2017 has taken its first entertainment great– Mary Tyler Moore has died today, age 80.
Moore was most famous for her groundbreaking show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, one of TV’s first and most famous portrayals of a happy, single, career-driven female character. The show, which launched in 1971, starred Moore as television producer and career-woman Mary Richards, paving the way for shows like 30 Rock, Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal.
But the show’s impact was on more than just the sitcoms to follow. The Mary Tyler Moore Show came at a key moment in second wave feminism, during which women were beginning to imagine the possibilities of life outside the home, of having a career and not just a job. Mary Richards was an aspirational figure for independent women everywhere– not only was the show about her profession, it opened with her just having broken off an engagement (it was originally supposed to be a divorce, but producers said too soon) and moved across the country for her career.
Its famous theme song opened by questioning whether Mary was going to make it: “How will you make it on your own?/ This world is awfully big/ Girl, this time, you’re all alone.” I can only imagine how much this spoke to women of the time, considering how much it speaks to us even now: “But it’s time you started living/ It’s time you let someone else do some giving.”
The show was unapologetically progressive and feminist. It was the first show on TV to portray a woman asking her boss why her male colleagues were paid more. As Hope Reese wrote in the Atlantic, “More women entering the workplace saw Mary as a role model, envying her cozy apartment and vibrant friendships. The show moved away from the domestic sphere, featuring a woman in an office. It was one of the first to explicitly call a male character gay and to mention the Pill.”
And it had some painfully relatable moments, such as when Mary, trying to talk seriously about issues and finding herself being constantly manterrupted with pointless jokes by her arrogant co-worker Ted, told him to shut up.
Moore was also beloved for her role as Laura Petrie, wife to Dick Van Dyke in The Dick Van Dyke Show in the ’60s. Moore, insisting to producers that her character sometimes wear pants (as it was unrealistic for a woman to do housework in a dress and pearls), normalized the idea of women wearing pants on television. Her follow up sitcom being about a happily single career woman was even more powerful given her popularity as a TV wife. She also starred in musicals, opposite Elvis Presley in Change of Habit (1970) and Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967).
Moore was known in later life for being an activist and animal lover, encouraging people to adopt animals from shelters, and a spokesperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Rest in Peace, Mary.
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