Who Was Mary Tyler Moore?
Actress Mary Tyler Moore became one of television's most beloved wives, playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and won three acting Emmys for her work on the series. The Mary Tyler Moore Show — featuring a single, 30-something woman in the working world — started in 1970 and won her three more Emmys. Her roles in these classic TV sitcoms have made her one of the most popular actresses in television history. The legendary actress died on January 25, 2017, at the age of 80.
Early Life and Career
Moore was born on December 29, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York to George Tyler Moore, who worked as a clerk, and Marjorie Hackett Moore. She was the eldest of three children and was raised in the Catholic faith. Her family moved from New York to Los Angeles when she was eight years old, and she began acting and dancing while in high school.
She got her start in show business as a dancer in commercials, playing the part of "Happy Hotpoint," a dancing elf to promote home appliances in the mid-1950s. Moore also found work as a chorus dancer in television variety shows, and in 1959 landed a role in the TV drama Richard Diamond, Private Detective, playing Sam, a glamorous secretary whose face was never shown, but was represented by her shapely legs. She made several guest appearances in television shows including Johnny Staccato, Bachelor Father, The Tab Hunter Show, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye and Lock-Up.
She made her film debut in 1961 in X-15, an aviation drama starring David McLean and Charles Bronson.
'The Dick Van Dyke Show'
Moore became a household name in 1961 when she landed the role of Laura Petrie, one of television's most beloved wives on The Dick Van Dyke Show, created by Carl Reiner and starring Dick Van Dyke. As the charming Petrie, Moore showed off her flair for comedy and won Emmys in 1964 and 1966 for her work.
After the show ended in 1966, Moore focused on making movie musicals, including Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), where she played an aspiring actress opposite Julie Andrews, and Change of Habit (1970), starring as a nun who falls in love with a doctor, played by Elvis Presley, as she prepares to take her vows. She also played a dramatic role in the television thriller Run A Crooked Mile (1969), starring opposite Louis Jourdan.
'The Mary Tyler Moore Show'
Moore didn't have another hit until her return to television, starring in her own show The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. She not only starred in the series but produced it with her second husband Grant Tinker through their company MTM Enterprises. The show became a cultural phenomenon, tapping into changing attitudes about women in the workplace. Moore played television producer Mary Richards, one of the first female television characters to be a successful single woman. The TV comedy followed Mary's personal and professional life at WJM-TV in Minneapolis, and also featured Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Betty White, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman.
Moore won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in 1973, 1974 and 1976 for the show, which aired its final episode in 1977. In addition to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, her company produced a number of other popular television programs, including The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), Taxi (1978-1982), Hill Street Blues (1981-87), Remington Steele (1982-87), Cheers (1982-1993) and spin-offs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show including Rhoda (1974-78), Phyllis (1975-77), and The Lou Grant Show (1977-1982).
To celebrate Moore's iconic role as Mary Richards, a statue of her tossing her hat in the air as seen in the iconic show opening was unveiled in downtown Minneapolis in 2002.
Later Theater and Film Work
Moore made several attempts to return to television, including Mary (1978) and New York News (1995), but these shows did not catch on with television audiences. Moore continued to have success in other acting endeavors. She won a Tony Award for her performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1980) on Broadway. That year, Moore also received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of an emotionally guarded mother in Ordinary People, directed by Robert Redford.
She appeared in the television movies First, You Cry (1978), Heartsounds (1984), Finnegan Begin Again (1985), Lincoln (1988), playing Mary Todd Lincoln and Stolen Babies (1993), for which she earned another Emmy Award. In 1996, she returned to big-screen comedy playing the adoptive mother of Ben Stiller's character in Flirting with Disaster (1996), directed by David O. Russell.
Moore has been married three times. She married Richard Meeker in 1955 and they had a son, Richard, who was born the following year. After they split, she then married television executive Grant Tinker from 1962 until their divorce in 1981. Tragedy struck the family when her son Richard died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980. In 1983, she married Robert Levine, a doctor who had treated her mother.
During her life, Moore has struggled with alcoholism, a disease her mother and father also battled, and not long after she married Levine, she checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment. When she was in her early thirties, Moore was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She has become a well-known spokesperson and international advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
In her later years, Moore battled complications from diabetes including kidney and heart problems and the loss of her vision. In 2011, she faced another health challenge when she had a benign tumor removed from her brain. In 2012, the Screen Actors Guild presented Moore with a lifetime achievement award.
An animal lover and vegetarian, Moore was also an activist, working with organizations including the Humane Society and Farm Sanctuary, and she and Bernadette Peters co-founded Broadway Barks in 1999. The group organizes an annual event with Broadway stars to promote pet adoptions from shelters.
Death & Legacy
In January 2017, Moore was hospitalized in Greenwich, Connecticut and reported to be in grave condition. She died on January 25, 2017, at the age of 80 from cardiopulmonary arrest, following a bout with pneumonia. Her representative issued a statement to People magazine following her death: “Today, beloved icon, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine. A groundbreaking actress, producer, and passionate advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile.”
Moore’s fans, co-stars, fellow celebrities and the charitable organizations she worked with remembered the beloved TV icon as a trailblazing star in front of the camera and behind the scenes. ‘She’ll last forever, as long as there’s television," Carl Reiner told the Associated Press. "Year after year, we’ll see her face in front of us.’’
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