By Courtney Peters
“You know what? You’ve got spunk.” Lou tells Mary. Mary sheepishly shrugs her shoulders, smiles and says, “Well…” thinking Lou has just complimented her. “I HATE SPUNK!” Lou growls. In that moment, Mary embodied feelings that so many women felt during a job interview in a male-dominated society. The Mary Tyler Moore Show handled the changing social dynamics of the 1970s with an undertone of social activism disguised in brilliant script writing. The show became a true teacher to me—a child of the 80s—about how to be an independent, strong, smart, and funny woman in society.
While the show didn’t harangue you with statistics or an overtly women’s liberation message, I learned powerful messages about equal pay for equal work, freedom of the press, racial equality, and respect for gay rights. In Mary, I saw the woman I wanted to be when I grew up—living independently, pursuing an amazing career, living in an amazing apartment, dressing with style and flair, flashing a smile that could turn the world on. A role model for modern women of the 1970s, through syndication, she became my role model as a child watching in the 1980s.
She once said, “I’m not an actress that can play a character. I play me.” As Laura Petrie—a curious, lovable housewife with a penchant for opening her husband’s mail—she couldn’t resist unwrapping a mystery package. The contents? An inflatable raft that inflated upon opening—proof positive of her nosey ways. Laura wore pants and flats when all the women on television wore dresses while cleaning their houses.
Mary Tyler Moore was Mary Richards, the loyal friend and co-worker who can’t stop laughing during Chuckles the Clown’s funeral as the reverend lists out his character’s names and antidotes. She demanded to be considered for the same career-advancement opportunities and equal pay as the man who occupied her job before her. What a tough blow to my gut that just suffered the loss of Carrie Fischer.
We need more strong, outspoken, and genuine women like Mary Tyler Moore—a tireless advocate for research and fundraising for Type I Juvenile Diabetes, an illness that she endured with characteristic dignity and class. A long-time vegetarian, Mary advocated for animal rights and raised awareness about the horrors of factory farming. Her family, friends, and fans around the world recognized Mary’s genuine compassion for others.
When I learned of Mary’s death, it brought to mind the moment in the last episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show when the cast embraces for the final time, and Lou Grant says through tears, “I treasure you people.” I treasure Mary Tyler Moore. America treasures Mary Tyler Moore.