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Mary Tyler Moore dead : TV legend was 80

I can’t remember a time in my life when Mary Tyler Moore wasn’t a part of it.

The Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony award winning actress and producer died today of complications from pneumonia.  She was 80, having celebrated her birthday less than a month ago.

Born in New York and raised in California, Mary Tyler Moore decided as a teenager that she wanted to be a dancer.  Her first professional job was as “Happy Hotpoint,” a tiny elf who danced on Hotpoint appliances during commercial breaks on the popular 1950s television series “Ozzie and Harriet.”  Her first regular TV role was as the sexy, unseen secretary of “Richard Diamond: Private Eye.”  On the show, the audience could hear Moore’s voice, but all they saw were her legs.

In 1961, after a series of small film and television roles, show creator Carl Reiner cast her as Laura, the wife of comedy writer Robert Petrie, on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  Her work on the show earned her two Emmy awards and a Golden Globe.

When the show ended in 1966, she returned to films, co-starring with Julie Andrews in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and Elvis Presley in “Change of Habit,” in which she played a nun sent undercover to live in the ghetto.  The film is a personal favorite in the Smith household and was Elvis Presley’s last scripted film.

In 1970, she returned to television in the groundbreaking, self-titled “Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  As Mary Richards, a single woman starting life over at age 30, she gets a job as a producer of the local news and for the next seven years became a Saturday night staple.  The show earned an amazing 67 Emmy nominations, winning 29, including four more for Moore.

After the show ended in 1977, Moore tried a couple of variety shows, with little fanfare.  In 1980, she stunned fans and Hollywood with her performance as the cold mother Beth Jarrett in Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People.”  Long time fans were stunned, having never seen an unlikable Moore on screen.  For her performance she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

It was actually 30 years ago this month that I had the great opportunity to see Ms. Moore and Lynn Redgrave on Broadway in the play “Sweet Sue.”  After the show I joined many other fans waiting patiently at the stage door for the actresses to come out.  Both were very giving of their time, posing for photos and signing autographs.  I had her sign my “Ordinary People” poster and when she handed it back I told her, “I’ve hated you ever since I saw this movie.”  Thankfully she knew that I meant her character as she smiled and said, “why thank you.”

Mary Tyler Moore continues to be a part of my life.  Whenever we have a free Friday or Saturday night, my wife Juanita and I put together a “70s Night,” watching DVD’s of television series from that decade.  You can rest assured that at least one episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore” is on the agenda every night.

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