Thursday, January 26, 2017

R.I.P. Mary Tyler Moore (1938-2017)

Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People
On January 25, 2017 actress Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80 in Greenwich, Connecticut from pneumonia. Over the course of her lengthy career, she has done a lot of work in shaping the view of women in movies and specifically TV with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was also nominated for an Oscar with her dramatic turn in Ordinary People. As the opening song of her sitcom suggested, she could turn the world on with her smile. She did plenty work on screen as well as behind the scenes, donating time to charities related to diabetes and animal rights. She leaves behind a body of work that continues to inspire women generations later as well as fans of comedies in general.


Moore was born on December 29, 1938 in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of eight, her family moved to Los Angeles, California and was raised Catholic. Her sister Elizabeth would die at the age of 21 from a mix of pain killers and alcohol, while her brother would die at the age of 47 from kidney failure. By 17, Moore was already starring in commercials for "Happy Hotpoint," where she danced on top of appliances as an elf. She also modeled anonymously for various different record albums and was rejected by Danny Thomas, who thought that her nose was too small. Still, it was because of Thomas that she got her big breakout gig.

After taking small parts in various shows, including a speaking role where only her legs were seen, she got a big break with Carl Reiner's The Dick Van Dyke Show. Thomas recommended her as the girl with three names. Based off of his own life, Reiner suggested that the show would run for at least five years, which it did. At 24 years old, it became her breakout role and one that won her an Emmy. She eventually would get a gig as the lead character in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which continued the trend of The Dick Van Dyke Show of having strong depictions of women in the workplace by being independent. The show's success lead to seven seasons and set the record for most Emmys won by a series to that point (39), which wouldn't be beaten until 2002 with Frasier. During this time, Moore created the studio company MTM with her husband and NBC head Grant Tinker; which produced such shows as The Bob Newhart Show and WKRP in Cincinnati.

Her work in film was more sparse and featured occasional roles, such as starring opposite Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie. One of her biggest roles came in 1980 when she starred in Robert Redford's directorial debut Ordinary People, where she took a dramatic turn as a mother grieving with the loss of her son. Reality took an unfortunate turn as Moore's only son also died in 1980 from accidental gunshot wound. She would go on to be nominated at the Oscars for Best Actress, losing to Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter. The film would win four Oscars, including Best Picture as well as Best Supporting Actor for co-star Timothy Hutton. She would continue to do TV and film work, though she didn't appear in a movie between 1986 and 1996 when she co-starred opposite Alan Alda and Ben Stiller in director David O. Russell's dark comedy Flirting With Disaster.

In her personal life, she became diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This lead to her involvement with the group JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), which looks for treatments related to diabetes. She would also work with friend Bernadette Peters for various animal rights groups, including a quest to make New York City, New York into a no-kill city. She was also politically vocal, including doing spots for Jimmy Carter's 1980 election campaign. The Mary Tyler Moore co-star Ed Asner has once suggested that she's become more conservative in later years, relating more to libertarian beliefs; claiming that she was a fan of John McCain. She also refused to join the feminist movement lead by Gloria Steinhem because Moore disagreed with the belief that every woman owes it to themselves to have a career.

Whatever the case may be, Moore's work continues to live on through entertainment and empowerment. Whether it is the iconic opening credits that turned into a memorial statue, or the many people who use her as a positive symbol of hope for women in the workplace; The Mary Tyler Moore Show became one of the most integral sitcoms in American history. She was a figure of hope as well as laughter. With several spin-offs due to her success, she did the unexpected by making it after all. She will never be forgotten for her contributions to the world around her, and it's impossible to imagine a world where her influence wasn't felt. She made us laugh and cry, and we're all the better for it.

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