Monday, June 17, 2024

Mary Tyler Moore Deserves All the Accolades


Tonight Mary Tyler Moore receives the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s hard to believe that she’s turned 75 years young, even though she looks eons younger. She’s also managed to weather numerous personal storms while having to maintain the happy go lucky facade of her famous TV characters, Laura Petrie and Mary Richards. It hasn’t always been so easy. Even as she was winning hearts of viewers, and lots of awards, there was trouble at home. Her only son, Richie, died of an accidental gunshot while playing with a gun. Her sister, who was the age of her son (she and her mother were pregnant at the same time), with whom she was very close, also died.

After a bad first marriage, Mary had a long and successful marriage to TV producer Grant Tinker. With Tinker and business associate Arthur Price, they created MTM–and shows like “Rhoda,” and “Lou Grant,” as well as Mary’s own show, made them very rich for life. In 1983, Mary married Dr Richard Levine, who was two decades younger. Everyone said it wouldn’t last. But they are still together, demonstrating that they were really soulmates. It’s a happy ending for someone who worked so hard to get it.

For years after the Mary Tyler Moore show ended, the Levines lived in a spectacular aparment on Fifth Avenue and East 74th St. But various dramas, including an infamous one with Pale Male, the falcon, convinced them to sell. Mary, an avid animal activist, would probably have given Pale Male her apartment. But the Levines moved to Connecticut, where they’ve lived a low key life.

I’ve known Mary for about 20 years. She is everything as advertised. Cheerful and positive despite numerous health issues. She’s worked tirelessly for Juvenile Diabetes. Her eyessight has diminished because of the illness, but she’s persevered. And also despite her low profile, she remains a Star. She’s probably the most beloved TV star of all time. And we shouldn’t forget her 1981 Oscar nomination for Best Actress in “Ordinary People.” It’s a performance for the ages.

“The Dick van Dyke Show” was a lot of fun, and certainly made her career. But it’s “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” –which she guided– that really solidified her place in our culture. And think of the people involved–Valierie Harper and Ed Asner each went on to run SAG at different points. They’ve had lasting careers. Cloris Leachman and Betty White are still working hard and getting endless amounts of publicity in their senior years. Julie Kavner, who played Rhoda’s sister, Brenda, went on to fame with Woody Allen and as Marge Simpson.

There are so many favorite MTM episodes. Mary usually cites “Chuckles the Clown” in which only Mary cannot express grief over the accidental death of an unseen character. (Chuckles was shelled to death by a rogue elephant during a parade.) My own personal favorite is “Veal Prince Orloff,” in which Lou Grant helps himself to too many pieces of the main course at Mary’s dinner party–catered by Sue Ann Nivens. Any time I’ve been at a party where the food has run out early, I think of those six pieces of veal and Mary warning Mr. Grant that he’s taken too much and must return one piece to the serving platter. {“I’m not as hungry as I thought,” Mr. Grant relents.)

I don’t know how the SAG Awards will go tonight–they give Best Ensemble for films, not Best Picture. Either “The Artist” or “The Help” will win. But the real appeal of tonight’s show will be Mary, and all her co-stars, and reliving a time when sitcoms contained beautifully drawn characters who liked each other, were well paced, and intelligent. And at the center of both shows, was Mary, who was the beating heart. Remember — Mary lost the Emmy Award for Best Actress in the show’s first season. And the cast took out an ad in Variety that read “Without her, it would just be called The Show.” Congratulations, Mary.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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