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The Graceful Feminism of Mary Tyler Moore
Both in character and out, Moore drew a huge fan based because she handled herself and others respectfully.
By Patti Armstrong
I did something out of character this past weekend: I watched TV for a few hours. My husband kept me company as we watched and laughed through several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show played in honor of her death last week. The show ran from 1970 to 1977 and won 29 Emmy awards.
Mary Tyler Moore was a role model for young women of the 1970s. But looking back to that era often reorders my nostalgia when I recognize how morality was often derailed. Watching the program and doing a bit of research, however, I discovered that I like the Mary Tyler Moor Show perhaps even more now.
The show’s character, Mary Richards, was a 30-year old career woman at a Minneapolis TV news station. She hoped for marriage but wasn’t going to stop living in the meantime.
Moore conducted herself gracefully and firmly, never resorting to anger or insults, but not afraid to speak up. The angry feminists of today waving and wearing female genitalia and shouting obscenities bear no resemblance to Moore’s brand of feminism.
In a 2013 PBS interview for the series Pioneers of Television, Moore said Gloria Steinem’s feminist movement tried to recruit her in the 1970s but she turned them down. Moore said she believed women have an important role in raising children and that she did not share Steinem's view that women owe it to themselves to have a career.
Moore was raised Catholic, the oldest of three children, in Brooklyn, New York. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Los Angeles. She attended Catholic schools through high school and married upon graduation in 1955.
Her life was marked by hardships beginning with a troubled childhood due to her mother's alcoholism. Moore’s only child, Richie, died at age 24 in what was determined to be a shooting accident.
Moore's sister, Elizabeth, died at age 21 from a combination of painkillers and alcohol and her brother died at age 47 from kidney cancer after an earlier suicide attempt.
In her memoir, Moore shared that she was a recovering alcoholic and lived with Type 1 diabetes. She was married three times in all.
In 2011, Moore had surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In 2014, friends reported that she had heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind.
Moore’s TV career began at age 17 during the 1950s, with a job as a "Happy Hotpoint" elf dancing in Hot Point appliance commercials for the Ozzie and Harriet show.
There were a number of parts in TV and movies, but she became internationally known as Laure Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961-65 for which she won her first Emmy.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s became a symbol for the women’s movement for portraying an independent workingwoman. Moore later starred in many other TV and movie roles and on Broadway.
Forty years later, the character of Mary Richards is still worthy of admiration. She had class. Both in character and out, Moore drew a huge fan based because she handled herself and others respectfully.
There was one episode, unfortunately, where taking the pill was mentioned. At the time, many of us were ignorant of the immorality and the cultural results to come for disregarding Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae. So that is a black mark on the show, but I otherwise admire the character of Mary Richards. She was not the type to think waving reproductive parts and degrading talk could lift anyone up any more than it would be considered effective for men to wave phallic symbols and shouted angry rants.
Moore and her mother visited the Vatican in the early 1980s where they had a personal audience with Pope Saint John Paul II.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Moore was considered a moderate liberal, and endorsed President Jimmy Carter for re-election in 1980. By 2011, her friend and former co-star Ed Asner, said during an interview on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” that Moore "has become much more conservative of late." O’Reilly said that Moore had let him know that she was a viewer of his show and had grown increasingly more conservative.
In a March 22, 2009 Parade magazine article, Moore said there were few shows that interested her but she did like Fox News. She said, “If McCain had asked me to campaign for him, I would have.”
Moore died at the age of 80 on January 25, 2017 from cardiopulmonary arrest complicated by pneumonia. There apparently was no Catholic funeral Mass and instead, a brief private service in the white chapel at the Oak Lawn Cemetery in Fairfield, Connecticut,
Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.
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