Mary Tyler Moore, who died Wednesday at age 80, was the second great woman of television. Lucille Ball only preceded her in time; in cultural impact, both in front of and behind the camera, as comedians and producers, they were peers, each presenting and enacting, each in her own way, a picture of a strong woman, eternally optimistic, never to be held down. Each had impeccable timing and a natural command of the television stage.
Moore’s television work, though it included a few late nonstarters and some one-off specials, is based in two of the medium’s greatest series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” in which she played wife Laura to Van Dyke’s Robert Petrie, and “Mary Tyler Moore,” which ran from 1970 to 1977 and was one of several shows that she produced with then-husband Grant Tinker. Each series defined its decade, or an important piece of it.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” was inaugurated practically alongside the Kennedy administration, and the Petries had some of that New Frontier spirit, along with the First Couple’s youth and sex appeal. They were mid-century modern, looking ahead toward the streamlined future, not back to the picket-fence comforts of the ’50s. They were handsome and animal; long and lean, both Moore and Van Dyke were good with their bodies — Laura, like Moore, had been a dancer, and the producers found occasions to highlight that talent.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Moore was born in 1936 in Brooklyn Heights, but her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 8 years old. As a teenager, she aspired to be a dancer and appeared in several commercials at the beginning of her career.
Mary Tyler Moore arrives at the Emmy Awards in 2001.(Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)
Mary Tyler Moore appears on the set of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”(Paul Brownstein Productions)
Mary Tyler Moore accepts her Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award during the 18th SAG Awards show at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 2012.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Mary Tyler Moore attends the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2008.(Chris Pizzello / Associated Press)
Academy Award-nominated film and Emmy Award-winning television actress Mary Tyler Moore poses during a 1979 photo portrait session in Los Angeles.(George Rose / Getty Images)
Dick Van Dyke, left, and Mary Tyler Moore, co-stars on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” appear backstage at the Palladium with their Emmys for best actor and actress in a series at the Television Academy’s 16th annual awards show in 1964.(Associated Press)
Mary Tyler Moore appears with her then-husband, Grant Tinker, at the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 1966.(David Smith / Associated Press)
Actress Mary Tyler Moore and actor Michael Douglas attend a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation event in 1997. Moore had Type 1 diabetes.(Getty Images)
Posing in a 1972 publicity photo for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” are, back row, from left, Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern, Ed Asner as Lou Grant and Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, and front row, from left, Gavin McLeod as Murray Slaughter, Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, and Ted Knight as Ted Baxter.(CBS Photo Archive)
Mary Tyler Moore, center, and Dick Van Dyke, right, are colorized in the newly released “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”(Calvada Productions)
Moore auditioned to play
After the end of “The
Mary Tyler Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker appear at a Hollywood event in 1966.(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
Moore got her second sitcom, “The
In 1969, Moore founded her own production company, which produced “The
With “Ordinary People,” a wrenching domestic drama about the troubles of an upper-middle-class family after the death of their eldest son, Moore earned her first Academy Award nomination playing the grief-stricken mother opposite
Former President Clinton leans in to chat with Mary Tyler Moore, the Rev. Billy Graham and Lauren Bacall at the 75th anniversary gala for Time magazine at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on March 3, 1998.(Sonia Moskowitz / Associated Press)
Moore has written two memoirs about her life. In the first, published in 1995, she revealed that she was a recovering alcoholic. In the second, published in 2009, she talked about living with Type 1
Mary Tyler Moore accepts her Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award from Dick Van Dyke at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2012.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
If Rob Petrie was traditionally the breadwinner and occasionally called on to comfort Laura in a quasi-paternal way — Moore could cry funny, and so the scripts often contrived to make her upset — they are nevertheless very much equals in a partnership, on a journey together. There is no sense they are settled in. That the show left the air of its own accord was, in some way, an acknowledgment that the Petries had somewhere else to be.
Mary Richards, Moore’s character in her self-titled series, though a single, childless career woman — and not regretfully so — was not so much a departure from Laura Petrie as a kind of alternate timeline version of her. (Mary’s significant other is her boss, Ed Asner’s Lou Grant, and more broadly, her job.) She shared her predecessor’s intelligence and independence, her generosity of spirit. They could milk apprehension in an unfamiliar situation, but they never backed down. They had spine but lacked ego.
And though they were not as nice as other characters sometimes imagined them to be, they were kind. Within the show she built for herself, Moore was very much an ensemble player, often a straight woman to more exaggerated characters — and that too is a kind of kindness.
We will remember her as likable — a wide smile, a welcoming voice — though it is not enough to be likable to make the lasting impression Moore leaves. There was intelligence behind her acting choices. She could swing in other directions too: In “Ordinary People,” for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for lead actress, she played a woman frozen into a dead semblance of graciousness by tragedy.
And Moore’s life was challenging in ways that were not necessarily reflected in the those characters. She was an actress, after all.
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