Actress Mary Tyler Moore passed away on January 25, 2017 at the age of 80 years old. She had an incredible career spanning several decades with her big break coming in 1961 when she was cast on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Following Moore’s success on the show, she starred in her own self-titled sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Known for pushing gender stereotypes in her roles, Moore was a feminist and cultural icon with a large and devoted following. Her breakout role on The Dick Van Dyke Show made her a beloved figure in American households.
Dick Van Dyke, now 91 years old, spoke about Mary Tyler Moore’s death and the impact that her life had.
She was 23 years old, gorgeous of course, and had a kind of mid-Atlantic accent. She sounded a little bit like Katharine Hepburn. My first question was, “Can this girl do comedy?” After that I said, “She’s a little young for me.” I got to be on hand and watch her grow into the talent she became. She was just the best.
Moore was very young when she played the former dancer turned housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show, making her more than a decade younger than her on-screen husband, Dick Van Dyke. While Van Dyke was skeptical about the casting choice at the time, he grew to respect her as an actress and colleague.
I don’t know what made her comic timing so great. On Dick Van Dyke, we had Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, both of whom were old hams and had razor-sharp timing, and mine wasn’t bad either. But Mary just picked it up so fast. She had us all laughing after a couple of episodes. She just grabbed onto the character and literally turned us into an improv group, it was so well-oiled. That show was the best five years of my life.
While The Dick Van Dyke Show was popular with viewers since it began to air, the lack of a comedy category prevented them from winning Emmys (though they were nominated), losing out to other shows. Once a comedy category was added to the Emmy awards, however, The Dick Van Dyke Show received the recognition which it deserved.
I remember when we all won Emmys. We were nominated — or at least I was — for the first years and there was no comedy category. We lost to The Defenders. It wasn’t until 1966 that they added a comedy category, and that year we all won. My God, we were excited. We had also been cancelled!
Dick Van Dyke also spoke about how Mary Tyler Moore defied gender norms and societal expectation. In a time when women on television were portrayed in very traditional roles, Moore pushed against the stereotype.
The funny thing was, after the show went off the air, Mary had the reputation of being the wife, the woman who brings the coffee. So we cooked up this special called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman where we showed off everything she could do, and that somehow changed CBS’ mind and that’s how she got The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It fell into the hands of great writers. It was a milestone, that show. It kicked off an awful lot of enthusiasm in a lot of women. She got it moving! Thank God she ended up with Carl Reiner and those writers, who just understood her and what she did. The episode when Chuckles the Clown died? She was at the funeral and she was crying and suddenly, as she recalled him, she began to laugh. It was a performance that had me on the floor! It was just masterful comedy.
In addition to acting, Moore became active in charity work and political causes. She was a champion of animal rights and raised diabetes awareness, an illness which she suffered from. Van Dyke spoke of how large of an impact Moore’s career had on the industry.
In 2012, I got to present her with her SAG Life Achievement award. She had moved to upstate New York and was already beginning to succumb to the diabetes, so outside of talking to her and her husband Robert, I didn’t see her unless it was an occasion like the SAG Awards. That night, she had trouble seeing, so they had to bring her onstage in the dark. For me, it was a payoff moment. A culmination. Outside of her family, I don’t think there was anyone more proud of her than I was. Just to watch her grow was such a thrill for me. She left an imprint on television comedy.
Mary Tyler Moore’s other achievements include six Emmy awards, a special Tony Award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy from the American Comedy Awards. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is also in the Television Hall of Fame.