Thursday, January 26, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore died...

...yesterday at age 80. Coincidentally, I've been watching her eponymous show over the last few weeks.

(I must be bad luck -- I was also watching The Sopranos when James Gandolfini died suddenly in the summer of 2013. I remember thinking at the time that he was awfully heavy and at risk of a heart attack. Yikes!)

Why have I been watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show lately? I think it's because it's about Minneapolis in the 1970s -- when my family moved there -- and I'm thinking about my mother who died last summer. I've also been listening to a lot of the band Chicago, too. They were big in the '70s when we lived in Minnesota and always remind me of the place. Maybe that's how I grieve -- while other people cry I watch old TV shows and listen to classic rock.

Ms. Moore also played the mother in the 1980 film Ordinary People. The movie, set in Lake Forest, Illinois, not far from where I grew up in the '60s in Wilmette, was based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Judith Guest, who lived in Edina, Minnesota, where we moved in 1974. So there's all sorts of connections here for me.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show won a remarkable 29 Emmy Awards and Ms. Moore's obit in the Times gushes:

The influence of Ms. Moore’s Mary Richards can be seen in the performances of almost all the great female sitcom stars who followed her, from Jennifer Aniston to Debra Messing to Tina Fey, who has said that she developed her acclaimed sitcom “30 Rock” and her character, the harried television writer Liz Lemon, by watching episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Many nonactresses also said that Ms. Moore — by playing a working single woman with such compassion and brio — inspired their performances in real life.

But -- I hate to be difficult here -- didn't Marlo Thomas's 1960s sitcom That Girl anticipate The Mary Tyler Moore Show?

Ironically, the obit mentions:

It was another body part, her nose, that was said to have disqualified her from playing Danny Thomas’s daughter on his sitcom “Make Room for Daddy.” She was up for the role, but Mr. Thomas, who took pride in his exaggerated features, decided that her nose was too small to belong to a member of his family.

If you're about my age, you remember watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show on Saturday night:

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which forsook the gag-a-minute sitcom formula in favor of more character-driven humor, soon became one of the most popular shows in television history, aided only partly by its position in CBS’s winning Saturday-night lineup, which also included “M*A*S*H*,” “All in the Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show.”

The Bob Newhart Show was also a part of that lineup and I just finished watching the first three or four seasons of that sitcom as well. Dirty little secret: it's held up better over time than The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It's funnier; maybe that's because its star was an actual comedian.

In the meantime, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fractured into spinoffs: the sitcoms “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” and the acclaimed drama “Lou Grant,” a rare example of an hourlong series spun off from a half-hour sitcom.

I had to include that last paragraph; Lou Grant was also one of my personal favorites. The star of that show, Ed Asner, had a son at the same therapeutic, residential school that my son attended in Hyde Park. Apparently he was quite a character. One of the directors of the school once told me he was an "old goat." Another connection.

Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, of course, she played in another famous sitcom:

Ms. Moore had earlier, in a decidedly different era, played another beloved television character: Laura Petrie, the stylish wife of the comedy writer played by Dick Van Dyke on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Also on CBS, the show ran from 1961 to 1966.

The sitcom was created and produced by comedy legend Carl Reiner, whose son, Rob Reiner, got into trouble on the set once:

When my father (Carl Reiner) was working on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I was a teenager, and I thought Mary Tyler Moore was so hot. Those Capri pants! So one day I grabbed her ass. I guess I couldn’t resist. So I was called into my father’s office who looked at me sternly, and said, “Did you grab Mary Tyler Moore by the ass?” I knew I was in big trouble and said, “Yes.” He grinned and said, “Don’t ever do that again.” I think he wished he had done that (laughs).

I've read or heard about this story elsewhere and seem to remember that Ms. Moore made a big deal out of it. (Some might even say she overreacted.) And that brings me to my final comment: I know you should never say anything bad about the newly deceased, but I also recall reading or hearing that in real life Ms. Moore wasn't the nicest person who ever lived.

Oh, well, rest in peace.

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