If James Adolphus’ insightful documentary “Being Mary Tyler Moore” teaches us anything, it is that the entertainment industry of today will never again produce another icon.
The current American culture of films and broadcast television is one that refuses to take chances. Grounds are no longer made to be broken; trails no longer blazed. Studio executives are afraid of offending anyone, while today’s younger audiences have an aversion to creativity and an impatience for any voice other than their own.
Over the last decade, drive and creativity have been held hostage by fear. In cinema (and especially on television), creators would rather tap at the door than break it down, terrified of the opinions on the other side. On both the big and little screen, the product has suffered greatly.
The documentary opens with a shockingly chauvinistic clip from the 1960s where Moore is being interviewed by David Susskind about her role as Laura Petrie on “The Duck Van Dyke Show”. The actress’s demeanor stays calm as the host expresses tired views of how women should be subservient to the men. Moore stays poised as she calmly rebutted by recalling a quote from one of the Women’s Movement founders which states a woman must be “a human first and a woman second…”
This was the perfect moment to begin the film, as it represents a woman who refused to be marginalized and one who would continue to fight for equality.
Mary Tyler Moore began her career in the puritanical late 1950s on the show “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”. The actress’s time there would open her eyes and set her on a course of change.
Moore’s character is a switchboard operator who is never seen anywhere other than her post. The camera never lets the audience see her face, only her legs and the back of her head. Feeling her character was deserving of more money due to the popularity, Moore asked for a small raise and immediately lost the role.
The incident with that show’s producer would send Moore on a career-long quest to tell the stories and play the characters that accurately represented women.
The documentary goes through the actress’s life chronologically. Moore’s time on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” allowed her a lifelong friendship with the show’s star and began her quest to be a leader of change.
Laura Petrie was the first woman to wear pants on television and the first to have a backbone. Moore was shocked and delighted to find the show’s creator, Carl Reiner, welcoming her input on the growth of her character.
Thanks to one the film’s executive producers Robert Levine (Moore’s third husband) “Being Mary Tyler Moore” is filled with a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes footage, private photos, and home movies.
Rather than having one narrator, Adolphus uses a great deal of the actress’s interviews (both public and private), interspersing comments and stories from friends and colleagues who knew Moore best. This works to the film’s advantage, essentially letting the actress tell her own story.
Many of the clips and testimonials show a woman who was careful with what she revealed to the public, but the film gives insight to into all aspects of her life. Her alcoholism, the accidental death of her son, her need for independence, and her desire to date freely when single are handled with respect.
The time spent covering “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” solidifies just how much of a groundbreaker the actress was. Moore’s role as Mary Richards was something early-70s television audiences hadn’t seen.
Richards was a single independent working woman who was happy being single. The show was the first to have a character so positive about her life. Breaking many tv taboos, the show featured one episode where Mary had a one-night stand. Moore wanted women to be portrayed accurately and fought hard for the show to do so.
While director James Adolphus doesn’t do anything new regarding a documentary about a person’s life and career, the film is effective and moving.
Moore left an important and everlasting mark on screen and in life.
Sitting down to write my thoughts on “Being Mary Tyler Moore”, my one rule was not to fall prey to the cliche of quoting the theme song from Moore’s iconic tv show. As my thoughts took one last trip through such a phenomenal career, I thought of her place in not only my world, but in the history of entertainment.
Through two classic and groundbreaking television shows, countless variety show appearances, an Oscar nomination for her fearless work in Redford’s “Ordinary People”, and for her tireless work in helping to raise over 2 billion dollars to fight diabetes in children, Moore’s life and legacy is something to celebrate.
Due to her honesty and determination and beautiful personality and the sweet memories she left us, it deserves to be said that Mary Tyler Moore could indeed, turn the world on with her smile and she did make it after all.
Being Mary Tyler Moore
Directed by James Adolphus
Starring Mary Tyler Moore, James L. Brooks, Jmaes Burrows, Bill Persky, Rosie O’Donnell, Katie Couric
NR, 119 Minutes, HBO Documentary Films