Mary Tyler Moore, the trailblazing actress and producer who could “turn the world on with her smile” and forever changed television portrayals of women — at the same time becoming a role model for women in workplaces across the country — died Wednesday at age 80.
“Today, beloved icon, Mary Tyler Moore, passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine,” her publicist, Mara Buxbaum, said. “A groundbreaking actress, producer and passionate advocate of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile.”
Moore died at a hospital in Connecticut.
The Brooklyn native began her career on commercials, most notably as a Hotpoint elf in appliance ads that aired during “Ozzie and Harriet” episodes in the mid-1950s. She made guest appearances on several television shows before meeting Carl Reiner to audition for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Reiner told KCAL9 he had auditioned about 30 actresses before Danny Thomas recommended that he track down Moore, who had tried out to play Thomas’ daughter on “Make Room for Daddy.”
“As soon as she walked in the door with that hair and the legs — and I gave her a page to read and she read the first line and I heard a ping in her voice,” he said. “… I made my hand into a claw. I grabbed the top of her head, walked her down the hall to our executive producer’s office and said, `I found her.”‘
Her work as Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” made her a star, but she became an icon when she portrayed local television news producer Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Beyond the show’s critical success, it made Moore a role model for women, praised for her portrayal of a single woman succeeding in an often-male-dominated industry and world.
The show also tackled issues often considered taboo on television, such as addiction and equal pay for women.
Moore won four Emmy Awards for her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which earned a total of 29 during its seven-year run. The show was developed by the production company MTM, which was formed by Moore and her then- husband, Grant Tinker.
Ed Asner, who played Moore’s boss Lou Grant, wrote on Twitter, “A great lady I loved and owe so much to has left us. I will miss her. I will never be able to repay her for the blessings that she gave me.”
Co-star Cloris Leachman issued a statement calling Moore sweet, kind, tender and delicate.
“She was America’s sweetheart,” she said. “Valerie (Harper) and I always had to rehearse and rehearse, to work things through but Mary was always ready to go, thoroughly prepared.”
MTM became the production house behind classic comedies such as “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart” and “WKRP in Cincinnati,” along with the dramas “Hill Street Blues,” “The White Shadow,” which starred Howard as a high school basketball coach, and “St. Elsewhere.”
On the big screen, Moore earned an Oscar nomination for her role as a mother coping with the death of her son and attempted suicide of another in “Ordinary People.” She also appeared in films such as “Six Weeks” and “Flirting with Disaster.”
Moore was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in 1970, and was a vocal and visible advocate for people living with the disease. She became the international chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 1984 and repeatedly testified before Congress in support of increased funding for diabetes research.
Moore received a Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2012. She was presented with the honor by her former TV husband, Dick Van Dyke.
“I love that woman,” Dyke said in presenting the award. “I know everybody loves her, but I mean, I’m serious about it, and I saw her first. I love her, I always have.
We all met her when she was 23 years old — beautiful and bright and talented, and I said my now-famous line, `Do you think she can do comedy?’ And we all had a kind of a front-row seat watching Mary discover little by little what she was capable of, and as it turns out … she was Katherine Hepburn, she was Lucille Ball, she was Judy Garland, she was Ginger Rogers.
She was one of the few performers, women, who could do a flat-out comedy scene, slapstick, and still be beautiful and feminine and adorable. She has one thing I’ve never told anybody. She is slightly psychic. She always knew what I was gonna do before I did it.”
Reacting to her death, Van Dyke said, “There are no words. She was the best! We always said that we changed each other’s lives for the better. I watched her grow into the incredible talent that she became. There won’t be another one like her.”
Moore’s status as a role model for women and actresses was on full display as celebrities reacted to her death.
“Mary Tyler Moore changed the world for all women,” talk show host Ellen DeGeneres said. “I send my love to her family.”
Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin said Moore “broke through our TV screens and showed that a powerful woman can be funny.” Actress Marilu Henner said “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was the first to feature a single woman dealing with a career and problems with men.
“She set the bar (high) for those of us who followed,” Henner said.
–City News Service