LIZ SMITH: Mary Tyle More, A richer character

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Thinking More about MTM. Also … a British auction for “Alice” … a new “Legally Blonde” for new turbulent times?

“I SUSPECT privacy is a very new concept to humanity,” said the scientist Helen Fisher.

Indeed it is. Our concept of privacy is less than 150 years old, really. Although, perversely, we have gladly used the technology of the internet to return us, in some ways, to Medieval times, where nothing was truly private.

THE PASSING of Mary Tyler Moore is still reverberating, and in thinking about her, as a person and even as a performer, the word “private” jumps out at me.

As Laura Petrie, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” Mary was, ideally and genuinely, an American sweetheart. She was still somewhat confined to 1950’s standards, but Laura was younger and sexier and a little bit bolder than TV wives who had preceded her. She was adorable, feisty, but no more than that.

Movies (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Change of Habit” — as a nun, with Elvis!) did not build up her TV popularity. Nor did the infamous 1966 Edward Albee/Bob Merrill musical adaptation of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which never officially opened.

It was the jittery, initially insecure Mary Richards on her own “Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970, that iconized her as an “new, independent” working woman. And, increasingly forceful — if still comically wary — as the series progressed.

But, watching Mary and the show evolve, getting better every season, I noticed that for all of Mary Richards’ cheerfulness, goodness and generosity, she stood a little aside in her friendships. She was … private. Mary was no open book, like best pal Rhoda or landlady Phyllis, her boss Lou Grant or the buffoonish Ted Baxter. Mary held certain things close. One could go so far with Mary, but no further. It was something in her manner, rather than anything the writers devised; making Mary Richards a richer character.

Her real life wasn’t always easy. Illness plagued her even then, her marriage to Grant Tinker eventually failed, later, horribly, her only child, Richie, would die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The inner reticence, coolness I that found evident and interesting on her sitcom, is what I believe Robert Redford saw in her, why he chose her to play the emotionally unavailable mother in “Ordinary People.” Not that Mary Tyler Moore was “like that.” But there were elements, a darker, pained aspect to America’s happy girl.

Her marriage, in 1983 to Robert Levine, lightened, and seemed to free her up. I thought she was superb as the wildly neurotic Mary Todd Lincoln in the TV adaption of Gore Vidal’s book on the martyred president. (Despite Vidal’s publicly critical objections to her.) And Mary was hilarious in David O’ Russell’s “Flirting With Disaster.”

Everyone knew she fought a daily, valiant battle against diabetes, but in our relationship with her she put in exuberant thank you calls, wrote charming notes, was a doll whenever we ran into her. But always, always, there was that gentle wall of privacy, something behind her eyes that asked you please, just this far, no further. Even in her memoir, “After All,” in which she revealed issues with alcohol, we were kept at a safe distance.

I respected that, back then, and even more, now, when celebrities seem driven to vomit out the most intimate details — without even being asked! Mary Tyler Moore gave so much pleasure, she didn’t need to offer any more, and the public, I think, knew well enough never to ask for extras. Her talent, her essence, her courage; those qualities were more than enough.

******

THIS N’ THAT:

… IF YOU happen to be in England next month, at Oxford on February 8th, to be exact, you might pick up a few “Alice In Wonderland” related items of memorabilia. Mallams auctioneers is unloading one of the largest “Alice” collections in the world — more than 3,000 books, art, dolls, porcelain, posters and, “ephemera.” This treasure trove was collected by the late Thomas E. Schuster and his wife Greta. If you’re fascinated by the notoriously curious and headstrong Alice and her fanciful friends, but can’t travel abroad, there’s likely an online catalog to peruse. Click here or email mary.lloyd@mallams.co.uk.

A rebacked 1866 first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland published by Macmillan in 1866.

… REESE WITHERSPOON thinks now might be a fine time for a third “Legally Blonde” movie. The first, in 2001 was amusing and a huge hit. The sequel two years later, not so much of either; although Miss Witherspoon’s charm was undiminished. The star recently remarked to Elle magazine, “I need somebody really clever to come up with a great idea and we’ll do it … I think women need positivity right now.” For sure, although judging by the recent women’s marches, women are mad as hell, and not gonna take it anymore.

But, here’s another idea. How about a sequel to Reese’s famous dark comedy, “Election”? How exactly did her ruthless, ambitious Tracy Flick evolve? She is last spotted — after the vicious high school campaign that ruins Matthew Broderick — in Washington, D.C. Who did Tracy Flick become? Perhaps a woman who could coin a term such as … “alternative facts?” Just a thought.

ENDQUOTE: From the great and prescient 1935 Sinclair Lewis novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.”

“America like England and Scotland, had never really been a gay nation. Rather it had been heavily and noisily jocular, with a substratum of worry and insecurity, in the image of its patron saint, Lincoln of the rollicking stories and the tragic heart. But at least there had been hearty greetings, man to man; there had been clamorous jazz for dancing, and the lively, slangy catcalls of young people, and the nervous blatting of tremendous traffic.

“All that false cheerfulness lessened now, day by day.”

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. ANN Froman says:

    I love ❤️Liz Smith, her writing & philanthropy has always brought people together with love & caring. I knew Mary Tyler Moore too, & Liz’s article was the best & most perfect description of Mary life. Her smile & her way about her always had an imaginary hand that you knew you could not go further in conversation with her. But she was gracious. Rest In Peace Mary Tyler Moore Tinker Levine. We all loved you?❤?❤

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *