One of TV’s most beloved stars, Mary Tyler Moore, has passed away at 80 in a Connecticut hospital. She had been suffering from serious health problems for years, aggravated by a longtime struggle with diabetes that inspired her to become a passionate champion of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
The first line of the theme song of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” perfectly described her relationship with the public: “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” From her earliest modeling jobs and appearances as “Happy Hotpoint,” a dancing elf promoting appliances on live TV commercials, she exuded a innocent charm that made viewers fall in love with her. She was one of those rare performers who created not one but two iconic TV characters: Camelot-era modern wife (her Capri pants set off the CBS censors’ alarms) Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show, still considered by most TV critics to be the best sitcom ever...and pioneering single career woman Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” considered to be the best sitcom ever by the rest of those TV critics. Both are still being watched by old fans and getting discovered by new generations. This year marks 40 years since “The MTM Show” went off the air, but a statue of Mary exuberantly tossing her hat into the air remains a top tourist attraction in Minneapolis, where the show was set.
When “The Dick Van Dyke Show” began, Mary was a comedy novice 11 years younger than her TV husband, but Van Dyke expressed awe at how rapidly she blossomed into a great comic actress. Always modest, when she won an Emmy for playing Laura Petrie, she said, “I know this will never happen again.” (Little did she know: “The MTM Show” went on to win a then-record 29 Emmy Awards over seven seasons.) She also was nominated for an Oscar for her dramatic turn in “Ordinary People;” and MTM Enterprises, the production company she co-founded with then-husband Grant Tinker, created many classic TV shows that are still airing today.
Mary is being remembered by her fans for all the joy she gave us over the years, and by her co-workers as a kind, immensely talented, consummate professional who, as TV writer Ken Levine recalls, was “absolutely pitch-perfect take after take,” even when struggling off-screen with tremendous personal tragedies and health problems. She was also a throwback to a time when actors kept their politics private. Although she was known to be a Fox News fan and described herself as a “libertarian centrist,” she stayed out of politics. When Gloria Steinem tried to recruit her as a spokeswoman for feminism, she declined. She disagreed with the denigrating of motherhood and the pressure on women to have a career, but she didn’t make a public crusade out of her private beliefs. However, she admitted that if John McCain had asked her to campaign for him, she would have.
Too bad he didn’t. Americans loved Mary Tyler Moore so much that with her behind him, he might've made it after all.