Mary Tyler Moore (December 29, 1936 – January 25, 2017) was an American actress, known for her roles in the television sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977), in which she starred as Mary Richards, a thirty-something single woman who worked as a local news producer in Minneapolis, and The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966), in which she played Laura Petrie, a former dancer turned Westchester homemaker, wife and mother. Her notable film work includes 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie and 1980’s Ordinary People, in which she played a role that was very different from the television characters she had portrayed, and for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Moore was active in charity work and various political causes, particularly the issues of animal rights and diabetes mellitus type 1. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes early in the run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also suffered from alcoholism, which she wrote about in her first of two memoirs. In May 2011, Moore underwent elective brain surgery to remove a benign meningioma. She died from cardiopulmonary arrest because of pneumonia at the age of 80 on January 25, 2017.
Moore was born in the Brooklyn Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, to Marjorie (née Hackett) (1916–92) and George Tyler Moore (1913–2006), a clerk. The oldest of three children (her siblings are John and Elizabeth), Moore and her family lived in Flushing, Queens. Her paternal great-grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Tilghman Moore, owned the house which is now Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters Museum. When she was eight years old, Moore moved with her family to Los Angeles. She was raised Catholic, and attended St. Rose de Lima Parochial School in Brooklyn, Saint Ambrose School in Los Angeles, and Immaculate Heart High School in Hollywood.
Moore decided at age 17 that she wanted to be a dancer. Her television career began with her first job, as “Happy Hotpoint”, a tiny elf dancing on Hotpoint appliances TV commercials during the 1950s series Ozzie and Harriet. After appearing in 39 Hotpoint commercials in five days, she received approximately $6,000. After she became pregnant while still working as “Happy,” Hotpoint ended her stint when it became too difficult to conceal her pregnancy beneath the elf costume. Moore modeled anonymously on the covers of a number of record albums and auditioned for the role of the older daughter of Danny Thomas for his long-running TV show but was turned down. Much later, Thomas explained that “no daughter of mine could have that [little] nose.”
Moore’s first regular television role was as a mysterious and glamorous telephone receptionist on Richard Diamond, Private Detective. On the show, Moore’s voice was heard, but only her shapely legs appeared on camera, adding to the character’s mystique. About this time, she guest-starred on John Cassavetes‘s NBC detective series Johnny Staccato. She also guest-starred in Bachelor Father in the episode titled “Bentley and the Big Board.” In 1960, she guest-starred in two episodes, “The O’Mara Ladies” and “All The O’Mara Horses,” of the William Bendix–Doug McClure NBC western series, Overland Trail. Several months later, she appeared in the first episode, entitled “One Blonde Too Many,” of NBC’s The Tab Hunter Show, a sitcom starring the former teen idol as a bachelor cartoonist. In 1961, Moore appeared in several big parts in movies and on television, including Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Steve Canyon, Hawaiian Eye, Thriller, and Lock-Up.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966)
In 1961, Carl Reiner cast Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show, an acclaimed weekly series based on Reiner’s own life and career as a writer for Sid Caesar‘s television variety show, telling the cast from the outset that it would run no more than five years. The show was produced by Danny Thomas‘s company, and Thomas himself recommended her. He remembered Mary as “the girl with three names” whom he had turned down earlier. Moore’s energetic comic performances as Van Dyke’s character’s wife, begun at age 24 (11 years Van Dyke’s junior), made both the actress and her signature tight Capri pants extremely popular, and she became internationally famous. When she won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Laura Petrie, she said, “I know this will never happen again.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977)
In 1970, after having appeared earlier in a pivotal one-hour musical special called “Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman,” Moore and husband Grant Tinker successfully pitched a sitcom centered on Moore to CBS. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a half-hour newsroom sitcom featuring Ed Asner as her gruff boss Lou Grant, a character that would later be spun off into an hour-long dramatic series. Moore’s show proved so popular that two other regular characters, Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern and Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, were also spun off into their own series. The premise of the single working woman’s life, alternating during the program between work and home, became a television staple.
After six years of ratings in the top 20, the show slipped to number 39 during season seven. Producers argued for its cancellation because of falling ratings, afraid that the show’s legacy might be damaged if it were renewed for another season. To the surprise of the entire cast including Mary Tyler Moore herself, it was announced that they would soon be filming their final episode. After the announcement, the series had a strong finish and the final show was the seventh most watched show during the week it aired. The 1977 season would go on to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series, to add to the awards it had won in 1975 and 1976. All in all, during its seven seasons, the program held the record for winning the most Emmys – 29. That record remained unbroken until 2002 when the NBC sitcom Frasier won its 30th Emmy. The Mary Tyler Moore Show became a touch-point of the Women’s Movement because it was one of the first to show, in a serious way, an independent working woman.
During season six of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore appeared in a musical/variety special for CBS titled Mary’s Incredible Dream, which featured Ben Vereen. In 1978, she starred in a second CBS special, How to Survive the ’70s and Maybe Even Bump Into Happiness. This time, she received significant support from a strong lineup of guest stars: Bill Bixby, John Ritter, Harvey Korman and Dick Van Dyke. In the 1978–79 season, Moore attempted to try the musical-variety genre by starring in two unsuccessful CBS variety series in a row: Mary, which featured David Letterman, Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn in the supporting cast. CBS canceled the series. In March 1979, the network brought Moore back in a new, retooled show, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, which was described as a “sit-var” (part situation comedy/part variety series) with Moore portraying a TV star putting on a variety show. Michael Keaton was the only cast member of Mary who remained with Moore as a supporting regular in this revised format. Dick Van Dyke appeared as her guest for one episode. The program was canceled within three months.
In the 1985–86 season, she returned to CBS in a series titled Mary, which suffered from poor reviews, sagging ratings, and internal strife within the production crew. According to Moore, she asked CBS to pull the show as she was unhappy with the direction of the program and the producers. She also starred in the short-lived Annie McGuire in 1988. In 1995, after another lengthy break from TV series work, Moore was cast as tough, unsympathetic newspaper owner Louise “the Dragon” Felcott on the CBS drama New York News, her third series in which her character worked in the news industry. As with her previous series Mary (1985), Moore quickly became unhappy with the nature of her character and asked to be written out of New York News; the series, however, was canceled before the writers could remove her.
In the mid-1990s, Moore had a cameo and a guest-starring role as herself on two episodes of Ellen. She also guest-starred on Ellen DeGeneres‘s next TV show, The Ellen Show, in 2001. In 2004, Moore reunited with her Dick Van Dyke Show cast-mates for a reunion “episode” called The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.
In August 2005, Moore guest-starred as Christine St. George, a high-strung host of a fictional TV show, on three episodes of Fox sitcom That ’70s Show. Moore’s scenes were shot on the same soundstage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was filmed in the 1970s. Moore made a guest appearance on the season 2 premiere of Hot in Cleveland, which starred her former co-star Betty White. This marked the first time that White and Moore had worked together since The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977. In the fall of 2013, Moore reprised her role on Hot in Cleveland in a season four episode which not only reunited Moore and White, but also former MTM cast members Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper and Georgia Engel as well. This reunion coincided with Harper’s public announcement that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and was given only a few months to live.
Moore appeared in several Broadway plays. She starred in Whose Life Is It Anyway with James Naughton, which opened on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on February 24, 1980, and ran for 96 performances, and in Sweet Sue, which opened at the Music Box Theatre on January 8, 1987, later transferred to the Royale Theatre, and ran for 164 performances. She was the star of a new musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in December 1966, but the show, titled Holly Golightly, was a flop that closed in previews before opening on Broadway. In reviews of performances in Philadelphia and Boston, critics “murdered” the play in which Moore claimed to be singing with bronchial pneumonia.
Moore appeared in previews of the Neil Simon play Rose’s Dilemma at the off-Broadway Manhattan Theatre Club in December 2003 but quit the production after receiving a critical letter from Simon instructing her to “learn your lines or get out of my play.” Moore had been using an earpiece on stage to feed her lines to the repeatedly rewritten play.
Moore made her film debut in 1961’s X-15. She subsequently appeared in a string of 1960s films (after signing an exclusive contract with Universal Pictures), including 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie with Julie Andrews, and the 1968 films What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? with George Peppard, and Don’t Just Stand There! with Robert Wagner.
In 1969, she starred opposite Elvis Presley as a nun in Change of Habit. Moore’s future television cast-mate Ed Asner also appeared in that film (as a cop). After that film’s disappointing reviews and reception at the box office, Moore returned to television, and did not appear in another feature film for eleven years. She received her only nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in the 1980 coming-of-age drama Ordinary People, in which she portrayed a grieving mother unable to cope with the drowning death of one of her sons and unable to cope with the other son for his attempted suicide. Other feature film credits include Six Weeks (1982), Just Between Friends (1986) and Flirting with Disaster (1996).
She appeared in a number of television movies, including Like Mother, Like Son, Run a Crooked Mile, Heartsounds, The Gin Game (based on the Broadway play; reuniting her with Dick Van Dyke), Mary and Rhoda, Finnegan Begin Again, and Stolen Babies for which she won an Emmy Award in 1993.
Moore wrote two memoirs. In the first, After All, released in 1995, she acknowledged that she was a recovering alcoholic. The next, Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes, was released on April 1, 2009, and focuses on living with Type 1 diabetes.
Moore and her husband Grant Tinker founded MTM Enterprises, Inc. in 1969; Moore later commented that he had named the entity after her in much the same fashion that someone might name a boat after a spouse. This company produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and several other television shows and films. It also included a record label, MTM Records MTM Enterprises produced a variety of American sitcoms and drama television series such as Rhoda, Lou Grant and Phyllis (all spin-offs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), The Bob Newhart Show, The Texas Wheelers, WKRP in Cincinnati, The White Shadow, Friends and Lovers, St Elsewhere and Hill Street Blues, and was later sold to Television South, an ITV Franchise holder during the 1980s. The MTM logo is very similar to the Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo, but features Moore’s cat Mimsie instead of the lion.
In 1955, at age 18, Moore married Richard Carleton Meeker, whom she described as “the boy next door.” and within six weeks she was pregnant with her only child, Richard Jr. (born July 3, 1956). Meeker and Moore divorced in 1961. Moore married Grant Tinker, a CBS executive (later chairman of NBC), in 1962, and in 1970 they formed the television production company MTM Enterprises, which created and produced the company’s first television series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
On October 14, 1980, at the age of 24, Moore’s son Richard died of an accidental gunshot to the head while handling a sawed off shotgun. The model was later taken off the market because of its “hair trigger.” Moore and Tinker divorced in 1981.
Moore married Dr. Robert Levine on November 23, 1983, at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. They met when her mother was treated by him in New York City on a weekend house call, after Moore and her mother returned from a visit to the Vatican where they had had a personal audience with Pope John Paul II.
Moore was diagnosed with Type I diabetes when she was 33. In 2011, she had surgery to remove a meningioma, a benign brain tumor. In 2014 friends reported that she had heart and kidney problems and was nearly blind. In October 2015, Moore’s former co-star Dick Van Dyke said on an episode of Larry King Now, “[Diabetes] has taken a toll on her; she’s not well at all.” She died on January 25, 2017, after she had been placed on a respirator the previous week.
In addition to her acting work, Moore was the International Chairman of JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). In this role, she used her celebrity to help raise funds and awareness of diabetes mellitus type 1.
