Mary Tyler Moore: Icon and Activist

Patricia Makris ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff TV Writer

Pioneer. Activist. Icon. Many recall Mary Tyler Moore as a beloved TV star but she also did much more to pave the way for women while persevering through her own battles behind the scenes. She turned the world on with her smile, and the world hasn’t looked back since.   

Mary Tyler Moore, or “MTM” as she is fondly referred to, earned 15 Emmy nominations and 7 wins throughout her career. She also won multiple Golden Globe awards, Tony awards, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild and countless others wins and nominations. She began as a dancer/mascot for Hotpoint appliances in 1955.

At just the young age of 23, Moore booked her first major role as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. For five seasons, Laura was a devoted housewife and mother who wore slacks and wasn’t shy about showing off her talent as a dancer (a talent Moore acquired in her own life as a child). Comedian Danny Thomas recommended her to show creator Carl Reiner after passing on her for the role of his older daughter on his own show. Moore trademarked the catchphrase “Oh Rob” and won two out of her seven Emmy’s for her portrayal of Laura Petrie.

Moore’s other major TV role came in 1970 as Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary Richards was a single, hard working woman in a small television newsroom based in Minneapolis. The show broke countless boundaries for celebrating strong and independent women. It also provided a space on television for more adult conversations that weren’t necessarily discussed on TV in those days. The series ran for seven seasons and won Moore four out of her seven Emmy’s.

Moore also appeared in several notable theater and film roles, including her Tony-winning performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway and her Oscar-nominated performance in Ordinary People.  Other notable roles include the play Sweet Sue and the films Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews, Change of Habit with Elvis Presley and the television movie First, You Cry.

Along with her second husband, TV producer and executive Grant Tinker, Moore founded the production company MTM Enterprises in 1969. The company produced several TV shows, films, and, at one point, included the record label MTM Records. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was the first TV show to be produced by MTM Enterprises, followed by several others including The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele and St. Elsewhere. The company’s logo, aside from using Moore’s initials, is meant to be a parody of the film company MGM’s logo with Leo the Lion roaring. MTM’s logo features a kitten purring.

While Moore’s personal life faced many challenges, she used her platform for philanthropy. She was born into a poor family in Brooklyn with an alcoholic mother and emotionally detached father. At the age of 18, she married her first husband and had her only child. Richard Jr. Moore would go on to marry two more times after her first divorce in 1961. In 1980, four weeks after the premiere of the film Ordinary People where Moore plays a mother trying to cope with the death of her son, Richard Jr. died at the age of 24 of an accidental gunshot to the head. In 1984, Moore checked into the Betty Ford Clinic in order to cope with an alcohol addiction that grew in the wake of her son’s death. She would go on to talk about the experience in her first memoir and in several interviews.   

In 1969, Moore was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes after suffering a miscarriage. As a result, she became an advocate for diabetes awareness and took on the role of International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Moore was also an animal rights activist, co-founding the organization Broadway Barks to encourage adopting animals from shelters. In 2011, she underwent brain surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. In the time leading up to Moore’s death, friends and colleagues reported that she was nearly blind and was suffering from heart and kidney problems as a result of her diabetes. Her cause of death was a combination (stemming from diabetes) of cardiopulmonary arrest due to pneumonia and hypoxia.

Above all, Mary Tyler Moore will always be remembered for her spunk. She had a genuine care for people and the serious issues affecting our world. Moore also had a wide range of abilities and layers when it came to the types of roles she played. The warmth and comfort of her smile prove love really is all around.

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