As an actress of the stage and screen, as well as a producer and social advocate, Mary Tyler Moore was a television icon, providing roles in The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show that challenged and changed social/gender norms and stereotypes of the time (and today), which helped establish strong feminist ideals in a new TV landscape. She was undoubtedly a screen legend and she's certainly missed.
Since her passing in 2017, many fans have reflected back on her life and legacy and seen the remarkable work she has done throughout her career. She has also fought many battles in her personal life, many of which show a sad side to the funny-woman's story. If you're a Mary Tyler Moore fan, here are some fascinating facts worth knowing.
Mary Tyler Moore Got Her Start Selling Appliances As A Dancer
While she would become one of the biggest TV stars of the 20th century, Mary Tyler Moore's career beginnings were very humble. At 17, Moore was a dancer. The future actress started her TV career playing "Happy Hotpoint," a dancing elf selling Hotpoint appliances for commercials during the 1950s series, Ozzie and Harriet.
In this ad-related role, Moore appeared in nearly 40 commercials before she left the job. It was around this time that Moore got pregnant and, after a few months, she couldn't conceal her baby bump any longer. It wasn't long after this job that Moore started posing anonymously for a number of album covers. Her first regular TV role was playing a telephone receptionist in Richard Diamond, Private Detective — although it's forgivable if you don't remember her from this particular role. Only her legs (and voice) appeared.
Mary Tyler Moore Fought To Wear Pants On Her Show
As we noted before, Mary Tyler Moore was a trendsetter throughout her career, and she fought for feminist values in The Dick Van Dyke Show as well as The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Specifically, the actress fought to wear pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show. While the era's depiction of women typically found them wearing dresses and pearls, Moore found this costume choice to be unrealistic and fabricated. Her decision to wear pants on the show helped popularize the clothing item for women nationwide. While it should be noted that she wasn't the first woman to wear pants on TV, it established Moore's character as more realistic and believable than other women portrayed on television at the time. This decision continued to pave the way for Moore's feminist-driven career.
Mary Richards Was Originally A Divorcee, But CBS Nixed This Idea
With TV or any creative endeavor, there are going to be several changes made from page-to-screen. When it comes to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the title actress initially had the character written as a divorcee. At the time, Moore herself was a divorced woman, and she wanted to reflect that point of view on television — particularly with so few prominent characters being divorced at the time. Alas, that wasn't something CBS wasn't willing to let the actress explore in this show. They nixed this idea, though the actress and the showrunners would find other ways to showcase her independence.
Her Son, Richie, Tragically Died At 24 From An Accidental Gunshot Wound
Sadly, for as much joy and laughter as Mary Tyler Moore brought us from her decades in comedy, her personal life was filled with several terrible tragedies. In 1995, Moore's son, Richie, tragically passed away from an accidental gunshot wound.
As Us Weekly reported, Richie was loading and unloading a small .410 shotgun when it went off unexpectedly, killing him instantly. The weapon was known for its hair-trigger; it was later taken off the market for that reason. It was only two years earlier when Moore's sister passed away from a drug overdose. Additionally, in her memoir, After All, Moore detailed an earlier incident in 1992 where Moore helped her terminally-ill brother try to commit suicide by feeding him ice cream laced with a deadly overdose of drugs. This attempt ultimately failed, but her sibling died from the disease three months later.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show Was One Of The First TV Programs To Celebrate An Independent Career Woman
Mandy Tyler Moore was a pioneer on television. In addition to all the acclaim and accolades her show earned on its own merits, the adored series also inspired a bunch of TV shows to follow with its progressive, forward-thinking feminist vision. Namely, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered one of the first TV programs to ever celebrate an independent career woman in a positive way. In fact, it might've been the very first. By celebrating positive independent women on television in a prominent and revered broadcast series, Moore became an iconic and influential television personality.
Mary Tyler Moore And Her Mother Once Had A Personal Audience With Pope John Paul II
It's safe to say that Mary Tyler Moore saw many extraordinary triumphs throughout her outstanding career, but she also had some incredible moments in her personal life in well. For instance, as the actress detailed in her 2009 memoir, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, And Oh Yeah, Diabetes, there was a point in her life where Moore and her mother, Marjorie, once had a personal audience with Pope John Paul II. Not something everyone can say. They visited the Vatican together while Moore's mother battled illness. It was shortly after the mother and daughter returned to the U.S. that the TV actress met her mother's doctor, Robert Levine, who attended a house call. They started dating and later married in 1983, and they stayed married until Moore passed in 2017.
She Starred In Elvis Presley's Final Movie, Change of Habit
While Mary Tyler Moore's filmography wasn't as extensive as her TV career, it did feature its highlights. Chief among them was her Oscar-nominated performance in Robert Redford's Best Picture-winner, Ordinary People. Additionally, Moore starred as the love interest in Change Of Habit, Elvis Presley's final starring vehicle. The 1969 crime-drama musical came around the point where Presley's career declined. He wasn't the guarantee hit-maker he once was; his $1 million demanding price proved to be too steep for uncertain profits. Thus, outside of concert films, this film became Elvis' last.
Subsequently, Change of Habit was the fourth and final film in Mary Tyler Moore's brief Universal contract. The primarily TV actress wouldn't star in another theatrical film until the aforementioned drama, Ordinary People. While this movie didn't make an impact beyond its notable history, it was an early collaboration between Moore and Ed Asner, her future Mary Tyler Moore Show co-star, which premiered in September of that year.
What's your favorite Mary Tyler Moore role? Let us know in the comment section below!
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.