Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Mary Richards: "Rhoda, chocolate doesn't solve anything."

Rhoda Morgenstern: "No Mare, cottage cheese solves nothing, chocolate solves it all."

With the start of the fall television season right around the corner I thought I'd do a 38th anniversary tribute to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" at this point, so it doesn't get lost in the mix of all of the new show reviews. It is by no means a stretch to say that September 19, 1970 (I actually didn't see the premiere episode on this date, but this is the date the show premiered on CBS) may be the date that enhanced, altered, encouraged and supported me more than any other day in my professional life. Even though I was still in elementary school I refer to it as the first date of my professional life. Obviously, I am not comparing this date to deeply personal moments, but quite honestly it is up there high on the totem pole of memorable dates in my life.

I remember the first time I saw the pilot of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." It was at the conclusion of the premiere episode, "Love Is All Around" that I literally knew what I wanted to do with my future career life. I would one day work in the media. Mary Richards became my hero. It is important to note this since it was not Mary Tyler Moore that I respected and admired (not that there is anything wrong with MTM) - it was Mary Richards. She was the associate producer at WJM News in Minneapolis/St. Paul; and she was the TV voice who defined life for those girls, like me, who had a career dream. I knew from that night in the early 1970's that I would one day be in an enviable position as I would fulfill my dream of working in television.

Quite surely and simply I wanted to be Mary Richards. I liked everything about her character.

Mary drove a Mustang. I've owned two, including a fabulous 1988 Regatta Blue version and a stunning Cranberry Red 1999 version. The Mustang is one of the great cars of all time. It is certainly one of the most defining sports cars in American history and Mary Richards made the decision to drive a Mustang. Cool. I will get one (two) too.

She loved hats! I own 20 hats, although I've never thrown one in the air. I better go outside and do it now, so I can say I did it. When Mary lifts her beret into the air and it comes tumbling down on a Minneapolis/St. Paul street corner the world for me became filled with good thoughts and hopeful options.

Mary was a strong, smart and independent woman. She ended up in the Twin Cities after a broken engagement, but she picked herself up and made a full life for herself. Even by the end of the seven year run Mary didn't get the guy. The second from last episode features a potential Lou/Mary relationship and I've always pretended that episode didn't exist. I definitely didn't want Mary with Lou Grant. Mary needed to make it on her own and quite honestly Mary was too good for Lou Grant. Having said that, Mary was too good for pretty much all of the men she encountered in her seven year life on CBS.

Coming of age in the 1970's was a fortunate consequence of life. I had opportunities staring me in the face even when I watched television. Mary Richards was followed by another great television woman in the likes of Sgt. Pepper Anderson on "Police Woman." Angie Dickinson gave me another example of a solid citizen living and working nobly in an honorable profession. Plus, she wore great clothes! Sorry, but there are times when fashion decisions are quite important! These women allowed me the opportunity to say I could be whatever I wanted to be. Dream if you will, but yes, we could take our dreams and make them a living, breathing, walking reality. Many of us did.Many of the women who came of age during this period of history followed the character of Mary Richards. We grew up and then worked at jobs/careers that we loved.

From the first note of the opening theme song of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" you knew this show was going to make you feel good. Television has produced a slew of great TV theme songs, but the MTM song was a perfect fit for the character and the show. The title song had lyrical content and a melody that could have landed it on a top 40 billboard list. You can't buy this song on iTunes. iTunes only features a re-recorded version of the song. If anyone has any download information, please pass it along.

Prior to this night my role models were my mom (and she still is a comforting joy of unconditional love and my single greatest hero) and the Hanna Barbera cartoon character, Touche Turtle. Touche Away! Touche Away! Touche Turtle was brave and courageous and he was all about doing good deeds. I have amassed an entire Touche Turtle collection, including a Halloween mask I wore when I was six years old. When I die no one will want these items and that's life. I no longer see it as sad. It's just life. The items will be donated to a museum or some worthy group that makes sense for the collection. After Touche my next media hero and my only other media hero was Mary Richards. Mary had it all. She was pretty. Not beautiful, but pretty. I'd enjoy breaking bread at lunch with Mary. I'd want to double date with Mary and our respective beaus. I'd want her advice and I'd want to give her advice. I'd want to hang out with her and Rhoda. They had a tightly bonded relationship that defines the meaning of friendship. Their friendship mattered. It was consequential. They talked, they ate, they shared. Their lives were intertwined with good wishes for one another.

The cast was perfect. Ted, Lou, Murray, Sue Ann, Rhoda, Phyllis, Georgette. Wonderful actors portrayed all of these memorable characters. Even some of the recurring characters are some of the great joys in classic TV. Ida Morgenstern (Rhoda's mother) was brilliantly played by the now deceased Nancy Walker. What a great mom! Who could forget Jack Cassidy's outstanding turn as Ted's obnoxious brother. Cassidy should have been brought back repeatedly. Perfection!

Some of my favorite episodes still make me laugh. My two favorite episodes are the ones where Mary throws the dinner party for six and she doesn't have enough Prince Orloff. If you have thrown a dinner party you know exactly what kind of dilemma Mary has gotten herself into. I've thrown parties with too much food and with too little food, but the too little food situation is the much bigger problem. My single favorite episode comes near the end of the show's run. The episode where Mary is dating both Joe (Ted Bessell) and Dan (Michael Tolan) is the single greatest example of the show's long and durable run. It is well written, clever, witty, charming and real. In spite of Mary's perceived flawlessness she always managed to date guys she shouldn't have dated. The men she tangled with were not good enough for her. As a viewer and fan, Mary became like family. No one is good enough for your family. However, she met her match when she met Joe. He was her soul mate. Her perfect man. I kind of, sort of, wish our Mare would have ended up with Marlo's old beau. He was better with Mary. He was well suited for Mary. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective Mary doesn't end up with Joe.

Most old shows don't work anymore. Of course, I still love "I Love Lucy" and I watch Lucy all of the time. Yes, I've seen them all dozens of times. It doesn't matter. I obviously also love "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." It is the only show I love with almost as much passion as "I Love Lucy." MTM not only still works it's still funny and it still inspires. Whenever I see an episode I remember why I chose my profession. MTM wasn't a show that adopted a style and then discarded it for a cheap laugh. It was a show that was simple, yet elegant and eloquent. The series remained true to itself and amazingly consistent throughout its superbly crafted seven year run. It was a show of personal intimacy and a great accomplishment.

This show will hold a special place in my heart until the day I depart from my earthly life. You can see a statue of Mary throwing up that oh so fab beret at the corner of 7th Street and Nicollet Mall. If you are in the Twin Cities go by and do the photo op. It will make you feel good.

Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. Only one woman. Mary Richards. God Bless you Mare! Your "M" is sill hanging somewhere and my "J" will never leave my wall.


Jane said...

Every time I see the open for the MTM show and Mary throws her hat in the air I remember the way I used to feel when I first got started in the business. Especially when I had to work in NYC and walk through the city to my office, I always felt like MTM...on top of the world! She was an incredible role model for all the women who wanted to "Make it after all" in any of their chosen professions. She was not, however, the reason I got into Show Business. I still have to blame Steven Spielberg for that! Great post, Judit! I added some pix and the wonderful video of the theme song for you!

Lisa said...

Judith, you always give us such wonderful personal memories and tributes; simply lovely. I guess I was watching too many monster movies as a kid to ever have a wholesome female role model, sad to say. :-) I'm a fair bit older than you but you were at a great age to have been exposed to this very positive and exciting character. "Star Trek" was what got me into the biz, but if MTM did it for you, it's quite a legacy! Again, just a totally beautiful post, Judith!