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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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Some Kind of Wonderful

I was skimming the headlines yesterday when I noticed Anne Hathaway paying tribute to director Garry Marshall for her acting breakthrough in The Princess Diaries movies. Then I realized the tribute was because Marshall had died recently, at 81 from pneumonia. Something about Marshall resonated with me but I couldn’t put my finger on it (okay, I may have watched the Diary movies with my daughter). When I checked his credits it made more sense. I’ve been drawn to Marshall’s work longer than I ever realized.  This guy was prolific.

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In the 1980’s, a burst of coming-of-age films hit the big screen.  Today they’d still be considered cult-classics. I was particularly drawn to Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty In Pink (1986), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The characters were about my age and dealing with the kind of teenage angst I could really relate to. As it turns out, John Hughes wrote every single one of these movies.  He also wrote one of my all-time favorites (still to this day): Some Kind of Wonderful (1987). If you’re a guy and you’ve seen the movie perhaps you made the same connection.  Like Eric Stoltz’s character I was madly in love with Lea Thompson, until I realized I was really in love with Mary Stuart Masterson.

In my obsession with John Hughes (and director Howard Deutch), apparently I overlooked Garry Marshall.  Marshall entered my life early with The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Odd Couple in the mid-’70’s.  My brothers and I watched what my dad wanted to watch in those days, so Marshall gets the credit for some fond father-son memories side-by-side on the family room couch.

By the early ’80’s Marshall had moved on to Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, and Happy Days.  I’m sure I didn’t miss many episodes (and I can still hum the theme songs).  Along with The Brady Bunch those were my go-to shows.  Bit of trivia: Garry Marshall directed his sister Penny Marshall to fame in Laverne & Shirley.

Marshall solidified his influence on my life when he directed Pretty Woman in 1990.  I was so taken by the movie in fact, that I mimicked a few scenes for my wife’s birthday a few years later.  I woke her up with a handful of hundred-dollar bills, told her to go out and buy a nice dress for dinner; then showed up later in a limousine, standing through the sunroof in a tux with a bouquet of flowers.  It was fun to play the part, but alas I am no Richard Gere.

Trivia again: Garry Marshall played a small role as a tour guide in Pretty Woman.

My wife and I took a chance on the movie Mother’s Day this past May – a light comedy with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis (and Pretty Woman star Julia Roberts).  Was it a great movie?  No.  But as it turns out it was the last film directed by Garry Marshall.  That little fact gave the movie more substance.  With Mother’s Day, Marshall managed to give me more than fifty years of television and movie memories.

Rest in peace Garry.  Thanks for so many kinds of wonderful.