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How Mary Tyler Moore Revolutionized Television

The world will miss the actress who transcended acting, altered television’s depiction of women, and inspired Oprah: Mary Tyler Moore. In her unfortunate passing at age 80, the world is forced to remember the joy Moore brought to her international audience through her award-winning performances as groundbreaking female characters on sitcoms such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Moore played characters the world had never seen onscreen before, beginning with her breakout role on
The Dick Van Dyke Show as Van Dyke’s wife, Laura Petrie. With tight, capri pants and quick wit, Petrie was a new kind of housewife character. “She was just the best,” remembered Moore’s old co-star Dick Van Dyke. “I don’t know what made her comedic timing so great,” Van Dyke said. “That show was the best five years of my life.”

Portraying the beloved character on the show with energy, charisma, and authenticity earned Moore the first out of seven Emmy awards she would win over the course of her acting career. The awards noted a shift in Hollywood. They had recognized that Moore was different, and that she was leading television in a new direction.

At the end of The Dick Van Dyke Show’s five season run, Moore found herself with a sitcom of her own: The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In this show, she portrayed 30-something career woman Mary Richards, bringing the image of the working, modern woman to a worldwide audience. Unlike many other onscreen female roles, Mary Richards’ life revolved around her career, work relationships, and friendships. Though this seems commonplace in the 21st-century, it was completely new when the show aired in the 1970s.

Before Moore’s show, female television characters’ storylines revolved around the men in their lives with little emphasis on who the women were as individuals. After The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s success, television was never the same. Women in television were allowed to be independent, well-rounded people. In the words of Ellen Degeneres, “Mary Tyler Moore changed the world for all women.”

Moore’s influence carries on into the 21st-century. Tina Fey claimed that her character on 30 Rock, career focused Liz Lemon, was inspired by Mary Richards. She also felt a deeper connection to Moore’s character on her classic show, saying, “Mary Tyler Moore was a working woman whose story lines were not always about dating and men. They were about work, friendships, and relationships, which is what I feel my adult life has mostly been about.”

Oprah found inspiration in Moore’s show as well. When Moore was a guest on Oprah’s show in 1997, Oprah cried tears of joy at the sight of the person who kindled the world’s appreciation for modern women for years to come. “You have no idea what you meant to me,” she told Moore on her show.
As announced by Moore’s long-term representative, Moore contracted pneumonia and passed away in Greenwich, Connecticut, “in the company of friends, and her loving husband of 33 years.” Though she has moved on, the images of her as Mary Richards “turning the world on with her smile” will live on forever.

Featured Image by Tom on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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