Tag Archives: mary tyler moore

Remembering Mary Tyler Moore: ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)

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Mary Tyler Moore’s death on Wednesday was an enormous loss for the entertainment industry. It is hard to overstate the importance of Mary Tyler Moore’s influence in shaping how women are portrayed in media, and in paving the way for more nuanced female characters. Onscreen, Moore took the standard portrayal of a woman as a housewife and mother, subservient to her husband, and turned it on its head. As capri-wearing, outspoken Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, she was an equal to her husband and was often portrayed as the more level-headed of the two. As single working woman Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she broke ground as a female executive in a newsroom, unafraid to stand up to her boss and stick up for herself. The barriers she broke for women on television have not gone unnoticed, as words of gratitude have come pouring in from women in the industry today, from Oprah Winfrey to Samantha Bee. Offscreen, she was one of the first female studio heads, founding MTM Enterprises with husband Grant Tinker in 1968, a studio that produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoffs, as well as such shows as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

Moore was modest about her status as a trailblazer, and downplayed her role as a feminist icon. She was timid about participating in the feminist movements that defined the 1970s, and remained somewhat more traditional offscreen than her beloved onscreen characters would lead us to believe. The role with which she identified most, she once said, was her Oscar-nominated performance as the distant, emotionless Beth Jarrett in the movie Ordinary People.

Coming after the likable, fun roles of Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, it is startling to see Moore playing a character so different. Director Robert Redford had seen something in Moore’s previous roles, a hint of sadness or vulnerability, that led him to believe that she could play the role, and he wanted her for it. The story of a family coming to terms with the drowning death of their son and the suicide attempt of their other son, Ordinary People is stark and raw, filled with inner rage under a meditative surface, and featuring spectacular performances from Moore, Donald Sutherland, and Timothy Hutton.

Ordinary People came at a difficult time in Moore’s life. Her much younger sister had just recently died of a drug overdose, and her son was troubled with drugs as well (he would die later that year). Thus, it is not difficult to imagine Moore living the role of Beth Jarrett, a mother going through the hardest time in her life. Beth emotionally distances herself from her surviving son, and comes off stone cold, uncaring and heartless.

Moore said later in an interview with the Archive of American Television that an interpretation of Beth Jarrett as heartless and brittle was not seeing the character at all. She was a victim, she said, and a woman “who wanted to do the right thing and was taught ‘how to do the right thing,’ and never let it spontaneously erupt.”

While starkly different from her groundbreaking roles on television, Ordinary People is very much a continuation of Mary Tyler Moore’s trend of empowering female characters. With her nuanced performance, she turns a woman who could, on the surface, be written off as an emotionless person, into a powerful examination into the complex emotions surrounding motherhood, death, mourning, and fear.

Ordinary People is often difficult to watch due to the built-in tension, but it is a triumph of acting prowess. If you would like to watch it, it is available on Netflix and to rent on Amazon. This is truly Mary Tyler Moore at her best and most vulnerable. She was a force of good for women in the entertainment world, and will be painfully missed.

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At the Academy Awards with Jack Lemmon, where she was nominated for Ordinary People.

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Trailblazing Women to be Highlighted on Turner Classic Movies in October

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For the second year in a row, Turner Classic Movies will pay tribute to significant contributions to the film industry by women, through their Trailblazing Women series in partnership with Women in Film. Last year’s programming was a huge success, with a spotlight on female directors in what has become a crushingly male-dominated industry. This year’s theme will be “Actresses Who Made a Difference,” focusing on those women who contributed to issues outside of acting, and made waves that are still felt today in the film world and beyond.

The month-long Tuesday/Thursday night programming is hosted by Illeana Douglas, joined by a different female guest each night who will discuss the actresses, why they were chosen, and introduce a film made during a significant period in their life. On the first night, October 4, Douglas will be joined by the leading expert on women in early Hollywood, Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. The subjects on the first night will be three actresses who seized the idea of the traditionally male studio executive and turned it on its head.

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Mary Pickford was one of the most prominent figures in early Hollywood, both on and off the screen. While moviegoing audiences knew her as “Little Mary,” a perpetual little girl in curls even at the age of 30, in reality she was a woman with an steel will and iron constitution, a shrewd businesswoman and a savvy investor who knew the industry inside and out. In 1919, she founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, and subsequently founded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Relief Fund, which (now operating as the Motion Picture and Television Fund) still serves those in need in the industry. She will be discussed and profiled in conjunction with Little Annie Rooney, a movie she produced and performed in at the height of her position as a head of United Artists Studio in 1925.

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Lucille Ball, former contract player at RKO and “Queen of the Bs,” decided in 1950 to join with her husband Desi Arnaz to form their own production company, Desilu, in order to pitch a series based on Ball’s radio program My Favorite Wife. The series eventually became I Love Lucy, the production company became one of the most formidable forces in the business, and Lucille Ball became one of the most influential figures in movies and television. In 1960, she became the sole owner of Desilu and was directly responsible for shows such as Star Trek and The Untouchables getting to air. The movie Yours, Mine, and Ours was made in 1968, while Lucille Ball was serving as the powerful president of Desilu.

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Following directly in Lucille Ball’s footsteps was Mary Tyler Moore. 3 years out of her debut hit series The Dick Van Dyke Show (in which she broke significant ground for women on television in her own right), Moore created MTM Enterprises with husband Grant Tinker in order to pitch The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1969. The show premiered the following year and lasted for 7 phenomenal seasons, during which time MTM Enterprises grew and produced not only the show’s spinoffs, Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant, but also the popular  The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere. The movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, chosen to represent Mary Tyler Moore this first evening, was made in 1967, in the in-between time just after Moore’s run on The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, and MTM Enterprises began.

Other nights to watch with significant women profiled:

Bette Midler, discussing women who controlled their own destiny, including:

  • Olivia de Havilland, the first person to make a major dent in the studio system by winning a contract case against Warner Bros. The ruling, the De Havilland Decision, is still cited often in entertainment law cases. She will be profiled in conjunction with Devotion (1946), filmed in 1943 but unable to be released until after she won the lawsuit.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, who left her Twentieth Century Fox contract behind to study at the Actor’s Studio in New York, only to return and demand director approval on all her projects–then form Marilyn Monroe Productions in 1956 in which she had full control over her work. Her work will be discussed with The Prince and the Showgirl (1956), produced by Marilyn Monroe Productions, as an example.

Jane Fonda, discussing women activists, including:

  • Myrna Loy, who served as the co-chair on the Advisory Council of the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing, campaigned actively against McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, and became the first Hollywood personality appointed to U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. One of her best-loved movies, The Thin Man (1934), will be shown to profile her onscreen work.
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Dr. Emily Carman, discussing actresses’ wartime contributions, including:

  • Bette Davis, who together with John Garfield established the Hollywood Canteen, where soldiers could eat and be entertained for free while on leave. A semi-Hollywood movie, Hollywood Canteen, was made in 1944 to promote the canteen and enhance the war effort, and TCM will show it this evening.

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  • Hedy Lamarr, who developed frequency-hopping technology to help with communication between Allied forces, an invention that is still used today in cell phones, wifi networks, and Bluetooth technology. The Conspirators (1944) will be shown to highlight Hedy Lamarr’s war efforts as well as her film work.

Be sure to tune in every Tuesday/Thursday in October for what promises to be a timely and informative look at a group of women who made a difference in the betterment of their industry and their world.