Mary Tyler Moore: A Career Retrospective

Actress Mary Tyler Moore was one of television's first career oriented women.

ByCole Kazdin and Imaeyen Ibanga via via logo
March 29, 2009, 11:15 PM

March 31, 2009 — -- Actress Mary Tyler Moore is an icon. She first rose to fame on the popular "Dick Van Dyke Show," but etched her place in history and among comedy's elite as one of television's first career women on the 1970s sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Moore did more than just turn the world on with her smile. Without her role as associate producer Mary Richards, there may not have been a television anchor Murphy Brown, a columnist Carrie Bradshaw or a lawyer Ally McBeal. Her attitude and charisma helped endear her to fans.

The now 72-year-old Moore portrayed the spunky Richards from 1970 until the show's finale in 1977.

A great job, her own place and a best friend named Rhoda helped seal Richards' independence.

Click here to read an excerpt of Mary Tyler Moore's book "Growing Up Again."

But it was Moore's personality and professionalism that her co-workers admired.

"We really became friends. I love Mary and I loved her from the beginning," said actress Valerie Harper, who met Moore at an audition and later played Rhoda on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Actor Ed Asner, who played boss Lou Grant on Moore's show, said the Brooklyn native was much like her onscreen character.

"She was like that. She maintained that persona off screen as well as on," he said. "She was one of the guys."

"She was our Queen," he added.

But right around the time that carefree Mary Richards was tossing her hat high into the air, Moore was finding herself at a surprising low. She was diagnosed with diabetes, which is a life-threatening illness. And she kept it a secret.

"She was never a patient," Harper said. "'Oh Mary, and she has diabetes by the way,' not only dealing with the disease, but smiling and getting laughs and I'm sure it took a toll."

In what she called "an act of absolute defiance," shortly after she was diagnosed with diabetes, Moore drove to the market and bought a dozen doughnuts then drove around Beverly Hills eating one after the other.

A dip in her blood sugar on set one day, took the cast by surprise.

"I think her blood sugar fell too low," Asner said. "This perfect lady that we knew and here she was exhibiting shouts and screams."

"And scared the hell out of us," he added.

Later in life, her diabetes led her to serious vision problems.

"Most people can see a little bit beyond their eyes. I don't see those side things," Moore said, referring to her peripheral vision. "The focus... my eyes don't really change focus as quickly as they're supposed to."

But Moore said it could be worse.

"A lot of people went totally blind in decades past. I can certainly walk across a room, even walk across a street. I just have to be careful," she said.

Diabetes and Two Broken Marriages

Moore also was struggling in her personal life. She had divorced her first husband, and shortly after, married another older man, Grant Tinker. But that relationship, too, didn't last.

And while she was cheery in the newsroom, there was another side to her. Robert Redford noticed it.

"He claims that he used to see me walking on the beach at Malibu and he used to wonder about the dark side of Mary Tyler Moore. And I guess he was right to wonder about that because there is, in fact, a dark side," Moore said during a "Primetime" interview in March 1993.

Moore gave an intensely wrenching performance in Redford's film, "Ordinary People." She played a mother grieving the death of one son, while shutting out the one who lives. It leaves a family crumbling in the process.

It was a side no one had seen before.

While Moore eventually found a lasting marriage in 1983 when she married Dr. Robert Levine, she was rocked by the death of her son Richie who shot himself to death in 1980 in what police ruled was an accidental shooting.

She also revealed in her 1995 biography "After All" that she was a recovering alcoholic.

"It was just a role too, an image of what life should be," she said. "That Mary, sitting by the fireplace, smoking and drinking and laughing. There was a time when the image of a woman who was an alcoholic was... just someone who had really gotten sloppy, gotten dirty."

Nevertheless, Moore went on to star on Broadway and continues to work in film. And a long-awaited Mary and Rhoda reunion happened nine years ago with the two best friends reuniting in their 60s.

After a remarkable career, alongside the obstacles of the disease and personal struggles Moore know has learned lessons, the most important of which is "That's it's OK."

"Whatever it is, it's OK because it's what it is. Don't be looking for perfection. Don't be short-tempered with yourself. And you'll be a whole lot nicer to be around with everyone else," Moore said.

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