Friday, January 27, 2017

When Mary Met Raymond

Mary Tyler Moore died on Wednesday, and I cried. I was surprised that the death of a woman I had never met hurt so much. Maybe because although I never met her, I felt I knew her. Whether she was "Laura Petrie" -- professional dancer turned suburban housewife -- or "Mary Richards" -- making her way up the very short career ladder of her TV newsroom -- she was someone I liked. I was one of the many young women who could imagine having Mary as my downstairs neighbor and BFF.

When I heard she was dead, I ran through my memory bank of favorite episodes of  The Mary Tyler Show. I still watch them in re-run. If you've read my post, you know by now that I love television. In fact, I even managed to make TV relevant to my academic research. I study crime and popular culture. But ask any baby boomer, and many of us will be able to describe episodes of our favorite TV shows scene by scene, even quote favorite lines. We can go down the list, calling out the shows that were the visual sound-track of our childhoods and that taught us important life lessons. We're no snobs. Many of us also love the great sit-coms that came later -- but the classics helped to shape who we are.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was special to a generation of women. Aside from what we learned from her about being single and pursuing a career, Mary taught us important lessons about grown up friendships with both women and men. Those friendships were messy and touching and complicated. We learned that it's okay if your best friend occasionally makes you crazy. Remember that episode when Rhoda, who was spending night at Mary's, left the dinner dishes in the sink "to soak" and Mary got up in the middle of the night to try to wash them without waking Rhoda. Mary and Rhoda always reminded me -- still do -- that friends don't have to be carbon copies. Friends can come from different worlds. The important thing about a good friend is that she is always there no matter where you are. She's the person who listens and understands, who you laugh with and cry with, and who always has your back.

And then there was what Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant, her boss in the newsroom, taught me about writing. When I was thinking about my favorite episodes of the show, I remembered when the one when Lou introduced Mary to Raymond Chandler. I found it again on YouTube. The title of the episode is "Mary the Writer." Mary persuades Lou to read a piece she is working on. It's a true story, but he thinks she's trying to write fiction. He opens his desk drawer -- where he also keeps his liquor -- and pulls out a book. In his gruff, tough-guy voice, he reads her the first paragraph of Chandler's "Red Wind." When he's done, he tells her that's great writing. Mary's response (that I appreciate even more now): "He writes well about the weather."

RIP Mary. Thanks for the laughs and the life lessons. And for sending me back to try Raymond Chandler again with Lou Grant's voice in my head.


Donis Casey said...

I always felt a special kinship with Mary since she and I had the same birthday. She was my "older twin".

Sybil Johnson said...

I really loved Mary. Every time I have a party, I think about how her parties never seemed to go well, something always came up.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


That must have been fun to have that connection. As I recall, they did a Mary's birthday episode once.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...


Mary's really bad parties gave me the courage to entertain. Lesson learned from her parties: both you and your guests survive.