- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Mary Tyler Moore
Was Mary Tyler Moore ever considered a feminist icon? I don't know--or can't remember--the answer to that. If she wasn't, perhaps she should have been. If she was, it's unfortunate that we've forgotten the singular nature of her role as an independent career woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s. Either way, I would presume that Moore herself never set out to be any such thing.
What she was, at least initially, was a dancer and an actress. She achieved fame as a regular on two of the greatest comedy series in the history of television, and either one of those roles would have been sufficient by itself to grant her pop culture immortality. Before that, she started as Happy Hotpoint, a cute li'l dancin' elf in commercials for the Hotpoint brand of appliances; in between those TV series, she made a terrible movie called Thoroughly Modern Millie, and a forgettable movie with Elvis; after those series, she was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film Ordinary People. She returned to TV sporadically, but not with the lasting impact of her two earlier series.
But oh, those two series...!
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) must always figure into any discussion of the all-time greatest sitcoms. Moore's role as Laura Petrie, suburban housewife to TV comedy writer Rob Petrie, was pre-feminist at best. It was a world where a man provided, and a woman kept her place in the home. Well, except for Rob's co-writer Sally Rogers, sure, but she was always pining for a fella anyway. Women were silly, frilly things that got themselves into ridiculous situations...er, kinda like the ridiculous situations the silly men found themselves blundering into. And that was the thing: if the show was inevitably colored by the prevailing gender attitudes of the day, it still never condescended. Laura was as smart as Rob, probably as capable as Rob, and arguably even more resourceful than Rob. The Dick Van Dyke Show was blessed with one of the most accomplished, gifted casts ever assembled, and crafted by one of the greatest writing staffs ever to string together antics, guffaws, and predicaments in sitcom form. Dick Van Dyke is one of the most talented and charismatic performers ever to grace a cathode ray tube; Mary Tyler Moore was his equal.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) may be the defining sitcom of the 1970s. You could make a case for All In The Family, but the case would be dismissed before trial. All In The Family was controversial and groundbreaking, but also often didactic and shrill. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, like The Dick Van Dyke Show before it, was just a sitcom, designed to make you laugh. That it succeeded on a greater level was merely incidental, yet positively seismic.
There had been many previous sitcoms with a female lead, since before The Lucy Show and through Julia, where the star character was a widow, with or without children. But there weren't a lot of--or any--comedy series centered on a single woman trying to make it on her own. Even Marlo Thomas in That Girl came already equipped with a steady, serious boyfriend. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary Richards wasn't exactly opposed to maybe finding the right guy, but it wasn't a goal that defined her life. She had a job. No--she had a career. She was a television news producer, and dammit, she was determined to be a good one. She had spunk, and she didn't care if her boss hated spunk. She could be intimidated initially, but never for very long. She deserved and demanded equal pay for equal work. She was a fierce and loyal friend. And she was going to make it after all.
It's easy to forget how unprecedented this was on television in the early '70s. The character of Mary Richards was remarkably well-drawn, neither perfect nor pathetic, but likably and hilariously real. The best definition of feminism I've ever heard is that it's the radical belief that a woman is a human being. Mary Richards--a fictional female flickering on our TV screens on Saturday nights--was a human being. Like The Monkees bringing '60s counterculture into the living room, and I Spy or Lt. Uhura on Star Trek introducing white viewers to confident, capable African-American individuals, Mary Tyler Moore's starring role in The Mary Tyler Moore Show served as a casual model for what was possible. There were little girls, young (and older) women, and even some guys of varying age watching and learning. Possibilities. A real possibility can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.
It was just a TV show. It wanted you to watch, it wanted you to laugh, it wanted you to buy the sponsors' products, and it wanted you back in front of your TV at the same time next week. It accomplished so much more than just its meager raison d'etre. We are all the richer for that.
Love is all around. This week, we mourn the passing of Mary Tyler Moore, an actress who became an integral part of our lives. She was real, and you should know it. With each glance and every little movement, she showed it. A dancer, an actress, and an icon, Mary Tyler Moore turned the world on with her smile.
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