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January 2017

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A Tribute to Mary Tyler Moore – On Screen and Off

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As a child who resisted sleep, Mary Tyler Moore on Nick at Nite was my sanctuary. It originally aired just four years after her legendary stint on the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show,’ where she won an Emmy for a performance that began at just 24 years old. Though Moore played a traditional housewife, she insisted on wearing pants, which caused major controversy for its time. According to Moore, she found it unrealistic to do housework in a dress with pearls, and therefore pushed for her cool trademark capris, which released other housewives from their “pantyhose prison.”

When Mary Tyler Moore transitioned to her now iconic leading role, producers were quick to make sure the viewers understood this was an entirely new show, thereby giving her a broken engagement to solidify she did not leave the beloved Dick Van Dyke to pursue a career as a journalist in Minneapolis. She was instead single and ready to build her career. She landed in a newsroom as an Associate Producer beside a stellar cast, including Ed Asner as Lou Grant, Ted Knight as Ted Baxter, Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter, Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern, and of course — Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens.

To understand the radical impact of ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ one need not look far. Mary and her best friend Rhoda represented independent, empowered women whose dating life was so secondary to their everyday life, it was almost an afterthought. They did not need a man to feel complete, and they were mostly too good for the men they dated anyhow. That narrative is difficult to find even on today’s television landscape, as most women are window dressers to the man’s more important storyline. The 70’s world in which Mary lived was historically significant for women, given that the pill first became available and more women were earning degrees and working outside the home. Behind the scenes, the show was equally important. Treva Silverman became first female with an executive title on a network sitcom. She won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and Writer of the Year in 1974. This makes sense given the content of the show, and it’s a lesson for writers everywhere. If you’re going to write a strong, powerful woman, it’s probably best to use the voice of another strong, powerful woman when doing it. According to The Atlantic, “In 1973, 25 out of 75 writers on the show were women, which was revolutionary at the time.”

‘Mary Tyler Moore’ is not without criticism in the world of feminism. For starters, she conformed in ways that invited debate. She was the only one to call her boss, “Mr. Grant,” instead of Lou, for example, and she was often sheepish, especially when asking for the raise she deserved. Her inner circle were arguably far more rebellious than she, which allowed the viewer to covet their lovable, somewhat innocent protagonist. But that’s far beside the point. She was carving a path and her trepidation made her one of us. As such, Mary Tyler Moore was one of us, and her death could not be more timely in a world with pussy hats, a women’s march, and constant talk of equal pay in Hollywood. Sex and the City certainly celebrated women, but those women were in search of something that Mary Tyler Moore had already found. She will be missed.