Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017)
The final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, written by series co-creators and masterminds James L. Brooks and Allan Burns and core collaborators Ed. Weinberger, Stan Daniels, David Lloyd, and Bob Ellison and directed by (who else?) the great Jay Sandrich, first aired March 19, 1977.
Picking up at 20:40, as LOU GRANT (Ed Asner), MARY RICHARDS (Mary Tyler Moore), MURRAY SLAUGHTER (Gavin MacLeod), SUE ANN NIVENS (Betty White), and TED and GEORGETTE BAXTER (Ted Knight and Georgia Engel) are gathered for their last moments together in the WJM-TV newsroom, with MARY hugging LOU --by Ken
LOU: I treasure you people.
[The two-person hug turns into a group one as MURRAY, SUE ANN, and GEORGETTE jump in, followed finally, haltingly, by TED, who is now heard sobbing loudly.]
LOU: I think we all need some Kleenex.
GEORGETTE: There's some on Mary's desk.
[In one of the more celebrated -- and wonderful -- shots in TV history, the huddled group shuffles over to MARY's desk and partakes of the promised Kleenex.]
MARY: Mr. Grant, could I say what I wanted to say now? Please?
LOU [amid a fair amount of sniffling]: Okay, Mary.
MARY: Well, I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career worman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me. And, I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with, and not my family. And last night I thought, "What is a family anyway? They're just people who make you feel less alone, and really loved." And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for [as she breaks up] being my family.
[After nearly 10 seconds of resumed group hugging --]
MURRAY: Now for the hard part. [Pause] How do we leave this room?
The answer, of course, is history -- and not just TV history.
When the news came Wednesday of the death of Mary Tyler Moore, I thought for a moment that I would scrap the post I was working on and, you know, whip something up. I regained my senses quickly enough to realize that no speedy whipping-up was likely to be forthcoming and resumed work on the post I was working on, which wound up being late but a lot less late than the whipped-up Mary Tyler Moore post would have been.
Now here it is a certain amount of time later, and the whipping-up still isn't going to happen. Because the proper answer to the question "What does the Mary Tyler Moore Show mean to me?" is "Everything." Women have treasured it understandably for its trailblazing look at a single woman living her life as a single woman from age 30 to age 37, but in truth it's a treasure for all of us in showing us a person trying to figure out how to live her life while that life is happening all around her.
Since time insists on doing the only thing it knows how to do, which is to say march on, or maybe fly, it's kind of staggering to realize that, this being 2017, it is now coming up on 40 years since The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air. I'm chilled to hear that there are loads of people now who don't even know what it was. Yikes!
I've said it before, so I might as well say it again: The friendship between Mary Richards (MTM) and Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) remains one of the great relationships created by the mind of humankind, and the show -- with its roster of memorable characters -- seemingly effortlessly survived the transplantation of Rhoda to her own show after four of its eventual seven dazzling seasons. There are shows, as we all know, even very good ones, that outlast their welcome, that limp to the finish line. The Mary Tyler Moore Show wasn't one of them. It was never better, never richer, funnier, or wiser, than in its final season.
So for today, while I try to gather my thoughts, I thought we might look at the final episode.
I've only begun to tap the special features included in the Mary Tyler Moore Show DVDs, recorded a bunch of years later, and so imparting extra wisdom, but there are lots of real nuggets, like Allan Burns pointing out that as the show approached its premiere, the network geniuses were filled with dread, because instead of consisting of jokes, its comedy all came out of character, and the suits weren't necessarily crazy about those characters -- he and Jim Brooks were under heavy pressure to replace Ed Asner as Lou Grant on the ground that he wasn't "funny." Of course he hadn't been hired to be funny, he was hired to play Lou Grant -- and the rest is history.
The present-day CBS suits probably wouldn't own up to the reality of that history (another nugget: the network dug in and wanted to refuse to air the show that featured Nancy Walker's first appearance as Rhoda's mother, Ida Morgenstern -- one of the supreme characters in TV creation, and one of the finest half-hours in its history), but the network came up with a fine hour-long tribute last night, Mary Tyler Moore: Love Is All Around, hosted by Gayle King and prominently featuring Oprah, but also including lots of other people who are important to the MTM story. The show touched most of the right bases, and if you can't access it via, say, "On Demand," on Heavy Daniel S. Levine has instructions on "How to Watch the CBS Special Online."
In the course of the show, Mary herself is seen saying in an interview that for her the show was about family -- that is, the people who become your family. Of course lots of other TV shows have also been about this kind of family, which over this last half-century has increasingly become the kind of family that many of us live closest to. Nobody's done it better, though.
Eventually I'll try to write about all this more coherently, but for now I thought I'd just toss in two clips. First, this famous Oprah one, which unfortunately doesn't include the part where she tries to explain why Mary Tyler Moore is so important to her.
And finally, as a teasing reminder of another side of Mary, here's just a tiny clip you can find of her astounding performance in the first film Robert Redford directed, Ordinary People, in which Mary, who had recently lost her son Richie, plays an icily detached mother unable or unwilling to deal with the emotional crisis of the younger son, the one who survived after she lost the son she really loved. The role was played equally brilliantly by the young Timothy Hutton, and Donald Sutherland gave maybe the best performance of his career as the husband-father. (I assume that media people have been soliciting comment from Redford this week.)
Labels: Mary Tyler Moore