In honour of her passing, I want to highlight just some of my favourite Mary Tyler Moore moments both as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, that attest to what a great comedic and inspirational talent she was.
“My Blonde-Haired Brunette” is the second episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show and the first to really show off Moore’s comedic prowess. Thinking the love is going out of their marriage, Laura bleaches her hair blonde, but immediately regrets it and goes to lengths to keep it from Rob. It’s a funny set-up that both Moore and Van Dyke deliver terrifically and Moore gets to sport a couple unique hairstyles.
“The Curious Thing About Women” is an episode where Laura inadvertently inspires Rob to write a sketch about her habit of opening his mail before he does. When the sketch airs though she doesn’t find it flattering. The scene where while watching the TV, the excitement slowly drains from her face is priceless, and the ending Moore performs wonderfully ludicrously.
“Pink Pills and Purple Parents” is possibly Moore at her goofiest. It’s a flashback episode where Laura, anxious at meeting her in-laws for the first time takes relaxation pills and winds up acting hysterically loose and carefree. She earns every big laugh in the episode through her physical comedy and dialogue delivery. It may be one of the single funniest episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show purely because of her.
“Coast to Coast Big Mouth” is a classic! Laura accidentally reveals on live TV that Alan Brady, the TV comedian who’s Rob’s boss, is bald. This episode gives Moore a lot of great material, and really funny exchanges with both Van Dyke and Carl Reiner. The scene where she confronts Brady is particularly good.
“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is one of the last episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show and sees Laura alone in the house while Rob is on a fishing trip, and her paranoia that results from it. Once again, it gives Moore the opportunity to have a lot of great reactions and over-the-top physical gags. At times she could almost be as agile as her on-screen partner.
“The Snow Must Go On” is the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to give Mary a major responsibility when the news team is covering a local election but due to a blizzard can’t get through to the results. Thus they stay on air and stall for hours. Everyone gets really funny moments, Mary included, and she also shows her sense of integrity to keep the people of Minneapolis informed.
“Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid II” is one of my favourite Christmas episodes of any series and in it, Mary out of the goodness of her heart works Christmas Eve by herself. Like “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”, we get some good laughs at her keeping herself occupied, but ultimately it’s a great celebration of her sweetness and the kindness she inspires in others.
“The Good Time News” was an important episode if for no other reason than it addressed the wage gap. But it also shows Mary asserting herself when given the opportunity to develop new ideas and make the news more upbeat. Here Mary shows she has drive and can be ambitious, and when in charge she makes some progressive decisions. I wonder if its any coincidence that during this brief stint she promoted black weatherman Gordie to co-anchor with Ted.
“Put on a Happy Face” was Moore’s personal favourite episode and its no wonder given what she gets to do. Simply put, Mary experiences a ton of bad luck in advance of an awards show. She hurts herself, gets sick, has just a ton of misfortune and it’s so clear Moore’s enjoying every minute of it, every reaction and moment, exercising her comedic abilities perhaps more than in any other episode of her own show.
“Better Late… That’s a Pun… Than Never” highlighted Mary’s playfulness early on in a wonderful scene where she and Rhoda write fake obituaries, but then one gets read on the air and Lou is forced to put her on suspension. It’s a really funny circumstance that leads to one of the more touching Mary-Lou plots. Moore gets to be both a comedian and a sad sack, it’s really good.
“Chuckles Bites the Dust”: continuing with the theme of dead people …this is one of the most famous episodes in television history. Written by the great David Lloyd, it actually has some important things to say about coping with loss and popularized the line “a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants”. But no doubt the best part is when Mary is at the funeral of entertainer Chuckles the Clown, who after chastising the others for laughing at the admittedly hilarious circumstances of his death, she breaks out in a fit of uncontrollable giggles during the eulogy. It’s one of her funniest performances as she tries to fight back the urge to laugh with flawless comic timing, and the whole scene acts as a perfect encapsulation of her skill as a performer. And one of the best memories she left us with.
“The Last Show” is the heart-wrenching final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s quite sad how just about the whole gang gets fired by the new station manager, and after we see Mary reunite with a visiting Rhoda and Phyllis, they all bid their farewells with real tears and heartfelt words. Leading the charge, Mary is superb and instrumental in creating a few classic moments, like the simultaneously sad and funny group hug moving in unison for some tissues. It’s absolutely bittersweet, and the moment Mary looks back into the newsroom one last time before shutting off the lights feels so much more poignant now in lieu of her tragic passing.
But she left us a profound legacy and two shows worth of wonderful comedy ensuring her memory will be kept alive.
Rest in peace Mary Tyler Moore.