumonia at the age of 80 on January 25, 2017.
Moore was born in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Marjorie (née Hackett; 1916–92) and George Tyler Moore (1913–2006), a clerk. The oldest of three children (her siblings are John and Elizabeth), Moore and her family lived in Flushing, Queens. Her paternal great-grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Tilghman Moore, owned the house which is now Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters Museum in Winchester, Virginia.When she was eight years old, Moore moved with her family to Los Angeles. She was raised Catholic, and attended St. Rose of Lima Parochial School in Brooklyn, Saint Ambrose School in Los Angeles, and Immaculate Heart High School in Los Feliz, California .
Moore decided at age 17 that she wanted to be a dancer. Her television career began with Moore’s first job as “Happy Hotpoint”, a tiny elf dancing on Hotpoint appliances in TV commercials during the 1950s series Ozzie and Harriet. After appearing in 39 Hotpoint commercials in five days, she received approximately $6,000. After she became pregnant while still working as “Happy”, Hotpoint ended her stint when it was too difficult to conceal her pregnancy with the elf costume. Moore modeled anonymously on the covers of a number of record albums and auditioned for the role of the older daughter of Danny Thomas for his long-running TV show but was turned down. Much later, Thomas explained that “no daughter of mine could have that [little] nose.”
Moore’s first regular television role was as a mysterious and glamorous telephone receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. On the show, Moore’s voice was heard, but only her shapely legs appeared on camera, adding to the character’s mystique. About this time, she guest-starred on John Cassavetes‘s NBC detective series Johnny Staccato. She also guest-starred in Bachelor Father in the episode titled “Bentley and the Big Board”. In 1960, she guest-starred in two episodes, “The O’Mara Ladies” and “All The O’Mara Horses”, of the William Bendix–Doug McClure NBC western series, Overland Trail. Several months later, she appeared in the first episode, entitled “One Blonde Too Many”, of NBC’s one-season The Tab Hunter Show, a sitcom starring the former teen idol as a bachelor cartoonist. In 1961, Moore appeared in several big parts in movies and on television, including Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Steve Canyon, Hawaiian Eye, Thriller and Lock-Up.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966)
an acclaimed weekly series based on Reiner’s own life and career as a writer for Sid Caesar‘s television variety show Your Show of Shows, telling the cast from the outset that it would run no more than five years. The show was produced by Danny Thomas‘s company, and Thomas himself recommended her. He remembered Mary as “the girl with three names” whom he had turned down earlier. Moore’s energetic comic performances as Van Dyke’s character’s wife, begun at age 24 (11 years Van Dyke’s junior), made both the actress and her signature tight capri pants extremely popular, and she became internationally famous. When she won her first Emmy Award for her portrayal of Laura Petrie she said, “I know this will never happen again.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)
In 1970, after having appeared earlier in a pivotal one-hour musical special called “Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman”, Moore and husband Grant Tinker successfully pitched a sitcom centered on Moore to CBS. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
is a half-hour newsroom sitcom featuring Ed Asner as her gruff boss Lou Grant. Moore’s show proved so popular that three other regular characters, Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern, Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, and Ed Asner as Lou Grant were also spun off into their own series. The premise of the single working woman’s life, alternating during the program between work and home, became a television staple.
After six years of ratings in the top 20, the show slipped to number 39 during season seven. Producers argued for its cancellation because of falling ratings, afraid that the show’s legacy might be damaged if it were renewed for another season. To the surprise of the entire cast including Mary Tyler Moore herself, it was announced that they would soon be filming their final episode. After the announcement, the series had a strong finish and the final show was the seventh most watched show during the week it aired. The 1977 season would go on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, to add to the awards it had won in 1975 and 1976. All in all, during its seven seasons, the program held the record for winning the most Emmys – 29.] That record remained unbroken until 2002 when the NBC sitcom Frasier won its 30th Emmy. The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a touchpoint of the Women’s Movement because it was one of the first to show, in a serious way, an independent working woman.
During season six of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore appeared in a musical/variety special for CBS titled Mary’s Incredible Dream, which featured Ben Vereen. In 1978, she starred in a second CBS special, How to Survive the ’70s and Maybe Even Bump Into Happiness. This time, she received significant support from a strong lineup of guest stars: Bill Bixby, John Ritter, Harvey Korman and Dick Van Dyke. In the 1978–79 season, Moore attempted to try the musical-variety genre by starring in two unsuccessful CBS variety series in a row: Mary, which featured David Letterman, Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn in the supporting cast. CBS canceled the series. In March 1979, the network brought Moore back in a new, retooled show, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, which was described as a “sit-var” (part situation comedy/part variety series) with Moore portraying a TV star putting on a variety show. Michael Keaton was the only cast member of Mary who remained with Moore as a supporting regular in this revised format. Dick Van Dyke appeared as her guest for one episode. The program was canceled within three months.
