Thanks, Mary Tyler Moore
photo via Biography.com

IT IS very difficult to convey, as we grapple with the 21st Century Trump era, how important Mary Tyler Moore was to modern women.

But what Mary Tyler Moore meant to me, personally, is something that is embedded in who I am today.

From my memoir, The Sexual Education of a Beauty Queen – Relationship Secrets from the Trenches

… The stuff coming at me as a girl was blinding, especially since I spent much of my childhood in front of the TV, though it’s nothing compared to the onslaught coming at girls today through social media and the web. The big box in front of me was my babysitter, and I was a passenger captivated by this dream machine. The ramp up to what became the reality for new generations of liberated women was amazing to watch once it blasted into American living rooms. There is nothing that impacted me more growing up than the images of women I saw on the screen, big and small.

I simply was That Girl, the character Ann Marie, in ABC’s epic television series, or at least I wanted to be. The show starred the indomitable Marlo Thomas as an aspiring actress who moved to New York City to make it big. From 1966 to 1971, girls like me watched the single-girl life play out on TV, dreaming, visualizing that we could be that girl, however we each defined her, because not everyone wanted to be an actress. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if Ann’s engagement at the end of the sitcom’s run would have manifested in marriage. It would have been a disaster, but it would not have been surprising, because TV was run by men, just as advertising was in the 1950s, so it would have been their version of what’s best for us. But Marlo Thomas and others on the show were ahead of the curve and knew things had already started changing.

Still, I got sucked up in the whole engagement-ring ritual so many college females fell into in the 1970s. It was an escape from struggles at home and from working too hard, though I was a statistic just as quickly as I said “I do,” because I really never wanted to. That I thought marriage would be an escape shows you just how naive I was, though I was hardly alone. We’ve all learned a lot since the 1970s, but That Girl had it right all along, earlier than American society.

In 1970, the Mary Tyler Moore Show picked up the slack and then some, with Mary Tyler Moore playing TV’s first never-married career girl, Mary Richards, who was paying her own way without money from a husband or ex-husband, and without a steady boyfriend. By the time the show was off the air, I was well on my way to being long gone from Missouri.

These two TV shows validated my existence and the fact that being different wasn’t weird. I rarely saw women outside these shows I could relate to, which is why That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore mattered so much. Everything else started with finding a husband, marrying said man, having children, then never wanting for more or even considering there was more. In fact, thinking differently about dating and men got you classified as less– not feminine, not sufficiently womanly. To say I was in mortal conflict with myself is an understatement. …

The New York Times article about Ms. Moore’s life is brilliant.

… At least a decade before the twin figures of the harried working woman and the neurotic, unwed 30-something became media preoccupations, Ms. Moore’s portrayal — for which she won four of her seven Emmy Awards — expressed both the exuberance and the melancholy of the single career woman who could plot her own course without reference to cultural archetypes.

The show, and her portrayal of Mary as a sisterly presence in the office, as well as a source of ingenuity and humor, was a balm to widespread anxieties about women in the work force.

It modeled a productive style of coed collegiality, with Ms. Moore teasing out the various ironies known to any smart woman trying to keep from cracking up in a world of scowling male bosses and preening male soloists.

“Mary Tyler Moore became a feminist icon as Mary Richards,” Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, the author of “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic,” said. …

Thanks for it all.

In “Chuckles Bites the Dust,” [see video embedded above] which is on many lists of the best television episodes of all time (TV Guide ranked it No. 3), Mary is appalled by her colleagues’ irreverent response to the undignified death of Chuckles the Clown, the host of a children’s show on their station. But at his funeral, it’s she who can’t control her giggles. Her struggle to suppress laughter is a comic tour de force. (David Lloyd won an Emmy for writing the episode, one of 29 the show won over all.) [New York Times]