I discovered Mary Tyler Moore watching Nick at Nite as a child in Detroit. At the time, during the 90's what was considered "classic television" went back into the 60's and 70's and they had just started showing The Dick Van Dyke show, where I first saw Moore's Laura Petrie, the devoted yet headstrong wife of Dick Van Dyke's character Robert Petrie, writer for the Alan Brady Show.
More than any other sitcom housewife, Laura Petrie struck a chord with me because she was different than other housewives I had seen on black and white sitcoms. As many have noted over the years, she was almost the anti-June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver fame, because she fought for the ability to wear comfortable clothes in the show when doing work around the house instead of vacuuming in a sun dress like patriarchal 1960's America wanted her to. She was intelligent, graceful and headstrong throughout the show's entire run and her chemistry with Dick Van Dyke was phenomenal. Two of my favorite episodes of the show from the second season, "The Cat Burglar" and "It May Look Like a Walnut" are absolute classes in slapstick comedic acting from those two.
Then shortly thereafter Nick at Nite starting airing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and I saw the "next level" of Moore's comedic timing and ability. After spending five seasons as one of the strongest, most iconic housewives on national television, Moore was now a single woman in the 70's named Mary Richards, taking on the world as the associate producer of WJM's six o'clock news in Minneapolis. This was arguably where Moore became a cultural icon as she spent seven seasons redefining the image of the independent woman in America in what is considered one of the greatest American sitcoms ever made. Social issues were tackled on a regular basis throughout the show's tenure, including the integrity of journalism as a whole in the episode where Mary goes to jail for refusing to divulge a source for her story. Sadly, we live a world today where a lot of the journalists could learn quite a bit from a fictional TV news outfit in 70's Minnesota.
For many people, Mary Tyler Moore was a cultural icon and a champion for women and that will be her legacy for those who were a fan of her TV characters or her later work for charities, animal rights, diabetes and other political causes. For me, I will always remember her as a hilariously entertaining trailblazer who managed to redefine the image of the suburban housewife and the single independent woman in two decades on two of the finest sitcoms ever made, produced in an era when comedy was still intelligently funny all around.
I still know all of the lyrics to "Love Is All Around," the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and that includes the very different verse of lyrics from the first season of the show before she was known to "turn the world on with her smile," and even though she has now passed on after 80 incredible years on this earth, that smile will always be remembered by those of us who and always will be her fans.
Rest in Peace, Mary Tyler Moore AKA Mary Richards AKA Laura Petrie......and thank you for all the smiles.