Movies · Television

Book Review: You’re Going to Make It After All: The Life, Times and Influence of Mary Tyler Moore

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As an individual who admittedly has a fascination for bits of arcane movie and TV trivia, I found this passage in a new book written by New York Times bestselling author Marc Shapiro refreshingly offbeat:

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One of the small screen’s most unbeatable ensembles: the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

At one point early in the show’s existence, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was in danger of being cancelled. So much so that the producers came up with an alternative ending to the show that, if used, would have sent the series out with a literal bang. As the story played out, a mad bomber was leaving bombs all over the city of Minneapolis. It was determined that the bomber was actually somebody who worked in the WJM newsroom. Chaos would have ensued as the cast began to suspect each other. At the end of the never-used storyline, it was determined that the bomber was one of the nameless, faceless people we always saw working in the background on the newsroom set.

I don’t know why I found this so funny…unless it’s because it’s reminiscent of a storyline they might have utilized on St. Elsewhere, a TV show produced by the company (MTM Enterprises) founded by Moore and her one-time husband Grant Tinker.  I was also tickled by the coincidences in that both her self-titled sitcom and The Dick Van Dyke Show struggled in their inaugural seasons and were threatened with cancellation by CBS until the network moved the two series to a better time slots.

bookThe death of actress Mary Tyler Moore in January of this year devastated many a classic television fan familiar with her work on those two iconic sitcoms.  I’m on record as stating unequivocally that The Dick Van Dyke Show is the greatest TV sitcom of all time, and while Mary’s work on that series is touched upon in You’re Going to Make It After All: The Life, Times and Influence of Mary Tyler Moore, Shapiro’s book concentrates more on her successful follow-up, an equally classic half-hour that came to define TV comedy in the 1970s and made its star a reluctant feminist icon (the author covers in interesting detail of how Moore slowly came to accept how, for better or worse, she was a role model for many, many women).

dvd3Mary Tyler Moore authored two autobiographies: After All in 1995, and Growing Up Again: Life, Loves and Oh Yeah, Diabetes in 2009.  If you want to get into the nuts and bolts of the actress’ life, you’ll probably want to gravitate to either (or both, depending on your degree of fandom) of these tomes.  You’re Going to Make It After All is more of a primer on Moore; a brisk read that presents a refreshingly candid look at Mary’s personal and professional life.  Despite the joy and laughter MTM brought us on TV and in movies (and there were heartbreaking moments, too, if you’ve ever sat down to watch 1980’s Ordinary People), her life history was a tumultuous one.  Her parents were not on the candidates list for either Father or Mother of the Year, for example; Edward Tyler Moore was an emotionally distant individual who had trouble connecting with his daughter (though their relationship did improve in his twilight years) while mother Marjorie struggled with alcoholism…a disease that would later cripple her daughter Mary as well.

mary1Moore also had to deal with tragedies like the accidental death of her only son Ritchie in 1980 (he shot himself cleaning a shotgun that was later taken off the market due to its “hair trigger”), and her younger sister Elizabeth’s death (born to her parents late in life, she was only three months older that Moore’s son) from a drug overdose two years earlier.  Mary Tyler Moore was tormented with health problems throughout her life; her Type 1 diabetes and alcoholism have been well documented, of course, but she also required to surgery in 2011 to remove a benign brain tumor and in her declining years she dealt with heart and kidney issues as well as a deterioration in her sight and hearing.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show cast in later seasons

The most stimulating portion of Shapiro’s book is its examination of MTM as a role model for a generation of women struggling to find their voice in the burgeoning feminist movement.  Her conservative Irish Catholic upbringing held Mary back from embracing this at first, but she would eventually come around to accepting and respecting how her Mary Tyler Moore Show character of Mary Richards was an inspiration to single and working women (though there were more than a few detractors, who winced because Richards always addressed her boss as “Mr. Grant”).

If I had a real criticism of the book, it’s that some aspects of Moore’s career are kind of dismissed in a sentence or two, notably when Marc writes: “But in the process, Moore had discovered a sudden urge to explore her dark side and would spend much of 1996 exploring less positive characters in little known or remembered films. Among them was Moore’s deep south trashy mother in Keys to Tulsa, a neurotic adoptive mother in Flirting with Disaster, and a mentally challenged older woman with some deep, dark secrets in Stolen Memories: Secrets from The Rose Garden.”  (For the record, Disaster features a first-rate performance from Mary…and is fondly remembered by your humble narrator.)  I also got a chuckle at the reference to New York News, the actress’ last weekly TV series venture: “But it was not long before she was getting the worst possible news. CBS, who had a reputation for taking slotting of a new show as an afterthought, had scheduled New York News opposite Seinfeld, which almost assured that Moore’s show was going to get clobbered in the ratings.”  (This could explain the blank look on my face—I’d never heard of it.)

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Still my favorite MTM vehicle: on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I enjoyed getting a warts-and-all look at the woman who provided so many wonderful television memories from The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the best thing about this book is that it’s an efficient, speedy read that effectively mixes laughter with the tears.  You’re Going to Make It After All has been released (the street date was October 16th) by Riverdale Avenue Books, and profuse thanks to Riverdale’s own Alyssa Tognetti for providing me a review copy.

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