A lot of women have held claim to the title “America’s Sweetheart” over the years. I think probably one of the ones who will linger under that title long after others have laid claim to it was Mary Tyler Moore. Whether you know her first as Laura Petrie or Mary Richards, she was so omnipresent on the TV of the glory days of syndication that it’ll be impossible for us to forget her.
And really, she was always going to be known most for her TV roles, not her movie roles. Even though she had an Oscar nomination for Ordinary People, she was mostly a TV actress. I’m not even sure she thought there was any shame to that, which I admire. She made movies when they were offered to her, but she mostly stayed on the small screen.
She got her start as a pair of legs and a voice, providing sex appeal to Richard Diamond, Private Detective. When the whole woman was seen, however, she added a certain amount of perky cuteness to the sex appeal. Laura Petrie will long be remembered for her Capri pants, I think, and the network censors’ fear of “cupping” from behind. Mary Richards may have been goofy, but she also, as Lou Grant observed in the pilot, had a lot of spunk. She had boyfriends, of course, but it wasn’t as much about that as about her finding herself.
Gloria Steinem wanted Moore to stand for the cause of feminism, and Moore didn’t like the notion that women had to work. She grew progressively more conservative as time passed. But I think her idea that women should only have careers if they wanted them is closer to the real ideals of feminism. Laura Petrie stayed home. Mary Richards worked. Both of those were perfectly acceptable choices, and the only issue comes up when someone is trying to force either to do something she doesn’t want to do.
She was long a voice for animal rights. She came forward about her experiences with alcoholism. And she was a fighter against diabetes, the disease which Dick Van Dyke several years ago said was taking a toll on her. Her only son predeceased her some thirty-five years ago, killed by an accidental discharge from a gun later taken off the market for having a hair trigger. And, yes, her ubiquity is one of the losses that comes from the loss of syndication as a method for preserving TV history. We are lessened.