Mary Tyler Moore passed away yesterday. It’s a bit lost in the daily saga of What Horrible Thing Has Trump Done This Hour but the tributes are starting to pop up. Her show was grounbreaking, Mary Richards was a trailblazer for single working women, an example that female characters can do something besides lament their singlehood and long for a man. You’ll probably also read that MTM had juvenile diabetes and campaigned relentlessly to educate the public and fundraise. Her production company – with it’s sly kitty cat logo – was responsible for some of the best shows ever to be on television: the Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and of course her own shows.
But what I remember about Mary Tyler Moore is that she played the TV character who is most beloved to me: Laura Petrie.
I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show every day at noon on Channel Five – our local independent channel. I loved the show because it was clever and hilarious, but also because the Petries were – to use the parlance of the youths of today – my relationship goals. My original OTP.
They were perfectly in sync. When Rob was panicking about something (baby Richie maybe not being theirs, Laura getting her toe stuck in a bathtub faucet) she was calm and when she was freaking out (about their marriage perhaps not being legal, about telling the world that Alan Brady is bald) he was calm. They were partners. They were a team, whether it was singing a duet of “Mountain Greenery” at one of their fabulous parties, or solving the puzzle of the great Petrie fortune.
They were also clearly in love, romantically and sexually (separate beds notwithstanding). Even as a kid, I could tell there was a difference between the way Rob and Laura treated each other and the way say, Ward and June interacted. In one episode, when Laura was particularly dressed up one morning, Rob looked up from his newspaper and said the way she looked – he’d have to start taking the afternoon edition. And “Never Bathe on a Saturday”, in which Rob draws on a mustache and slips on a smoking jacket , suggests that the Petries were up for a bit of role play.
I wanted to be a comedy writer like Rob – but I wanted to BE Laura. As Rob pointed out during an argument, she was “the most perfect person in the world.” Beautiful, stylish (those cigarette pants!), talented, confident, smart. And anyone who has seen my 90’s requisite Glamour Shot or photos from my wedding knows that I coveted Laura’s flip hairstyle. (I still do.)
Everything Laura was, was because of Mary Tyler Moore, who could wail “Oh Rob!” in one scene, and coolly declare her intention kill Rob’s old girlfriend in the next. (And hey let’s not forget she was only 24 when the show started, and had never trained in acting.)
My favorite episode Dick Van Dyke Show episode- the one I would fake sick to stay home and watch if I saw it coming up in the TV Guide – is “It May Look Like a Walnut”, in which Rob has a fevered dream involving Danny Thomas, aliens with eyes on the backs of their heads, and losing his thumbs. I know that for most, the name Mary Tyler Moore conjures up the image of a young woman tossing her beret into the air, but for me, it’s Laura Petrie coasting out of the closet on a wave of walnuts.
Goodbye, LiLo of Twilac.