In the 1985–86 season, she returned to CBS in a series titled Mary, which suffered from poor reviews, sagging ratings, and internal strife within the production crew. According to Moore, she asked CBS to pull the show as she was unhappy with the direction of the program and the producers. She also starred in the short-lived Annie McGuire in 1988. In 1995, after another lengthy break from TV series work, Moore was cast as tough, unsympathetic newspaper owner Louise “the Dragon” Felcott on the CBS drama New York News, her third series in which her character worked in the news industry. As with her previous series Mary (1985), Moore quickly became unhappy with the nature of her character and asked to be written out of New York News; the series, however, was canceled before the writers could remove her.
In the mid-1990s, Moore had a cameo and a guest-starring role as herself on two episodes of Ellen. She also guest-starred on Ellen DeGeneres‘s next TV show, The Ellen Show, in 2001. In 2004, Moore reunited with her Dick Van Dyke Show castmates for a reunion “episode” called The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.
In 2006, Moore guest-starred as Christine St. George, a high-strung host of a fictional TV show, on three episodes of Fox sitcom That ’70s Show. Moore’s scenes were shot on the same soundstage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was filmed in the 1970s. Moore made a guest appearance on the season 2 premiere of Hot in Cleveland, which starred her former co-star Betty White. This marked the first time that White and Moore had worked together since The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977. In the fall of 2013, Moore reprised her role on Hot in Cleveland in a season four episode which not only reunited Moore and White, but also former MTM cast members Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper and Georgia Engel as well. This reunion coincided with Harper’s public announcement that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and was given only a few months to live.
Moore appeared in several Broadway plays. She starred in Whose Life Is It Anyway with James Naughton, which opened on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on February 24, 1980, and ran for 96 performances, and in Sweet Sue, which opened at the Music Box Theatre on January 8, 1987, later transferred to the Royale Theatre, and ran for 164 performances. She was the star of a new musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in December 1966, but the show, titled Holly Golightly, was a flop that closed in previews before opening on Broadway. In reviews of performances in Philadelphia and Boston, critics “murdered” the play in which Moore claimed to be singing with bronchial pneumonia.
Moore appeared in previews of the Neil Simon play Rose’s Dilemma at the off-Broadway Manhattan Theatre Club in December 2003 but quit the production after receiving a critical letter from Simon instructing her to “learn your lines or get out of my play”. Moore had been using an earpiece on stage to feed her lines to the repeatedly rewritten play.
Moore made her film debut in 1961’s X-15. She subsequently appeared in a string of 1960s films (after signing an exclusive contract with Universal Pictures), including 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews, and the 1968 films What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? with George Peppard, and Don’t Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner.
In 1969, she starred opposite Elvis Presley as a nun in Change of Habit. Moore’s future television castmate Ed Asner also appeared in that film as a cop. After the film got disappointing reviews and poor reception at the box office, Moore went back to television, and did not appear in another feature film for eleven years. On her return to the big screen in 1980, she received her only Oscar nomination for her role in the coming-of-age drama Ordinary People, as a grieving mother unable to cope either with the drowning death of one of her sons or the subsequent suicide attempt of her surviving son, played by Timothy Hutton who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for that performance. Other feature film credits include Six Weeks (1982), Just Between Friends (1986) and Flirting with Disaster (1996).
She appeared in a number of television movies, including Like Mother, Like Son, Run a Crooked Mile, Heartsounds, The Gin Game (based on the Broadway play; reuniting her with Dick Van Dyke), Mary and Rhoda, Finnegan Begin Again, and Stolen Babies for which she won an Emmy Award in 1993.
Moore wrote two memoirs. In the first, After All (ISBN 0399140913), released in 1995, she acknowledged that she was a recovering alcoholic. The next, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, was released on April 1, 2009, and focuses on living with type 1 diabetes (St. Martin’s Press; ISBN 0-312-37631-6).
Moore and her husband Grant Tinker founded MTM Enterprises, Inc. in 1969; Moore later commented that he had named the entity after her in much the same fashion that someone might name a boat after a spouse. This company produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and several other television shows and films. It also included a record label, MTM Records. MTM Enterprises produced a variety of American sitcoms and drama television series such as Rhoda, Lou Grant and Phyllis (all spin-offs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), The Bob Newhart Show, The Texas Wheelers, WKRP in Cincinnati, The White Shadow, Friends and Lovers, St. Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues, and was later sold to Television South, an ITV Franchise holder during the 1980s. The MTM logo is very similar to the Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo, but features Moore’s cat Mimsie instead of the lion.
At age 18 in 1955, Moore married Richard Carleton Meeker, whom she described as “the boy next door”, and within six weeks she was pregnant with her only child, Richard Jr. (born July 3, 1956), Meeker and Moore divorced in 1961. Moore married Grant Tinker, a CBS executive (later chairman of NBC), in 1962, and in 1970 they formed the television production company MTM Enterprises, which created and produced the company’s first television series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981.
On October 14, 1980, at the age of 24, Moore’s son Richard died of an accidental gunshot to the head while handling a sawed-off shotgun. The model was later taken off the market because of its “hair trigger”.
Moore married Dr. Robert Levine on November 23, 1983, at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. They met when her mother was treated by him in New York City on a weekend house call, after Moore and her mother returned from a visit to the Vatican where they had had a personal audience with Pope John Paul II.
Moore was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 33. In 2011, she had surgery to remove a meningioma, a benign brain tumor. In 2014 friends reported that she had heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind.
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