Mary Tyler Moore, who secured her place in pop culture history with The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, died on January 25 at age 80.
She appeared on Broadway twice, winning a Special Tony Award for her appearance in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, but became a Broadway producer through her MTM Enterprises, which won her a second Tony for 1985’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, which was named Best Revival. For more than a decade she and Bernadette Peters co-hosted Broadway Barks, a pet adoption fair.
Peters told Playbill.com, “She was a brilliant, sensitive iconic actor and a precious friend to me. There are no words to describe how I cherished our friendship. I will miss her dearly.”
Despite her attraction to the stage, Moore’s primary fame came through her TV work. In The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which debuted in 1970 and ran for seven seasons, Moore was Mary Richards, an unmarried 30something who moved to Minneapolis to take a job as a news director at a local news station. She was independent, romantically liberated, and stood up for herself when the moment demanded, serving as a model for a generation of women.
The character, while similar in personality, was a giant step forward from Laura Petrie, the daffy, sometimes scatterbrained wife of Dick Van Dyke’s Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961 and 1966 and introduced Moore to a wide public. Rob Petrie had the workplace family in that show, and Laura stayed home, making dinner and keeping house in Westchester County. But neither was Laura exactly Donna Reed. She was modern to a point, chic in her Capri pants, and sexy—a new sort of sitcom wife, and an equal to her newsroom “husbands.”
Moore would become more than a television personality. With her second husband, Grant Tinker, she formed MTM Enterprises in 1969. The company, with its memorably meowing cat logo (a parody of the MGM lion), became very familiar to television audiences in the 1970s, producing not only The Mary Tyler Moore Show but its spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, as well as The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere, The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, and Hill Street Blues.
In the years between her two hit sitcoms, Moore tried her hand at film with limited success—though she did memorably appear in Thoroughly Modern Millie, the cult hit that later inspired the successful Broadway musical. Her greatest movie role came in 1980, when Robert Redford cast her against type as a cold, withholding wife and mother grieving over the death of one of her sons in Ordinary People. Critics praised her acting and she was nominated for an Oscar.
After 1980, Moore turned to the stage more frequently. She quit what would have been her final stage project, Neil Simon’s Rose’s Dilemma, in 2003, after having a well-publicized disagreement with Simon. Patricia Hodges took over her part.
Her first major stage gig was notorious in its own way. She was cast as Holly Golightly in a musical version of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The famously troubled show closed after four previews on Broadway in 1966.
In later years, Moore devoted herself to charity work, becoming the International Chairman of JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). At age 33, she had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
According to Moore, there wasn’t too much difference between the parts she played and the person she was. “There are certain things about me that I will never tell to anyone because I am a very private person,” she said. “But basically, what you see is who I am. I'm independent, I do like to be liked, I do look for the good side of life and people. I'm positive, I'm disciplined, I like my life in order, and I'm neat as a pin.”
Or, as she observed more simply on another occasion, “I'm not an actress who can create a character. I play me.”
Moore is survived by her husband, Robert Levine.