Mary Tyler Moore died yesterday, at the age of 80. Which is hard to believe, on both fronts. I still think of her as Mary Richards, the 1970s career woman who wondered if she could make it on her own.
A lot of girls and women who were around in 1970s America look back on the Mary Tyler Moore show with gratitude and fondness. It was funny and warm, well-written and well-acted, but not just that. The very premise of the show was quietly inspirational. In 1970, it presented as normal the possibility that single women could be both independent and happy, for the whole run of the show.
Women could have fulfilling jobs — careers, even. Women could have a circle of good friends, but could live contentedly alone in a cute apartment. Women could date just for fun — not seriously, not looking for a husband. Women didn’t have to be perfect. They didn’t have to be good cooks and hostesses — it was a running joke that Mary’s dinner parties were awful. Women could stammer, could be uncertain and could make mistakes. And still be happy.
That was relevatory, for girls as young as I. Mary Richards was a role model, and an inspiration. As was Mary Tyler Moore. Thanks, Mary Tyler Moore.
But the show was also so funny. There may never be a half hour of television as funny and true for me as the Chuckles the Clown episode. Chuckles, the local television station’s clown, met an untimely death, which led other coworkers to make nervous, tasteless jokes that horrified Mary. But it was Mary, usually so well-mannered and appropriate, who found herself unable to stop laughing during the solemn funeral service. Mary was met with shocked stares, as you’d imagine, until the clergyman officiating at the service tried to make her feel better by telling everyone that, no, she should laugh, because Chuckles lived to make people laugh, and her laughter was exactly what the late clown would have wanted. At which point she started sobbing.
When the show went off the air, the last episode ended with the characters, most of whom had just been fired, walking out of the office, arms around each other, singing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Because that always was the message of the Mary Tyler More Show. Despite the title song, you don’t just make it on your own — you make it with the help of colleagues, friends and family.
Thanks for that, too, Mary Tyler Moore.