Years ago, a friend of mine told me he’d met Mary Tyler Moore in connection with his business. I realized at that point that that was pretty much my personal definition of Making It In Life – getting to meet Mary Tyler Moore. I never did, of course.
I remember when the Mary Tyler Moore Show began. I was away at college, and I’d read in the paper that she was doing a situation comedy set in Minneapolis. “Well that’s bound to bomb,” I said. “Nothing set in Minnesota ever succeeds. Look at the Twins.”
Not for the first time, I was spectacularly wrong. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a monster hit, back in the days when the whole country watched just three networks. It was a new thing – a character-driven comedy, the harbinger of a series of great shows that followed, two with Bob Newhart, Cheers, Taxi, WKRP in Cincinnati, etc. I don’t think they do such shows anymore.
In the Twin Cities, we can’t help but think of her as one of our own. She put us on the map, in a new cultural way. There’s a statue of her throwing her tam in the air on the Nicollet Mall (though I believe they moved it recently, and I don’t know if it’s been returned to the spot. I don’t get to the Mall much anymore. It’s pretty Mary Tyler Moribund).
She got her big break with The Dick Van Dyke Show. According to the story, the project began as a vehicle for Carl Reiner, who played the TV writer husband living in New Rochelle, NY. But the pilot failed, and Reiner was humble enough to accept audience feedback that said they just didn’t like him in the role. So they cast a rising young comic named Dick Van Dyke in his place. As they searched for an actress to play the wife, producer Danny Thomas remembered a girl he’d auditioned as his daughter on his own show. She was great, but he thought nobody would ever believe a girl with such a tiny little nose could be his daughter (Sherry Jackson got the part). They auditioned Mary, and the rest is legend.
She had a copyright on “adorable.” In the years since her two big series, she was active in a number of causes, including campaigning for fetal stem cell research (she was a diabetic). She also did the pro-suicide play “Whose Life Is It, Anyway?” on Broadway.
But pretty girls get a break with me. And nobody was prettier than her. Few brought more joy through their work either. RIP.