There’s Something About Mary

Mary Tyler Moore passed away over a week ago and I’ve been thinking about her ever since.  Countless actresses come and go, but then you have those who make indelible impressions with one or two jaw-dropping performances.  Audrey Hepburn, Julie Andrews and Maureen O’Hara, just to name a few.  Meryl Streep.  And Mary Tyler Moore.

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There’s something about Mary. I read her filmography from start to finish – a span of sixty years of television and movies – and came up with two roles of any significance to me: Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), and Beth in the film Ordinary People (1980).  But I think most people would agree – those performances alone land Mary Tyler Moore in an acting class by herself.

Moore first became a familiar name as Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960’s, but that was a little before my time.  On the other hand, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a weekend staple in my house.  At an age when my father still controlled the TV remote (er, TV channel – no remotes back then), my brothers and I were treated to CBS’s Saturday night “killer lineup”, which included The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show included memorable opening credits, if only because the theme song was so infectious (“…you’re gonna make it after all…”), as was the final scene where Mary spins and smiles and throws her hat into the air at a busy Minneapolis intersection.  That throw – and Mary Tyler Moore herself – is immortalized in a bronze sculpture you can find at that very same intersection today.

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In 1980, just as I was heading off to college, Robert Redford directed the Best Picture winner Ordinary People, one of the most gut-wrenching, powerful, “real-life” dramas I have ever seen.  Timothy Hutton burst onto the Hollywood scene with an Oscar-winning performance as Conrad, the younger of two sons in a tormented Chicago family.  Judd Hirsch was also nominated for an Oscar (losing to Hutton) for his portrayal of the determined therapist who counseled Conrad back to stability.  But it was Mary Tyler Moore’s turn as the heartless and unforgiving mother Beth that stole the show.  Her performance was so counter to the sunny demeanor of Mary Richards, I wondered if she was tapping the energy of some real-life bout of depression.  That was the breadth of Mary Tyler Moore’s acting talents.  I’ve only seen Ordinary People a couple of times but the scene where Donald Sutherland tells Beth he no longer loves her still haunts me.  Moore’s silent, crestfallen reaction to that statement could’ve coined the phrase “verbal slap in the face”.

I am even more taken by Mary Tyler Moore when I read some of the details of her life.  Clearly, she tried to embody the positive demeanor and “independent woman” of Mary Richards, but she did so in the face of significant personal tragedy.  She dealt with alcoholism and smoking addiction, drug overdose (her sister), suicide (her son), and years of diabetes.   She took up the baton to promote diabetes awareness and animal rights.  Moore was even tougher and more outspoken than her little/big screen roles would suggest.

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The theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore show begins with “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” Scroll back up to that first photo.  Talk about ear-to-ear!  And I can’t help but smile back, even as we now say goodbye to Mary.

Some content sourced from IMDb.com.

American Pastime

Over the next three months, on any given Saturday, the spotlight of college athletics will shine brightly on football. Millions of fans will flock to stadiums (or in one instance, a motor speedway) to witness this most American of sports. Tailgate parties will crop up hours before kickoff.  Team-branded merchandise will fly off shelves to the tune of millions of dollars.  Broadcasters will endlessly debate one team’s merits versus another’s shortcomings.  It’s fair to say college football will be a more consuming topic than the presidential election.

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Last weekend my family and I experienced the unique opportunity to attend two college football games in Texas on consecutive days. UCLA played Texas A&M in College Station on Saturday, where A&M’s Aggies won in thrilling fashion in overtime. Then Notre Dame played Texas in Austin on Sunday, where UT’s Longhorns also won in thrilling fashion in double overtime. On Friday we could’ve added yet another game, passing through Waco as Baylor opened its season against Northwestern State.

Here are a few college football statistics for your consideration:

  • There are well over 100 NCAA Division 1 college football teams competing on any given Saturday of the season.
  • The combined attendance to last weekend’s games involving at least one team in the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 was over 1.5 million fans. That included UCLA-Texas A&M (100,443) and Notre Dame-Texas (102,315 – an all-time record for a Texas home game).
  • The face value of a major college football game ticket is around $100 this year.  Accordingly last Saturday’s AP Top 25 games alone generated $150 million (not counting merchandise, concessions, and parking).
  • There are eight college football stadiums in the U.S. with more than 100,000 seats, and another twenty-two stadiums with more than 75,000 seats.  The largest NFL football stadium has 82,500 seats.
  • Next Saturday’s college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN).  The 150,000 fans expected in the grandstands will shatter the all-time record for college football single-game attendance.

Sure, college football has some impressive numbers.  The game will only get more popular.  Yet last weekend also reminded me there are more indelible memories than the game or the venue itself.  Consider:

  • The heart-warming spirit of hometown Texas A&M.  As a fan of the opposing team, the reception in College Station is akin to a stranger inviting you into his living room for sweet tea and cookies.  I lost track of how many Aggies welcomed us to campus, wished our team well, or simply thanked us for making the trip.  Their politeness is downright 1950’s-sitcom.  With that in mind, add See a football game in College Station to your bucket list.
  • A&M’s Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band.  Also known as the Corps of Cadets, the four hundred musicians comprise the largest military marching band in the world.  Their movements are so coordinated and precise you’d swear you were looking at a computer-generated equivalent.  One Aggie actually apologized to me for the “old-fashioned” feel of the Corp.  On the contrary; it was one of the most impressive halftime shows I’ve ever seen.
  • The Littlest Fans.  Texas A&M and Texas alike draw a healthy number of families to their games.  My favorites are the little ones: those fans between the ages of 5 and 15.  They’re decked out in their team colors and face paint, with shiny hair ribbons and pom-poms.  We had several of them sitting right in front of us at the Notre Dame-Texas game.  Their innocence and unabashed enthusiasm were priceless.

My advice after my mega-weekend of college football?  Ditch the television.  GO to a game and see what you’re missing.  There happens to be one this Saturday, and not far from where you live.