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.

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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.

The Best Has Already Come: A Tribute to Frank Sinatra

(Please excuse this one off-topic post; I could not let Sinatra’s 100th birthday pass without writing about him 🙂 )

 

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I remember the first time I listened to my grandfather’s CD player. As Grandpa sat beside me, there was a twinkle in his eye; he carefully unwrapped a hard candy, making sure to thoughtfully offer me one as well, while selecting an album from his impressive collection. I must confess that I do not recall which song he played for me, but I remember the album itself. I remember the voice.

The album’s cover intrigued me: a man smiling and gazing into the distance as if he had just thought of something spectacularly wonderful. It was as if he possessed a beautiful secret others would long to know just from glancing into his wistful eyes—but it was his secret and no one could fully guess (though they would try). The man in question was Frank Sinatra; the album was Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits. Even though I was a young girl at the time, I instantly recognized the name as someone famous, someone important. It’s just that this was the first time I was learning why.

“Your Grandma and I have been listening to Frank Sinatra for years. There were a lot of great singers when we were growing up, but Sinatra was always the best”, Grandpa explained—a statement he would repeat for many years to come.

And so we sat in a complacent silence, listening. I was captivated; there was something remarkably unique about Sinatra, even from that first song—something warm, sincere and inviting, something never quite matched by any other singer up to that point or since. Of course, I asked Grandpa if I could borrow the album, to which he readily agreed.

Since then, scarcely a day goes by when I am not aware of the myriad of ways in which Sinatra has touched my life, the ways in which he will undoubtedly continue to do so. I think of his films: from watching Robin and the 7 Hoods with my father as a child to finally seeing High Society a few months ago, his warmth is as apparent onscreen as it is on an album (of course, there’s humor there as well). I remember the articles, the books, the documentaries—all the wonderful works of fiction and nonfiction highlighting the incredible life of this singer, actor, civil rights activist, legend. I recall last summer, when I referenced my Grandpa’s love for Sinatra in the eulogy I wrote for him; whenever I listen to Sinatra—as I am now while writing this—I imagine he is still with me, smiling.

Today marks what would have been Sinatra’s 100th birthday—sadly, The Chairman has been gone for close to twenty years; but when you consider how lucky the world was to have him and his music at all, this passage of time—this period of time where Sinatra has not been physically present—seems insignificant. Sinatra never really leaves. His music is not akin to that soundtrack you listened to for three months straight before growing tired of it or that one pop song you played on repeat incessantly until it, too, bored you. Listening to and loving Sinatra’ music is not a phase; it is a lifestyle. There is a Sinatra song for everything, every time, every place: excited, in love, broken-hearted, lonely, proud, dejected, celebratory, reflective, remorseful.

Ultimately, each and every one brings me back to the initial awe I had when I first listened to him as a young girl; each and every note he sings transports my life to a place of joy, a place of love—and I’m still drawn in by his wistful eyes, wondering what he was first trying to convey. I think I get it now: the secret is in that very state of awe, the fact that I listened to him as a young girl, listen to him still and shall continue to do so.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Sinatra; in the end, all I can really say is thank you.