This week we lost one of my heroes. Mary Tyler Moore passed away Wednesday January 25 and the world is now emptier. Years ago, I read a biography of MTM entitled “After All”. Her life story is riveting and we could talk about that for days. But, as you might suspect, what I really want to mention are the two television shows that made her famous.
As Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke show, she was everything this little girl wanted to be when I grew up. She was a beautiful wife with a handsome husband. They would dance and sing in the den for goodness sake! But, as an adult, I realize how groundbreaking she really was in this role. She fought for her character to be able to wear pants (and boy did she look good in them.) Laura might have been a housewife but she was a feminist groundbreaker. Rob was expected to help with housework when he got home from his job in the city and he was a partner in raising their son. I especially love the episode in which Laura gets the opportunity to be one of the dancers on The Alan Brady Show. She goes in every day and faces the physical demands of that full time job. And, when Rob gets home, he still finds a clean house and dinner on the table. He’s concerned when she is offered a permanent position (this is the 1960’s after all). Because she’s made it look so “easy” he thinks she will jump at the chance. However, Laura makes it clear that she had to work her butt off to make it look easy. It wasn’t easy. It was hard. But women have a way of just getting it done. There were many episodes where it was clear that Laura was the ‘strong’ one in this partnership. (And as an aside, my husband and I have had many conversations about the differences between television back then and now. Consider the talent that was on this show. Almost everyone could not only act but also sing, dance and was funny as heck. They truly don’t make them like this anymore.)
Now, the one that will make me cry. The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There has never been another show on television that could compare. As Mary Richards, MTM was the blueprint for all future working women. She moved to Minneapolis to start a new life when she and her fiance broke up. But, this show wasn’t about breakups and romance. She wasn’t desperate to find a man. This was a show about a woman who worked her butt off in a male dominated field and was successful. Yes, she had to fight to make as much as her male predecessor but she did it. When there was a promotion on the table, Mary always went for it. She showed her value with her brains and hard work. She had SPUNK! Yes, of course, she had to put up with some crap in the office but she never let it bring her down. Her boss and coworkers admired her not because she was beautiful but because she was smart.
And, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the MTM show and female friendships. Was there ever a BFF like Rhoda Morganstern? The relationship between these two was refreshing. They weren’t competing over men or worried about who was prettier, made more money or had the nicer purse. They were simply friends, soulmates and each other’s ride or die. I intentionally included a picture with Phyllis as well (my husband hates her!) While she could be annoying (to my husband and Rhoda), she was another example of a strong woman. She just went about it in a different way than Mary or Rhoda. Probably my favorite Mary and Rhoda episode is the one where Mary meets a new friend, Joanne, and they start spending time playing tennis and being quite perfect together. Through a series of events, it appears that Mary is ditching Rhoda for Joanne. This isn’t the case but you know how it is. When your BFF has a new friend, you get a little jealous. Mary wants to include Rhoda in some of their girl time but Joanne balks when she realizes that Rhoda is Jewish. Mary, who never dreamed of this being an issue, makes it clear where her loyalty lies – with Rhoda. The episode was named “Some of My Best Friends are Rhoda” and it was a wonderful example of how television can entertain while still making a point about the world we live in.
Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore, for being my hero. You had struggles and sadness like the rest of us. But, we are left with your legacy that will live on. From one woman to another, thank you. Rest In Peace.