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Mary Tyler Moore: The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Mary Richards’s Feminism 

Though Mary Tyler Moore cannot take credit for the creation of second-wave feminism icon Mary Richards, Moore did find a bit more creative control than Allen. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns created The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) and the character Mary Richards specifically for Moore, who had achieved fame portraying charming housewife Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. While Moore’s production company, MTM Enterprises, was established to produce The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Moore was heavily involved in casting the show, she still took no credit for the creation of the show or her character. In her memoir, she explains that CBS “offered [her] a half-hour spot on the network” without a pilot, meant to be “a situation comedy, producers and writers to be chosen at [Moore’s] discretion.” However, she handed that power over to her husband and co-founder of MTM Productions, Grant Tinker. In her memoir, Moore introduces Mary Tyler Moore Show creators Brooks and Burns as “the two people Grant hired to be the hands-on producers of my new show,” and aligned herself with “the work ethic that Grant more or less invented for television: give the writers autonomy.”[1] Brooks and Burns were given almost complete control, but still had to answer to network executives, who shot down the initial idea of Moore playing a recent divorcée.

 

Brooks and Burns created Mary Richards, a television icon and a character much less traditional than those portrayed by any previous comedienne. Though the creators of The Mary Tyler Moore Show made a point not to be overtly political, the historical context of the show made political discourse impossible to avoid. Serafina Bathrick explains, “it is evident throughout all the MTM series that while character comedy remains foregrounded, what coproducers Brooks and Burns call ‘fortunate timing’ in relation to the women’s movement served scriptwriters, directors, and actors well.” [2] The program debuted “on the heels of a rash of publicity generated by feminist activity related to the enormous success of the August 26, 1970 ‘Women Strike for Equality’ demonstration.”[3] The Mary Tyler Moore Show was inextricably linked with second-wave feminism, and Mary’s character came to exemplify the movement. For example, Mary’s close relationship with fellow single woman Rhoda and frustrated wife Phyllis “seem to affirm the feminist slogan of the period: ‘Sisterhood is Powerful.’”[4] Mary Richards was a feminist, living on her own, working, and even taking the pill.[5]

 


[1] Mary Tyler Moore, After All (New York: Putnam, 1995), 178-179.

[2] Serafina Bathrick, “‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show:’ Women at Home and at Work,” ,” in Critiquing the Sitcom: A Reader, ed. Joanne Morreale (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 171.

[3] Bonnie J. Dow, “1970s Lifestyle Feminism, the Single Woman, and ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’” in Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement Since 1970 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 26.

[4] Bathrick, “Women at Home,” 174.

[5] The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “Just Around the Corner,” season 3, episode 7, aired October 28, 1972 (CBS), as seen on Hulu, http://www.hulu.com/the-mary-tyler-moore-show. 

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