Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore, legendary entertainer and producer, dead at age 80

Is it okay to say you’ve lost a family member when that person isn’t even a relative? Well, she wasn’t a relative, but I’ve lost one of my very favorite actresses of all time, who at the very least was like a favorite cousin. The first years I ever “knew” Mary Tyler Moore was as Laura Petrie.

As a proud owner of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” book by Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders (1983, St. Martin’s Press), there’s instant access to all the episode summaries for the entire series. Immediately coming to mind without even checking the book are the Petrie home address, 448 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle, NY. Neighbors were Jerry and Millie Helper. Son Ritchie’s favorite series of lines, “Daddy, did you bring me anything today?” “How about a stick of gum, Rich.” “Yay!”

Favorite episodes where Laura/Mary showed her dancing and singing style (“The Talented Neighborhood” where Doris Singleton’s “Mrs. Kendell” would con Rob into heading up the talent contest, and Mary would audition “a little something.” Then Eleanor Audley’s “Mrs. Billings” pushed Rob to the theatrical “Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra,” again showcasing Mary’s theatrical talents. Or, the “Too Many Stars” episode with Sylvia Lewis, competing with Laura for the prime spot; each of these episodes is a classic.

Probably my all-time favorite episode is “The Alan Brady Show Presents,” where the entire Alan Brady Show (Carl Reiner) staff perform in lieu of a scripted comedy.

The Alan Brady Chorus, hands down, delivers the most hysterical musical episode of the lot, at least in this writer’s opinion. Quick, before you watch, who is ejected from the chorus first and in what order? You know you know this!

Moving forward from 1966, when “The Dick Van Dyke Show” concluded, until 1970 when “The Mary Tyler Show” debuted, time passed very slowly for me. But in 1970, entertainment returned as MTM was back, this time in a James L. Brooks-Allan Burns brilliant creation that they also co-produced, together with Grant Tinker. How many times does a retro TV special include this dialogue?

Lou Grant: "Mary, You've got spunk."

Mary Richards: “Thank you, Mr. Grant.”

Lou Grant: “I hate spunk.”

And so, the show opened in 1970 with “Love is All Around,” written and sung by Sonny Curtis:

“How will you make it on your own? This world is awfully big. Girl this time you’re all alone. But it’s time you started living. It’s time you let someone else do some giving. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town. Why don’t you take it? You might just make it after all.”

Sonny Curtis sang the opening and closing themes on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show" from 1970-1977. And all of America who will admit it, can sing right along with the song that (re)introduced America to beloved character actors who held regular roles including Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, John Amos, Lisa Gerritsen, and Joyce Bulifant.

Her MTM Enterprises flourished in its number and quality of primarily comedy shows produced through the years. Daily operations were headed by co-owner and Mary's former husband Grant Tinker, who died just last November, 2016 at age 90.

Together they were an amazing production team, giving us so many shows we can name right off the tops of our collective heads: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Phyllis,” “Lou Grant,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “St. Elsewhere,” and “Remington Steele,” to name a few.

Oh, let’s not forget the iconic music and characters of “WKRP in Cincinnati.” The “Big Guy” Arthur Carlson, portrayed by Gordon Jump, and “Little Guy,” Herbert R. Tarlek, Jr. (Frank Bonner), Howard Hesseman’s “Johnny Fever” (et al.), Tim Reid’s “Venus Flytrap,” Loni Anderson’s “Jennifer Marlow,” “Andy Travis” (Gary Sanders), Bailey Quarters (Jan Smithers), and everyone’s favorite reporter, Les Nessman (Richard Sanders), who gave us all newfound respect for the Silver Sow Award and passed on the knowledge that turkeys indeed cannot fly. These shows and the legendary characters are essentially all thanks to Mary Tyler Moore.

As the years passed, the final season show opened with (Sing along, go ahead)

“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well, it’s you girl, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement you show it. Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all. You’re going to make it after all.”

You remember the cat meowing at the end of each show?

That was Mary’s own cat, Mimsie, set to be the MGM lion in training. MGM, MTM…you know.The only time it took on a different voicing was when Bob Newhart recorded his own voice saying, “Meow.” Classic Bob.

Back then, it wasn’t well known, but MTM Enterprises actually co-owned the CBS Studio Center, in Studio City, California; hence, most of the MTM series were shown on CBS. That meant ratings gold for the network and Saturday night programming was locked up at one point in the 1970s with the MTM branding.

As TV Line has just reported Mary’s death at age 80 today, I don’t think about the four Emmys she won, the dancer she was, or even the Hotpoint little wisp of a fairy she was. Some of you are too young to recall the very first days of her career. I just think of a woman of classic beauty, dignity, style and grace, who was a guest in my home for 90% of my life. Sometimes I’d have to go to the movies to see her, as she was capable of handling comedy, musicals, and drama with equal skill.

As a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, we were aware that she had battled the disease throughout her life. We also know that she lost her son far too young and yet, despite her pain, she pressed on with her career. Even after her divorce from Grant Tinker, she continued to entertain us. And she found love again, with a devoted husband, Dr. Robert Levine, who survives her.

In 1979 she starred in an ill-fated one-season series, “The Mary Tyler Moore Hour” and despite a sterling cast (Dody Goodman and Michael Keaton), it fizzled, but not before garnering an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series (of course, fellow credit watching devotees will recognize RenĂ© Lagler and Carl Carlson as experts who’d likely garner an Emmy nod for building a set out of popsicle sticks—they’re that good).

In fact, Mary Tyler Moore’s world was defined by, expanded by, and graced by some of the most iconic character actors, production executives, network executives, and behind the scenes pros. Together, these teams gave us decades of joy, laughter, entertainment, escape, and inspiration to enter a business where everything is exciting, day after day, because it is to bring joy into the lives of others.

As Sonny Curtis sang, “Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it? You’re going to make it after all.” And the MTM cat meows, knowingly. As Valerie Harper’s character, Rhoda Morganstern, used to say, “Thanks, Mer..” and lots of love.

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