It’s not about the actress. It’s about the characters she played. Mary Tyler Moore was best known for the characters of Laura Petrie on The Dick van Dyke Show, and Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
What did these two characters have in common? Innocence without naiveté. Neither Laura Petrie nor Mary Richards were fools. These characters were soft, but not airheads. There was a charming innocence about both of them, a persona most of us will never forget. These characters were brought to life by Moore’s own unique mannerisms and persona, no doubt a blending of her own unique personality with the great writing, acting and humor that brought it all to life.
Innocence can be honest and smart. You can remain innocent while never becoming a fool. That’s what Moore captured so wonderfully in both of her memorable characters.
When The Mary Tyler Moore Show first aired in the 1970s, some people commented on the refreshing wholesomeness of the character in the midst of what was, in many ways, a dark and difficult era. Yet the same could be said about today. This leads me to think that such a combination of qualities is rare, and special, in any time or place. People will always appreciate and benefit from them, and they should.
The actress is not the character. But it must say something about the actress that she brought these two characters to life in a way that transcends the ages. Let’s also not forget Moore’s memorable performance in the movie Ordinary People. Many were shocked by the contrast between the innocent Petrie/Richards characters and the much harsher one she portrayed in the movie. It shows her range, and range marks the difference between a good and a great performer.
The blending of honesty and innocence gave credibility to the theme song of Moore’s show which ended with, “You’re gonna make it after all.” Did she make it after all? It’s only a fictional sitcom character, after all. But the hope was always that she did.
Fond farewells, Mary Tyler Moore. We don’t get a whole lot of performers like you. We’re very lucky we had you.
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