'I Found Her': 'Dick Van Dyke Show' Creator on Casting Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie

Carl Reiner looks back at casting the late actress as Laura Petrie.

— -- Carl Reiner, creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show," remembers the day Mary Tyler Moore - his longtime friend and colleague -- auditioned for the role of Laura Petrie, the fictional wife of Rob Petrie, played by Dick Van Dyke.

Moore died Wednesday at the age of 80.

"First time I saw Mary Tyler Moore was when I was auditioning to find a girl to play Laura Petrie," Reiner said. "I already found Dick Van Dyke. Casting Dick Van Dyke to play Robert Petrie was easy--most talented man I ever met. When I had to cast Mary, the part of Laura, I was at my wits-end. I had auditioned literally 23 or 27 girls and I told Sheldon Leonard, our executive producer, 'I don't know what I'm looking for.' I said, 'None of these girls seem to work.'"

Reiner, 94, said executive producer Danny Thomas suggested he call Moore, who had auditioned for him in the past. At first, Moore had been "reluctant" to audition for "The Dick Van Dyke Show" because she had failed two auditions earlier that week, Reiner said.

"She walked into the room, I looked at those eyes, the smile and those legs and I said, 'I found her,'" Reiner recalled. "I wanted to see if she could talk, so I gave her a script...she read one line, the first line and I heard this intelligent ping...and I said, 'That's it.'"

From 1961 to 1966, Moore portrayed Laura, the stay-at-home mom to Richie and wife to Rob [Van Dyke], who was head writer for a fictional television variety show called "The Alan Brady Show."

"Dick was a little nervous about the fact she was 23 and he was 30-something," Reiner said. "There was a 12-year difference or something and he was very worried about that and I said, 'Nobody's going to notice.' And nobody ever mentioned the fact that they were not a couple. They were a couple from the moment they kissed in the main title."

Although Moore had never done comedy before, Reiner said the young actress held her own--even coining her own catchphrase, "Oh Rob!" on the show.

"That became a thing," Reiner said. "People were saying that, even if their husbands weren't Rob."

Off set, Reiner was a mentor and friend to Moore, who endured several personal tragedies over the years, including a divorce, miscarriage and a diabetes diagnosis at the age of 33.

"She did come to me with problems and things and I was her father figure," Reiner said. "It meant a lot because I was a father. I had three children who had a great mother figure and so I knew about what people need when they come to you for anything."

"[She] had a lot of pain in her life before she came to us and luckily she was a fighter," he added. "She fought back and made herself into one of the first woman liberators along with Gloria Steinem and those wonderful people. With her show, 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' ... she was an icon for women all over the world."

With Moore making a name for herself on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," Reiner often worried that Broadway or film directors would "steal her away." On the contrary, Moore ended up with a self-titled gig, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

"When I saw that first opening, even her just going through the street, looking like a real person, but a solid, real woman who knew her place in the world, we knew we were home-free," he said. "Saturday night was her night and nobody didn't watch 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'"

Reiner said Moore leaves behind a legacy for all women fighting for equal rights. He said, "She was the first single, working woman who set the template for all women to aspire to and a lot of women not only aspired, but accomplished that. So, the tip of the hat to her."

"She was a very beautiful person, inside and outside," Reiner said.