How Mary Tyler Moore's Career-Woman Role Inspired A Generation

Dec 28, 2017
Originally published on December 28, 2017 7:25 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This week we've been taking a moment each day to appreciate the work of someone who died this year. At least one of them had her own theme song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS ALL AROUND")

SONNY CURTIS: (Singing) Who can turn the world on with her smile?

SIEGEL: "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" ran in the 1970s at the height of the women's rights movement. It became one of the most acclaimed series in TV history.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Moore played Mary Richards, a woman in her 30s working at a TV news station in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW")

MARY TYLER MOORE: (As Mary Richards) No, Mr. Grant, it's not one of those woman things. I would like to know why the last associate producer before me made $50 a week more than I do.

EDWARD ASNER: (As Lou Grant) Oh, because he was a man.

SHAPIRO: Mary Richards stood up to her boss. She got her raise. She also dated, had a sex life and never married. She inspired a generation that wasn't used to seeing career women on TV.

SIEGEL: But before Mary Tyler Moore played that character, she had already chipped away at how housewives were seen on TV, and she did it by wearing pants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MOORE: Pants - you know, jeans and capri pants.

SIEGEL: In the early '60s, she played Laura Rob Petrie's wife on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW")

MOORE: (As Laura Petrie) Oh, Rob, how could you do this? I would never think of inviting someone into this house without consulting you.

DICK VAN DYKE: (As Rob Petrie) Oh, now wait a minute. How about your Aunt Mildred?

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: (As Laura Petrie) You are not going to compare my Aunt Mildred to a German shepherd.

VAN DYKE: (As Rob Petrie) No, but I could. I'm in enough of it as it is.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: True to TV formula, Laura was the perfect housewife. But her wardrobe was true to real life thanks to Mary Tyler Moore.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MOORE: I said, I've seen all the other actresses, and they're always running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on. And I don't do that, and I don't know any of my friends who do that. So why don't we try to make this real?

SIEGEL: That's Mary Tyler Moore speaking in 1995 with Terry Gross on WHYY's Fresh Air. It wasn't easy to show a young housewife in pants. The TV sponsors thought she'd look too brazen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MOORE: They used the term cupping under, and I can only assume that that meant my seat - that there was a little too much definition. And so they allowed me to continue to wear them in one episode - one scene per episode and only after we checked to make sure that there was as little cupping under as possible (laughter).

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Cupping under referring to the fit of your pants...

MOORE: The fit of the pants, yes...

GROSS: ...On your behind.

MOORE: ...On my behind, right. But within a few weeks, we were sneaking them into a few other scenes in every episode. And they were definitely cupping under, and everyone thought it was great.

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: And the funny thing is, you know, women liked me. They were not envious of the fact that their husbands had a crush on me. They'd say, my husband loves you so much, and he thinks you're so sexy. And this was an odd thing because they were also able to identify with me as a friend, as a girlfriend. There was no resentment and no fear.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JEFF STEINBERG JAZZ ENSEMBLE'S "DICK VAN DYKE THEME")

SHAPIRO: Mary Tyler Moore, who wore the pants on TV years before she inspired women to make it on their own.

SIEGEL: She died in January after contracting pneumonia. Mary Tyler Moore was 80.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE JEFF STEINBERG JAZZ ENSEMBLE'S "DICK VAN DYKE THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.