Mary Tyler Moore (right) and Valerie Harper starred in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 1970s.
Mary Tyler Moore, 80, whose comic timing and all-American beauty made her a leading TV star and Emmy Award-winning actress before she took on dramatic roles in films, and whose 1970s situation comedy about the life of a professional single woman was considered a cultural and feminist milestone, has died.
Mara Buxbaum, a representative of Moore, announced the death in a statement but provided no details. The actress struggled with diabetes much of her life and underwent brain surgery in 2011 to remove a benign tumor from the lining tissue around her brain.
Moore, who played the spunky housewife on The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and an idealistic career woman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, was an actress of dynamic range and accomplishment. She won a 1980 Tony Award for playing a quadriplegic sculptor in Whose Life Is It Anyway? and an Emmy for her role as a villainous orphanage director in the TV production Stolen Babies (1993). She was nominated for an Oscar as the frosty matriarch in Ordinary People (1980), Robert Redford's directorial debut.
Moore's production company, MTM Enterprises, created groundbreaking TV shows during the 1970s and 1980s, including Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. But she was primarily considered one of television's finest comic actresses because of her roles on two of the most popular sitcoms of all time.
She received two Emmy Awards for her role as Laura Petrie, the comely and slightly scatterbrained wife of a TV comedy writer, on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired on CBS from 1961 to 1966. Moore, sporting capri pants and a Jackie Kennedy bouffant, held her own against veteran entertainers such as Van Dyke (as her husband), Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. Moore said she always thought of herself as "a new kind of comedian — the funny straight woman."
Carl Reiner, one of the show's creative forces, once said of Moore that "she had a ping in her voice that got to me the first time I heard her." The sexual spark she generated with her TV husband was a novel twist on previous TV homemakers, who were generally portrayed as maternal and gowned in skirts and pearls.
After The Dick Van Dyke Show ended at a peak moment in its popularity, Moore made several Hollywood films, including the musicals Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) opposite Julie Andrews and Change of Habit (1969) with Elvis Presley. She re-emerged on the small screen with Mary Tyler Moore, which aired on CBS from 1970 to 1977.
Often considered one of the most literate sitcoms of its era, Mary Tyler Moore was also one of the first sitcoms to have a single working woman as the lead character. Its appeal was often attributed to its feminist consciousness, with Moore playing a fictional Minneapolis assistant TV news producer named Mary Richards who navigates a career, friendships and single life.
The show was lauded for its realistic portrayal of the modern woman — one whose life focused on work, not family, and one in which men were colleagues, not husbands or love interests. It touched on subjects once considered taboo, such as birth control.
"Thirty-three, unmarried and unworried — Mary is the liberated woman's ideal," TV Guide wrote in 1973.
But, primarily, the show was funny. It even dared to joke about death. In the episode "Chuckles Bites the Dust," the entire newsroom — except Mary Richards — gets the giggles after a clown's demise. At the funeral, only Mary bursts out laughing at the minister's eulogy: "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants."
Moore said that the episode tested her — she was laughing at the wrong times —and that she completed filming only through "sheer terror of losing the faith the cast had placed in me."
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