MOORE, MARY TYLER

U.S. Actor

Mary Tyler Moore's most enduring contributions to television are in two classic sitcoms, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), although she has appeared in the medium in a variety of roles both before and after these series. Her first on-camera television work was as a dancer, and it was as "Happy Hotpoint," a singing and dancing home appliance, that she first caught the public eye. Her first regular series role as "Sam" the receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, was notable primarily because it featured only her dancer's legs and voice.

As Laura Petrie, the beautiful, talented and not-so-typical suburban housewife to comedy writer Rob (Dick Van Dyke) on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Moore earned critical praise (and Emmy Awards) as she laid the foundation for the wholesome but spunky identity that would mark her television career. Though she lacked their experience in television comedy, Moore was no mere "straight woman" to comedians Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie; she managed to stake out her own comic identity as a lovely and competent housewife who was frequently thrown a curve by her husband's unusual friends and career. Thanks to the show's explorations of the Petries' courtship (they met while he was in the military and she a USO dancer), Moore was able to display her talents as both dancer and singer, as well as comedic actress, on the show. While The Dick Van Dyke Show stopped production in 1966, it appeared in reruns on the CBS daytime lineup until 1969, keeping Moore's perky persona in the public eye as she sought film roles and stage work for the remainder of the decade.

On the basis of Moore's popularity in The Dick Van Dyke Show, CBS offered her a 13-episode contract to develop her own series starting in 1970. Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker, a production executive at 20th Century Fox at the time, used the opportunity to set up their own production company, MTM Enterprises, to produce the show. Following the success of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MTM went on to produce a number of the 1970s and 1980s' most successful and critically-praised series, with Moore's contributions mainly limited to input on her own show(s) and the use of her initials.

On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore played Mary Richards, a 30-something single woman "making it on her own" in 1970s Minneapolis. MTM first pitched her character to CBS as a young divorcee, but CBS executives believed her role as Laura Petrie was so firmly etched in the public mind that viewers would think she had divorced Dick Van Dyke (and that the American public would not find a divorced woman likable), so Richards was rewritten as a woman who had moved to the big city after ending a long affair. Richards landed a job working in the news department of fictional WJM-TV, where Moore's all-American spunk played off against the gruff boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), world-weary writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) and pompous anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). In early seasons, her all-male work environment was counterbalanced by a primarily female home life, where again her character contrasted with her ditzy landlady Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman) and her New York-born neighbor and best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper). Both the show and Moore were lauded for their realistic portrayal of "new" women in the 1970s whose lives centered on work rather than family, and for whom men were colleagues rather than just potential mates. While Moore's Mary Richards' apologetic manner may have undermined some of the messages of the women's movement, she also put a friendly face on the potentially threatening tenets of feminism, naturalizing some of the decade's changes in the way women were perceived both at home and at work.

After The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its seven-year award-winning run, Moore appeared in several short-running series, including her attempt to revive the musical variety show, Mary (1978), which is best remembered for a supporting cast that included the then-unknown David Letterman, Michael Keaton, and Swoosie Kurtz. Moore's later stage, feature film and made-for-television movie efforts have represented successful efforts to break with the perky Laura Petrie/Mary Richards persona. In the Academy Award-winning Ordinary People (1979), for example, Moore's performance contrasts the publicly lovable suburban housewife--a Laura Petrie-type facade--with her character's private inability to love and nurture her grief-stricken family. She won a special Tony award for her performance as a quadriplegic who wanted to end her existence in Whose Life Is It, Anyway? And on television, she has played everything from a breast cancer survivor in First You Cry to the troubled Mary Todd Lincoln in Gore Vidal's Lincoln to a villainous orphanage director in Stolen Babies. In recent years Ms. Moore has devoted much of her attention to supporting work for the American Diabetes Association.

-Susan McLeland

 


Mary Tyler Moore
Photo courtesy of Mary Tyler Moore

MARY TYLER MOORE. Born in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A., 29 December 1937. Married 1) Richard Meeker, 1955 (divorced, 1962), child: Richard (deceased); 2) Grant Tinker, 1963 (divorced, 1981); 3) Robert Levine, 1983. Began television career as "Happy Hotpoint," dancing performer in appliance commercials, 1955; co-starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show, 1961-66; television guest appearances, 1960s and 1970s; co-founder, with Tinker, of MTM Enterprises; starred in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1979-77. Recipient: three Emmy Awards; Golden Globe Award; named to Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1987.

TELEVISION SERIES

1959 Richard Diamond, Private Detective
1961-66 The Dick Van Dyke Show
1970-77 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1978 Mary
1979 The Mary Tyler Moore Hour
1985-86 Mary
1988 Annie McGuire
1995 New York News

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1979 Run a Crooked Mile
1978 First, You Cry
1984 Heartsounds
1985 Finnegan Begin Again
1988 Gore Vidal's Lincoln
1990 Thanksgiving Day
1990 The Last Best Year
1993 Stolen Babies
1995 Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden

TELEVISION SPECIALS

1969 Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, Mary Tyler         Moore
1974 We the Women (host, narrator)
1976 Mary's Incredible Dream
1978 CBS: On The Air (co-host)
1978 How to Survive the 70s and Maybe Even Bump Into         Happiness (host)
1991 The Funny Women of Television
1991 The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The 20th Anniversary         Show


FILMS

X-15, 1961; Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967; What's So Bad About Feeling Good?, 1968; Don't Just Stand There!, 1968; Change of Habit, 1970; Ordinary People, 1980; Six Weeks, 1982; Just Between Friends, 1986; Flirting With Disaster, 1996.

PUBLICATIONS

After All. New York: Putnam, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Alley, Robert, and Irby B. Brown. Love Is All Around: The Making of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. New York: Delta, 1989.

Bonderoff, Jason. Mary Tyler Moore: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1986.

Hingley, Audrey T. "Mary Tyler Moore: After All." Saturday Evening Post (Indianapolis, Indiana), November-December 1995.

Van Meter, Jonathan. "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary...." The New York Times Magazine (New York), 26 November 1995.

 

See also Dick Van Dyke Show; Gender and Television; Mary Tyler Moore Show; Tinker, Grant