The grown-up show I liked the most as a young kid was the one my parents wouldn’t let me watch, not because there was anything wrong with it but because it came on after my bedtime.
That didn’t stop me.
I would sneak out of bed and creep down the hall to peer myopically at the TV in the living room. My father would be in his chair, snoozing away, my mom would either be in her chair or ironing clothes.
I had a cover story in case I ever got caught and learned to muffle my laughter as I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show with them…only without their knowledge.
Like the lion’s share of writers in my generation, what I saw on The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be a profound influence in my choice of career and life goals.
- I wanted to work at a cool, creative job like he did [Check]
- I wanted to have great, fun co-workers to share that job with [Check]
- and I wanted a wife like Laura Petrie [Check: The former Miss Yi Soon-ok, happily married for 43 years.]
Mary Tyler Moore was one of my childhood / early teen crushes, though after The Dick Van Dyke Show her career stalled briefly, appearing in a very bad Elvis movie, an even worse George Peppard movie, then finally bouncing back with a good supporting role in Thoroughly Modern Millie before landing the role of a lifetime in The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
I call The Mary Tyler Moore Show the first real American novel for TV. It is an amazing show, a product of its time yet absolutely timeless as well. Tho not told in serial format, it really has to be seen in sequence because when viewed that way, Mary Tyler Moore’s incredible performance and growth of character is seen.
You can pick an episode at random and tell from her character not only which season the show comes from but when in that season it was written and performed.
She and her writers grew the character of Mary Richards from a 30 year old girl -- and, yes, I am using that word deliberately and without irony; despite her age and apparent worldliness, Mary Richards had never assumed adult responsibilities before arriving in Minneapolis to start a new life -- to a mature independent woman.
Ironically, Mary Tyler Moore was 34 when she took the role in 1970, and only 41 when the series ended, yet her character seemed to have matured -- not aged -- decades in that period.
This is not a criticism, far from it. The Mary Richards character makes more sense playing out the last season as a career woman in her 50s.
”You know what? You've got spunk. I hate spunk.”
Her most famous roles were all first cousins to one another -- Laura Petrie, Mary Richards, Miss Dorothy Brown in Thoroughly Modern Millie -- and her ability to project that splendid combination of wit, intelligence, an appealing personality, and at the same time a certain degree of vulnerability served her well.
Later TV projects did not do her justice, but it was not for lack of ability on her part. She demonstrated she was more than capable of extending her range far beyond her most famous roles. She could be an icy cold matriarch who triggers a family breakdown (Ordinary People) and a real life villain of Disney proportions (Stolen Babies).
She also had a very complex inner life and a very complicated personal one. She struggled with alcoholism and diabetes. Apparently she kept the former at bay, but succumbed to the latter.
I don’t want to think about that. It does a disservice to Mary Tyler Moore the human being to look only at a thin slice of her life that, no matter how exceptional, still represents only a tiny fraction of who she really was. She, like all people, deserves more than that.
But this is my blog, and I want to close this entry by remembering how I first saw her, peeping over the armchair with my snoozing father in it…
 She was a late night ironer, often watching the Late Show while ironing.
 “Can I have some water?”
 Wow! What are the odds of that?
 “Oh, Rohhhhhhhhhbbb…”