Defying Stereotypes, Inspiring Laughter: A Tribute to Rose Marie

Full disclosure: I am only twenty-three years old and the most exciting thing I have done in recent memory is attend a special screening of—and Q&A session for—the new Rose Marie documentary Wait for Your Laugh. I know some would find this more than a little surprising, and I completely understand why; I was, after all, the youngest person in the theater. Still, if you follow this blog or know me personally (perhaps noticing my Dick York desktop background or Sinatra posters), this really is not that surprising.

Rose_Marie_1970

Of course, this post is not really about my affinity for classic Hollywood stars; it’s about Rose Marie herself and, more specifically, why her career (spanning roughly 90+ years) is worth knowing. Though she is most famous for portraying sassy television writer Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie has been dancing, singing, and acting for stage and screen since the tender age of three.

I honestly knew very little of her fascinating childhood years prior to seeing the documentary, but I was definitely familiar with Sally. It’s no small exaggeration for me to say that, as a writer, I have consistently found Sally inspiring ever since I first watched Dick Van Dyke reruns as a young girl. A true equal next to her male counterparts, Rob (Van Dyke) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam), Sally worked hard, voiced her opinions confidently, and could more than hold her on against any joke with a clever wisecrack of her own.

In addition to inspiring me that women can and, in many ways, should tell their own stories through writing, the fact that Sally never quite fits into a pre-designated “box” as to how a woman “should behave” (especially by ‘60s standards) is equally inspiring. Whether in the ‘60s (when the series originally aired) or during the present day, she is a reminder that women should never feel confined by societal expectations and should instead live their lives as they themselves see fit: laugh, cry, embrace traditional feminine roles, reject those same roles, talk, listen—or, yes, maybe even write for a television show.

It’s only fitting then that, in real life, Rose Marie has also been someone who defies expectations and stereotypes. Of course, she will forever be associated with Sally Rogers, but—as Wait for Your Laugh proves—it would be unfair and limiting to let this completely define her, as it would downplay everything else she has accomplished as a true trailblazer in the industry. So, let’s not try to define her at all; let’s simply laugh with her.

Advertisements

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore

January 25th started out as a pretty standard day, great even. Then, I overheard the following at work: “Mary Tyler Moore just died.” I froze. Nooooo. I had known of Mary’s health problems, but I struggled with accepting the fact that the woman I had always viewed as a strong, resilient fighter was really gone.

The real life Mary was always an excellent role model—she was a lifelong animal rights activist and worked intimately with the JDRF to raise awareness of type 1 diabetes (a condition Mary herself had). Still, like countless others, it was through her two most iconic television roles that I came to “know” her: Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. 

In addition to the fact that each sitcom features iconic performances from Mary, both are essential viewing for anyone even slightly interested in comedy writing and strong female sitcom characters. Laura was charming, intelligent, quick-witted, just as funny as Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie, and one heck of a dancer. Also, thanks to Mary’s influence, Laura revolutionized the way women dressed on television by donning her now iconic capris pants.

What is also worth noting about The Dick Van Dyke Show is how loving and mutually respectful the marriage between Rob and Laura was. Unlike many later sitcoms, where one half of the couple is “in charge” while the other half is often portrayed as a submissive buffoon, thus resulting in a somewhat repetitive cycle of “good cop vs bad cop”, Rob and Laura were true equals. They joked together, danced together, and when they argued neither of them ever came off as controlling or condescending. From episode to episode, the two alternated who was the “straight-man”, giving Van Dyke and Moore equal chance to play the fool.

A few years later (1970 to be exact) on her eponymous sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore continued to break ground as a woman whom was not a wife or mother—she was just Mary Richards. Career-driven, independent and funny, she was more than capable of helming her own story as the protagonist.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-1-43-14-pm

In the pilot episode “Love Is All Around” (the same name as the series’ iconic theme song by Sonny Curtis), a newly single thirty-year-old Mary relocates her life to Minneapolis. She settles into a new apartment and quickly makes new friends (notably Valerie Harper’s quick-witted Rhoda Morgenstern). Then, in one of the most memorable scenes of the series, she interviews for a job at WJM-TV with Ed Asner’s gruff yet lovable news director Lou Grant:

Lou: “What religion are you?”

Mary: “Mr. Grant, I don’t quite know how to tell you this, but you’re not allowed to ask that when someone’s applying for a job. It’s against the law.”

It’s a quick exchange, not nearly as iconic as the line anyone probably thinks of when remembering this pilot (referring to, of course, Lou’s “You know what, you’ve got spunk…I hate spunk!”), but it establishes something even more important about Mary’s character. Yes, of course Mary’s spunky; despite Asner’s excellent comic timing and delivery, the audience hardly needs reminding of such an obvious fact—especially when the aforementioned exchange between Mary and Lou so perfectly highlights Mary’s willingness to speak her mind, no matter whom she’s addressing or what the issue at hand may be. As the scene continues, Mary confirms that she will indeed be what the television landscape (and real life) is always in need of: an outspoken, confident woman who is willing and ready to fight for what she wants and knows she deserves. As Lou hired Mary as his Associate Producer, so too did countless women watching choose Mary as someone they not only wished to emulate as countless still saw her in themselves.

Decades later, this legacy continues. Thank you, Mary; thank you for your smile, individuality, independence, and spunk.

Thank you for paving the way.