In 2007, in honor of Moore’s dedication to the Foundation, JDRF created the “Forever Moore” research initiative which will support JDRF’s Academic Research and Development and JDRF’s Clinical Development Program. The program works on translating basic research advances into new treatments and technologies for those living with type 1 diabetes.
A long-time animal rights activist, Moore worked with Farm Sanctuary to raise awareness about the process involved in factory farming and to promote compassionate treatment of farm animals. Moore appeared as herself in 1996 on an episode of the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom Ellen. The storyline of the episode includes Moore honoring Ellen for trying to save a 65-year-old lobster from being eaten at a seafood restaurant. She was also a co-founder of Broadway Barks, an annual animal adopt-a-thon held in New York City. Moore and friend Bernadette Peters worked to make it a no-kill city and to encourage adopting animals from shelters.
In honor of her father, George Tyler Moore, a lifelong American Civil War enthusiast, in 1995 Moore donated funds to acquire an historic structure in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) to be used as a center for Civil War studies. The center, named the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, is housed in the historic Conrad Shindler House (c. 1795), which is named in honor of her great-great-great-grandfather, who owned the structure from 1815 to 1852. Moore also contributed to the renovation of the house used as headquarters during 1861–62 by Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Use of the house had been offered to Jackson by its owner, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Tilghman Moore, commander of the 4th Virginia Infantry and a great-grandfather of Mary Tyler Moore.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Moore had a reputation as a liberal or moderate liberal and endorsed President Jimmy Carter for re-election in a 1980 campaign television ad. In 2011, friend and former co-star Ed Asner claimed during an interview on the O’Reilly Factor that Moore “has become much more conservative of late.” Bill O’Reilly, host of the O’Reilly Factor, has previously stated that Moore had been a viewer of his show and her political views had leaned conservative in recent years. In a Parade magazine article from March 22, 2009, Moore identified herself as a “libertarian centrist” who watches Fox News. She stated, “…when one looks at what’s happened to television, there are so few shows that interest me. I do watch a lot of Fox News. I like Charles Krauthammer and Bill O’Reilly…If McCain had asked me to campaign for him, I would have.” In an interview for the 2013 PBS series Pioneers of Television, Moore says that she was “recruited” to join the feminist movement of the 1970s by Gloria Steinem but did not agree with Steinem’s views. Moore said she believed that women have an important role in raising children and that she did not believe in Steinem’s view that “women owe it to themselves to have a career.”
Moore received a total of six Emmy Awards. Five of those awards (1964, 1966, 1973, 1974, 1976) tie her with Candice Bergen and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the most wins for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
On Broadway, Moore received a special Tony Award for her performance in Whose Life Is It Anyway? in 1980, and was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as well. In addition, as a producer, she received nominations for Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards for MTM’s productions of Noises Off in 1984 and Benefactors in 1986, and won a Tony Award for Best Reproduction of a Play or Musical in 1985 for Joe Egg.
On May 8, 2002, Moore was present when cable network TV Land and the City of Minneapolis dedicated a statue in downtown Minneapolis of the television character she made famous on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The statue, by sculptor Gwendolyn Gillen, was located in front of the Dayton’s department store – now Macy’s – near the corner of 7th Street South and Nicollet Mall. It depicts the iconic moment in the show’s opening credits where Moore tosses her Tam o’ Shanter in the air, in a freeze-frame at the end of the montage. While Dayton’s is clearly seen in the opening sequence, the store in the background of the hat toss is actually Donaldson’s, which was, like Dayton’s, a locally based department store with a long history and which was cater-cornered from Dayton’s. In late 2015 the statue was placed in storage during renovations to the mall, and in December it was relocated to the city’s visitor center, where it will remain until the renovation is complete in 2017, after which it is planned to be returned to its original location.
Moore was awarded the 2011 Screen Actors Guild’s lifetime achievement award. In New York City in 2012, Moore and Bernadette Peters were honored by the Ride of Fame and a double-decker bus was dedicated to them.