Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Here's to you, Mary Tyler Moore!

One of my favourite television stars, the incomparable Mary Tyler Moore, turns 74 years old today.  She was born on December 29, 1936 in Brooklyn New York.  Her father, George Tyler Moore was a clerk for a utilities company.  Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was eight years old.

Mary’s ambition was to be a dancer.  She wound up becoming “Happy Hotpoint”, a tiny, dancing pixie who advertised Hotpoint Appliances during commercial segments on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  As Happy Hotpoint, Mary was required to wear a heavy corset, heavy makeup and a grey leotard from head to toe.  She had a cute curl on her forehead.
Mary earned about $6,000 for appearing in 39 segments of Happy Hotpoint beginning in 1955.   It all came to an end when she became pregnant and was unable to continue in the role of a slender little elf.  She wrote the following in her 1995 autobiography After All.
Fitting into that Happy's elf costume for the next block of commercials proved to be a challenge.  I was now 3 months pregnant and my breasts reflected that fact.
To view a video of Mary Tyler Moore in a Happy Hotpoint commercial, click on the link below.  (Please note: Although this video is labelled 1954, the sources I have checked say that Mary began her Happy Hotpoint commercials in 1955.)
On July 3, 1956, Mary Tyler Moore gave birth to her only child, by her first husband Richard Meeker.  The child was named Richard Meeker, Jr. and was known as Richie, coincidentally the same name as her fictional son on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Sadly, Mary’s son died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in October of 1980.  He was only 24 years old.
After the birth of Richie, Mary put her career on hold for a few years.  In 1959, she landed her first regular television role as a telephone receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective.  Her face was never shown.  Viewers only heard her voice and saw her legs.
In 1961, Mary secured the role of Dick Van Dyke’s television wife, Laura Petrie, on The Dick Van Dyke Show.  There was great comedic chemistry between Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.  They were magic together and the show became a classic.

Unlike June Cleaver in the 1950s, Laura Petrie did not wear pearls and an apron.  Often seen in her trademark Capri pants, she represented the ideal suburban housewife of the Kennedy/Johnson era.
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, Mary tried to cultivate a film career.  She appeared in the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews and Carol Channing. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and made money at the box office. 
Mary also starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1969 musical drama Change of Habit.  It was Elvis’s last screen role and MTM played a an incognito nun in the film, forced to choose between a doctor (played by Presley) and the church.  The movie received disappointing reviews.

After Change of Habit, Mary returned to television.  She stayed away from the big screen until her acclaimed Oscar-nominated performance in the 1980 film Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford.  In Ordinary People, Mary was electrifying as a repressed wife and mother.  She surprised many by playing a character so unlike Laura Petrie and the other women she had previously played.  Here's how Mary explained her decision to portray a different type of character role in the July 25, 1995 edition of the New York Daily News.

I love comedy and I hope always to have it a true part of my life.  But I decided that I was not going to play any more characters with whom I was totally familiar   It doesn’t interest me to play a very nice, very likeable, somewhat naive, vulnerable . . .  you know, all those adorable features of the two lades I’ve played.  
In 1969, Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker, formed a production company called MTM Enterprises.  Its first project was The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), one of the most memorable and successful situation comedies in television history.  Mary was cast as Mary Richards, a single career woman who was the assistant producer of a Minneapolis television news show. 
Mary Richards is often cited as the first real independent woman on a television comedy.  A case can also be made for the character played by Marlo Thomas in That Girl from 1966 to 1971.  Marlo portrayed Ann Marie, an aspiring actress who lived on her own in New York City.  

Remember too that there was Julia (1968-1971), a groundbreaking show in which Diahann Carroll became the first black female to play the lead role in a televison comedy who was not a domestic.  In the series, Julia Baker was a widowed nurse raising a young son on her own.
One of the most unforgettable TV images of all time is that of Mary Richards tossing her hat in the air as the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show proclaims, “You’re gonna make it after all.”  A bronze statue of Mary’s famous hat toss has been erected near the intersection in Minneapolis where the scene was filmed.
As I mentioned in my November 4, 2010 posting, Mary’s fans will be delighted to know that she will be a guest star on the second-season premiere of Hot in Cleveland on January 19, 2011.  Here’s to you, MTM, on your birthday!  You will always turn the world on with your smile.

- Joanne

EDITOR'S UPDATE (January 25, 2017):  Beloved actress and TV icon Mary Tyler Moore passed away today at the age of 80.  

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