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RIP, Mary Tyler Moore

By Rich Heldenfels Published: January 25, 2017

In his autobiography, Grant Tinker said this of his first meeting with Mary Tyler Moore at the making of "The Dick Van Dyke Show": "Part of the immediate attraction I felt for Mary was her natural quality that made the role come alive, to say nothing of comedic skills I 'm sure Carl (Reiner) and Sheldon (Leonard) never counted on. The other part was that she simply knocked my socks off." 

Now, there was much more to Moore -- including a knack for drama made clear in "Ordinary People," and a sense of quality which was evident in MTM, the production company she and Tinker (who would become her husband and ex-) founded. But there was about her a naturalness that made it possible for her to be a single, working woman who did not need to engage in the slapstick of a Lucille Ball (although she could do that), or to have a show that repeatedly failed the Bechdel test -- who could just be, with flaws and brightness and an awareness that if she called Lou "Mr. Grant" it did not demean her; it was simply what she felt was appropriate.

And, of course, while doing that she could still knock our collective socks off.

That's a tough thing to pull off, and Moore did it twice. Granted she also had flops (I remember wincing through "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a movie misfire, and the less wonderful series attempts, including a variety show and drama "New York News"). In recent times, particularly in a guest appearance on "Hot in Cleveland," she did not look well. But time catches up to everyone, and that was a forceful reminder that she'd been on TV for more than half a century.

Still, when she succeeded, she did so with two series that to this day are classics -- well written, thoughtfully produced and built around solid acting ensembles. Her name may have been on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," but just as "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was about all the characters, so it was with "MTM." Only she had to have a strong center, and on her show she was unquestionably it. We believed in her. We liked her. In time, as other sitcom stars came and went, we also recognized how much we respected her. We may have hated spunk in others, but not in her.

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