Illustration by Seolim Hong.
Looking back on the life of one of show business’ most influential female figures
In the year 1970, Random House published Sisterhood is Powerful, a collection of influential feminist essays. In August, the National Organization for Women sponsors The Women’s Strike for Equality—the first large-scale protest for the Women’s Liberation movement throughout the US—and in September, The Mary Tyler Moore Show premieres. The show starred actress Mary Tyler Moore, who passed away on January 26th at the age of 80.
The story begins with Moore’s character, Mary Richards, moving to Minneapolis after breaking off her engagement. There is no implication that she leaves to escape an unhappy life—she simply wants to start anew, on her own. Upon settling in, she applies for a secretarial job at WJM, a local television station, and is offered the position of associate producer of the Six O’ Clock News. Mary accepts the job, and works in an office that is dominated by men. Her position as the only woman working on the program is not made to be a huge issue, and her abilities are never undermined by her male co-workers. The only instance that this difference is highlighted is in the third season of the show, when Mary discovers that she is being paid less than her male predecessor. She stands up to her boss on the wage gap, and receives a pay raise— showing young girls and women that there is more to admire about the character than just her great apartment and incredible wardrobe.
Her independence carries on throughout the show, as she never does marry. Mary Richards’ life stood in contrast to Moore’s role on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Laura Petrie, a devoted housewife and mother. Although she dated various men throughout the seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and these relationships served as plot-lines for many episodes, romance was not her main priority. Her main focus was always on her career and her friends. Through Mary Richards, Moore offered an alternative to a life of marriage and childrearing. Her embodiment of the modern woman also managed to make an impression in mainstream media, winning two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her role.
In her own life, Moore was equally commendable. She produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show through MTM Enterprises, a company that she established in 1969 with her then-husband Grant Tinker. The company produced numerous other television shows that garnered programming success, including The Bob Newhart Show. Moore also became known as an activist for animal rights, advocating vegetarianism and raising awareness about the immorality of the meat industry.
The influence of Mary Tyler Moore will unquestionably continue to span generations. It’s 2017, and I still want to be Mary Richards when I grow up.