What Mary Meant To Me...
As the world mourns the loss of Mary Tyler Moore, there is a special subset that is taking this especially hard, and I am one of them. Even though it was no secret that her health had been failing for many years, to those of us who were teenagers during the years when the Mary Tyler Moore Show aired, she remained forever young, forever optimistic, forever spunky. "I hate spunk," said Lou Grant, played by Ed Asner, in an early episode- maybe even the premier. But we bought into it, as it seemed completely authentic. Was Mary Tyler Moore really Mary Richards, or the other way around? It didn't really matter to those of us sitting on shag carpeting in front of the Sony Trinitron, dreaming about our own first jobs, first apartments and first meaningful friendships beyond the turbulence of our adolescence.
There was a relatable someone for each and every one of us in that magnificent ensemble cast. Certainly Murray, as played by Gavin McLeod, inspired me to write, just as Betty White's Sue Ann Nivens inspired me to cook. How many of you ever researched Veal Prince Orloff? I did. But all roads led to Mary.
Apart from the obvious, she was everything I wasn't... disciplined, upbeat, gentile and thin, which perfectly explains the writers' genius in creating the character of Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) as Mary's BFF, the yin to her yang. I longed for a friendship like that, and fortunately several did come my way. I have Mary to thank for that.
We're all reminiscing about our favorite episodes... the iconic "Chuckles Bites the Dust," "The Dinner Party," but how many remember the one where Mary developed a friendship with a gal who belonged to a restricted tennis club- and Mary's decision to terminate the friendship when told that Rhoda "wouldn't fit in?" Sure, it was lifted from Auntie Mame's run-in with the Upsons of Montebank, but to me, that episode is indelible.
I can recall every little detail of Mary's studio apartment. Who didn't want to live there, what with its eclectic mix of kitsch and mod? It defined the look of an era when bohemian chic became mainstream. I certainly channeled it for my own first apartment, which like Mary's, was carved out of a large Victorian house. I had impulsively transferred from Carnegie-Mellon to Northwestern, and couldn't get a room in a dorm. But the moment I saw that cozy attic rental on the edge of campus, I immediately thought of Mary's Minneapolis digs. It was charming, but I didn't last at Northwestern. I lacked Mary's discipline and spunk.
The house still stands on a leafy corner of Evanston, IL. I've driven by it a few times, and always shed a tear or two over lost youth and what could have been. When I got the text that Mary was gone, from an old buddy with whom I have always enjoyed a Mary-Rhoda dynamic, the same tears returned. It's funny, I never met Mary Tyler Moore... I don't think I ever even saw her in person. But like so many, I felt as though I knew her, and will miss her dearly. My consolation is that like Mary Richards, I actually do live my life with a marvelous ensemble cast... I have my very own Lou, Murray, Phyllis and Rhoda... even a Ted Baxter and Sue Ann here and there, and definitely a Georgette. With their help, and yes, spunk, I think I'll make it after all.
Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore.