April in Glenwood: Something about Mary
Last week, the tribe of funny women in entertainment lost another founding member. She was initially known as the girl with three names.
The world would later know, and love, Mary Tyler Moore as an iconic trailblazer.
Moore, who died Jan. 25 after a cardiopulmonary event related to pneumonia at the age of 80, took her singing, dancing, acting and comedic talents to heights rarely reached by our gender in that golden era of television. Just the mention of her three names reminds any woman who watched TV in the ‘60s and ‘70s that glass ceilings can be shattered. That equal pay for the same roles as their male counterparts is obtainable.
And women could wear the pants in the family, too.
In her time on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which ran from 1961-1966, ending the year my mom graduated from high school, Moore showed women they could be taken seriously as actors in funny leading roles. She crushed the stereotype that women did housework in pearls, high heels and house dresses by donning capri pants and flats while portraying stay-at-home mom Laura Petrie. She was only 24 at the time.
She was just getting started.
As a young girl, I watched many a re-run of that show. I was attracted to humor earlier than most kids, and was acutely aware that Moore’s comedic timing alongside Dick Van Dyke was truly something special. As in the caliber of Lucille Ball with Desi Arnaz. Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. Gracie Allen paired with George Burns. Madeline Kahn opposite Gene Wilder.
All have inspired me in comedy.
Moore earned her first Emmy as Laura Petrie, as well as mad respect from Hollywood comedy heavy-hitters such as Carl Reiner, who cast her in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Sid Caesar and Danny Thomas. I can’t speak for the female comics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but from my own experience in comedy and knowing the ceilings that still need crushing, Moore had to have faced a whole lot of boys club attitude to climb as high as she did in the entertainment industry.
From what I can tell, she kept a pretty good sense of humor about it, too.
In 1970, two years before I was born, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” first aired, in a time when feminism and women’s lib were mainstream. Even though I was only 5 when the show ended, I do remember my mom watching the half-hour sitcom, especially the re-runs in later years, that depicted a young woman who comes to a big city to work in a TV newsroom. Maybe that’s where I first became interested in the news. Or the idea of a single, educated woman playing a key role in the workplace. And throwing my hat up in the air in the middle of traffic.
I’ve always wanted to try that.
On Moore’s Wikipedia biography, the Emmy-winning show bearing her name is described as “a touchpoint of the Women’s Movement for its portrayal of an independent working woman, which challenged the traditional woman’s role in marriage and family.” It was indeed the type of show audiences needed at a time when civil rights were the driving force behind liberated women demanding equal pay and opportunities. Absurd is the best way to describe the fact that some 40 to 50 years later, we’re still marching for equal opportunities, and for the rights to do and say what we want with our own bodies. Especially when it comes to mostly male politicians making those decisions for us.
I don’t see us backing down anytime soon.
In three short words that became a household name, Mary Tyler Moore was as powerful as any politician or lawmaker of her time. Through her role as an entertainer, she represented change for a generation of working women and young girls who aspired to one day go to college and earn a degree. For my mother’s Baby Boomer generation, as well as those that followed, including my Generation X, Moore inspired the masses. She did it with humor, grace and humility. I hope she knew the impact she made on so many women, from uber-successful Oprah to a little girl in Indiana who loved Mel Brooks movies and Princess Leia. I would even go as far as to say she would make an excellent president during trying times like these.
All while wearing capri pants and flats.
April E. Allford once dressed up as Mary Tayler Moore for a Post Independent Halloween party. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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