Remembering an Iconic Show From the 70s
I grew up in the 70s, and the Mary Tyler Moore show was one program I would not miss. It was part of a powerful Saturday night line up on CBS. Today, Saturday is one of the lowest rated nights on TV, but that wasn't the case in the 1970s. The program had memorable and funny characters, and a young, single woman in the lead. This was considered ground breaking at the time.
Mary Tyler Moore was already well known and popular for her role as Laura Petrie, the wife of Dick Van Dyke's character Rob. That series ended its run several years earlier, although she had been so identified as Laura that some people thought she and Dick Van Dyke really were married.
It may have caused her some anxiety to take on the lead role in a new program, and to play someone very different than Laura, who was a housewife and mother. However, it was soon clear that her series was going to be very successful. It ended up being the anchor on CBS for an evening of sitcoms.
This page is a tribute to a great program and my memories of this remarkable series.
Why I Love This Show
This series was not the first to feature a single woman as the lead character. Marlo Thomas played Ann Marie, an aspiring actress, in That Girl. What made the Mary Tyler Moore Show different was her character had a good career, and was in no hurry to find a husband, or even a regular boyfriend. Mary had lots of dates, but they seldom turned into anything serious. She was certainly open to the idea of getting married if the right man came along, but she was quite happy with her life as a single woman.
The writing on the show was witty and smart. Characters for the most part were people we could relate to, and they were not placed in ridiculous situations just for laughs. Many of the stories featured problems of every day life, including Mary's job and conflicts that sometimes happened at the work place.
The relationships on the Mary Tyler Moore Show were strong and believable. Mary could be good friends and a confidant to Murray, and yet he was a very happily married man. The friendship of Mary and Rhoda was one of the highlights in the first few years of the series. The two women were opposites in many ways, yet they were very close and confided in each other all the time, as good friends do.
Rhoda was insecure, and particularly worried about her weight, and not being married. Mary had some insecurities herself, although over time she became a lot more self assured and confident of her abilities.
Mary also had a good relationship with her boss. He frequently turned to Mary for advice, or just for someone to talk to. Despite their closeness, Mary never called him Lou. Absolutely everyone else did, but to Mary he was always Mr. Grant.
While Murray was easy going and thoughtful towards others, Ted was a buffoon and very self centered. At times I felt the writers made him a bit too extreme. He seemed to be too clueless to be believable, although he was usually very funny. Although Ted was very vain, he had a soft spot for Mary, and always wanted her approval.
Mary Richards was easy to get along with, and level headed. She often had to reason with Lou, or settle a dispute at work. She was the type of person anyone would love to have for a friend, as she was kind and loyal. Her one fault was that she could never say no to anyone. As a result, she could be taken advantage of.
Sue Ann Nivens
The Supporting Cast on the Mary Tyler Moore Show
The series was noted for having a very good supporting cast, with many of them leaving a lasting impression on viewers.
Mary's landlady was named Phyllis, who was another vain and self centered character. She frequently spoke of her husband Lars and occasionally taked about marital problems. However, Lars was never once seen on camera. Her young daughter called her Phyllis, and seemed to relate better to Mary than her own mother many times. Eventually Phyllis moved from Minneapolis and left the show, and Mary moved to a high rise apartment building.
Sue Ann Nivens was played by Betty White. She was a man hungry woman, and for the most part that is all she could talk or think about. Sue Ann and Ted frequently got on each other's nerves. She had her own cooking show and felt sorry for Mary, believing she was deprived by not always having a man around.
Georgette was a sweet and very kind woman. She was quite naive and often turned to Mary for advice. Eventually Georgette and Ted were married and they adopted a child. This was followed by the birth of their own daughter in Mary's apartment. Georgette was kind towards everyone, and always had something nice to say. She had a very calming affect on Ted, and becoming a husband and father softened him.
Lou's wife was played by Pricilla Morrill. They separated and later divorced. When Edie was going to remarry, she invited Lou to the wedding. He wasn't going to attend, but was persuaded to go by Mary, who went to the wedding with him.
Joyce Bulifant played Murray's wife Marie. She was another sweet character, much like Georgette. Marie and Murray had a happy marriage and were parents to several girls. The couple also adopted a son from Vietnam.
The Cast After the Series Ended
There were three programs that became spin offs from the original series. Cloris Leachman did not have success with her show Phyllis, and it didn't last very long.
Valerie Harper's program Rhoda was a huge hit for two seasons. It was so popular that it sometimes outranked the Mary Tyler Moore show in ratings. However, the writers made a terrible mistake by having Rhoda and Joe divorce. After so many years of rooting for Rhoda to find happiness, many of the viewers strongly objected to having the characters split up, and the ratings dropped dramatically. Two years later the program was cancelled.
The one person who had long term success with his own spin off was Ed Asner as Lou Grant. This long running series was a drama, rather than a comedy, and it remained popular for many years.
Gavin MacLeod played an entirely different character as the captain of a ship on the Love Boat. This would also become a Saturday night staple on TV for a long time. Many actors who were big names at the time were featured in guest roles, as well as some young and up and coming actors.
It would be the 1980s before Betty White would appear in a program again. She played Rose on the Golden Girls, which was hugely popular on NBC, also on Saturday night. It was said that the producers originally wanted Betty to play the character of Blanche. However, after portraying the man hungry Sue Ann, she was wanting a different role. This is how she got the part of Rose. I'd have to say that was the right choice, as Betty was so memorable as Rose Nylan.
Mary Tyler Moore herself never had another successful series, although some attempts had been made. She did have a memorable role in the movie Ordinary People, which was a highly acclaimed film. She has appeared on Broadway and is noted for being involved in many charitable causes.
Several years ago Minneapolis honored her with a statue, which depicts her throwing her hat into the air as seen in the opening of the program.
The Mary Tyler Moore show was funny, and featured characters we cared about. The final episode was one of the most watched of all time. It was a fitting ending to an iconic, delightful show.