Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Obituary: Mary Tyler Moore

Famed television actress Mary Tyler Moore, 80, best known for her roles in the self-titled sitcom of the 1970s and for playing Laurie Petrie in the classic 1960s sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show, has unfortunately died.

Moore was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 33 years old, and she had many health problems in recent years.

Not many people star in one classic television series, let alone two of them, but Mary Tyler Moore did. She and then-husband Grant Tinker, who himself died last November, were a production powerhouse in the 1970s with not only her program, but many others as well, many of them spinoffs from her series. The company's flagship program, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which premiered in 1970, was considered a landmark. That is because Moore's character, Mary Richards, who worked at a local television station with a motley crew, was a never-married woman who wasn't desperate to find a husband or even to have a long-term relationship, as Marlo Thomas did in That Girl. It's ironical because Moore was married three times, divorced twice, and seemed to be married her entire adult life. Her last husband (of 33 years) was a much-younger doctor named Robert Levine. Even so, she managed to be completely believable in the part of a single woman.

The character was originally a divorced woman, if I remember correctly, but it was changed as it was considered a bit controversial to have a divorced woman at the center of a sitcom.

The show won numerous awards and still holds up very well forty years after it went off the air. One of the strengths of the series was it had an ensemble cast, and the chemistry among the actors was one of the best in any series. As an aside, I have the entire series on DVD.

She started acting in the 1950s, and I believe her first series was Richard Diamond, Private Eye, starring David Janssen. She appeared in season 3. Then she got the plum role of Laura Petrie in another ensemble classic television sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show, which had some similarities to her later series. It ran from 1961-1966.

Moore also appeared in movies although her movie career wasn't quite as distinguished as her television career. She appeared in films such as Change of Habit with Elvis Presley and Ordinary People.

Moore, whose middle name was the same as her dad's, had her share of personal tragedies. She successfully battle alcoholism, her sister died of a drug overdose which was ruled a suicide, and her only child, Ritchie, died from an accidental gunshot in 1980. She also had a weird assortment of political views. She was a Democrat, then a libertarian who supported John McCain for president, a critic of the likes of Gloria Steinem even though Moore had a high-powered career as an actress and producer, an animal rights whack job, a vegetarian, and God knows what else. Warts and all, I still liked her. After all, if one knew everything about every public figure, no public figure would ever be admired.

More about Moore here:

The heavy workload of both parents left little time for their children. “I demanded a lot of Richie,” Moore later admitted. “I was responsible for a lot of alienation.”

Their relationship grew strained as Richie grew up and rebelled, and for a long period mother and son were estranged. They did reconcile, and Richie even began landing some small acting roles on TV. But in a 1980 accident, Richie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 24.

“I have never seen Mary so distraught,” MTM colleague Gavin MacLeod told PEOPLE. Moore, Tinker, Meeker and his second wife took Richie’s ashes to a beautiful, desolate area of the Sierras that he had loved and scattered them in the Owens River.

With the help of her psychotherapist, Moore began to deal with the tragedy. To keep going, she kept busy. More than 6,000 letters of condolence had come in. Hour after hour, Moore sat and answered them in her own hand.

Looking ahead, she decided the sooner she got back to work the better. She hired a story editor to find her a new movie — drama or comedy, just so it was good — and as the scripts arrived she read them.

Moore candidly recounted the tragedy in her 1995 memoir After All, which also chronicled her troubled marriages and struggle with alcoholism. A second book of hers, 2009’s Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, addressed her disease.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her four dogs.

Here is the New York Times obituary:

“Mary Tyler Moore became a feminist icon as Mary Richards,” said Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, the author of “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.”

“She only wanted to play a great character, and she did so. That character also happened to be single, female, over 30, professional, independent, and not particularly obsessed with getting married. Mary had America facing such issues as equal pay, birth control, and sexual independence way back in the ’70s.”

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.

Ms. Moore was the lesser star in those days, but she shared Mr. Van Dyke’s background in song and dance, and as a comedy duo they magnified each other’s charm. Ms. Moore transformed and tamed the vaudeville style that had dominated sitcoms, perfecting a comic housewifely hysteria in Laura, made visible in the way she often appeared to be fighting back tears. Her “Dick Van Dyke Show” performance won her two Emmys.

Here is an interview she gave for Emmy Legends (Archive of American Television):

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