Mary Tyler Moore Remembered, Longtime Greenwich Resident

Los Angeles Times

Mary Tyler Moore, the multiple Emmy-winning actress who charmed TV viewers on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in the 1960s and became a beloved TV icon who could "turn the world on with her smile" on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 1970s, died Wednesday at Greenwich Hospital from cardiopulmonary arrest after being hospitalized with pneumonia. She was 80.

Mourning the loss of a longtime resident, Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei said in a statement: "I grew up watching her on TV. She was an iconic cultural and entertainment figure, especially for a women as a single professional woman working in the then male-dominated field of journalism. I am sure she inspired millions of women to pursue journalism as a career."

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman also spoke about the barrier-breaking roles that Moore had before retiring in Connecticut.

"She was smart, irreverent, and an unapologetic barrier-breaker. I remember her most for her Mary Tyler Moore character, which was really funny and also helped shift our culture to recognize the contributions women make," Wyman said. "She was true to the experiences so many women have at work, in our social lives, and in our communities — the serious side like dealing with gender politics and equal pay and the awkward human side that we can all relate to. I admired her philanthropy, especially around diabetes and healthcare."

At Moore's Greenwich property Wednesday, two tall trees were still lit with bright, violet Christmas lights. A few cars could be seen entering the gates, though their occupants declined to speak with reporters.

Several Greenwich police vehicles also left the property. The department said it did not have information to release Wednesday.

In a career that began as Happy Hotpoint, the dancing and singing pixie in Hotpoint appliance commercials on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in 1955 when she was 18, Moore went on to star in television and films and on Broadway.

In 1981, she received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for her portrayal of the emotionally cold mother in "Ordinary People," the Robert Redford-directed drama about an upper-middle-class family dealing with the death of its eldest son in a boating accident with his brother.

The unsympathetic, dark role was a departure for Moore, who remains best known for her light touch in two classic situation comedies that, together, earned her six Emmy Awards.

Moore had a stage career distinct from her TV and movie work. Although she didn't perform in plays at any Connecticut theaters (having established a career in New York and Hollywood when still in her teens and 20s), she did work in Broadway shows with other Connecticut celebrities.

She starred in the original New York production of "Sweet Sue," a 1987 comedy by Roxbury resident A.R. Gurney, directed by John Tillinger, who was at that time the literary consultant and frequent director at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre. Moore's previous Broadway appearance was in 1980, as the star of the drama "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" which co-starred Weston resident James Naughton. The lead role had previously been played by male actors, and was rewritten for Moore.

Moore was still largely unknown when she was cast as Laura Petrie, the suburban housewife and mother of a young son opposite Van Dyke's TV comedy writer husband Rob on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in the 1960s.

The acclaimed sitcom, which aired on CBS from 1961 to 1966, earned Moore her first two Emmys and made her a star.

Her Capri-pants-wearing Laura brought something new to the traditional sitcom role of wife and mother: youthful sex appeal.

As Carl Reiner, the series' creator, said of Rob and Laura in a 2004 TV Guide interview: "These were two people who really liked each other."

Moore agreed, saying: "We brought romance to comedy, and, yes, Rob and Laura had sex!"

Van Dyke often praised Moore's abilities as a comedic actress — one who has been credited with turning crying into a comedic art form and who memorably got her toe stuck in a hotel room bathtub faucet in one episode.

"She was one of the few who could maintain her femininity and be funny at the same time," Van Dyke said in a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television. "You have to go as far back as Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy to find someone who could play it that well and still be tremendously appealing as a woman."

After the Van Dyke show ended in 1966, Moore starred as Holly Golightly later that year in a problem-plagued Broadway musical version of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" that producer David Merrick closed after four previews in New York.

Moore also played Julie Andrews' roommate in the hit 1967 flapper-era comedy-musical movie "Thoroughly Modern Millie." But her budding film career, which included playing a nun opposite Elvis Presley's ghetto doctor in "Change of Habit," was less than stellar.

Then she was reunited with Van Dyke in a 1969 musical-variety TV special, a critical and ratings success that spurred CBS to offer her a commitment to do her own half-hour comedy series.

Moore and her second husband, TV executive Grant Tinker, created MTM Enterprises, their own independent TV production company whose logo — in a takeoff on MGM's roaring lion — was a meowing orange kitten.

Tinker hired writers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns to create and produce "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," which debuted on CBS in 1970 and made TV history.

The series, featuring Moore as Mary Richards, a single woman in her 30s who lands a job as an associate producer in a Minneapolis TV newsroom, won 29 Emmys during its seven-year run.

Four of those Emmys went to Moore, whose character Mary became a symbol of the independent 1970s career woman.

As Ed Asner's gruff Lou Grant tells her when she applies for a job in the newsroom at WJM-TV: "You know what? You've got spunk. I hate spunk."

In 1993, Moore won her seventh Emmy — for her supporting role as the ruthless owner of a 1940s Tennessee adoption agency in the Lifetime cable drama "Stolen Babies."

New Haven-based author and pop culture authority Stephen Spignesi, who has written extensively on TV sitcoms, said Wednesday that "'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' was as groundbreakingly feminist as 'All in the Family' was in shining a light on intolerance. The show was seminal. And what I always adored about Mary herself was that she wore confidence and independence flawlessly. Her Mary Richards was aspirational."

In the years after "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," Moore dealt with personal problems and tragedies.

In 1978, her younger sister, Elizabeth, died of a drug overdose. In 1980, Richie, her 24-year-old son from her first marriage, fatally shot himself in what was ruled an accident. And in 1992, Moore's brother John, a recovering alcoholic, died after a long battle with kidney cancer.

In the mid-'80s, Moore checked into the Betty Ford Center to seek treatment for alcoholism.

In a 1986 interview with Maclean's magazine, Moore said: "I am glad I was able to be a kind of role model for other women who identified with my ladylike qualities, who were then able to say, 'Well, if Mary can admit she had a problem with alcohol, then maybe I can too.'"

Moore was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 29, 1936. Her father was a clerk for Consolidated Edison who worked at the Southern California Gas Co. after the family moved to Los Angeles in 1945.

Moore, whose first marriage ended in divorce in 1961, married Tinker in 1962. They were divorced in 1981. In 1983, Moore married Dr. Robert Levine, a Manhattan cardiologist.

Moore, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1969, later served as the international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

In 2012, she received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.

Courant staff reports included.

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