Love Is All Around
With help from a legendary cast of characters, television history was made. Ed Asner played Lou Grant, the hard-nosed news director with a soft spot for Mary. Gavin MacLeod brought sweet but sarcastic newswriter Murray Slaughter to life on the small screen. Actress Betty White sauced up the screen as sassy and sex-crazed Sue Ann Nivens. Ted Knight played hilarious, dim-witted, egomaniac anchorman Ted Baxter, who was in love with sweet, naïve Georgette, portrayed by Georgia Engel.
At home, Mary's man-crazy best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern, played by Valerie Harper, was always dropping in. Together, they were forced to deal with busybody landlord, Phyllis Lindstrom, played by Cloris Leachman.
After seven award-winning seasons, the lights went out at WJM-TV. Now, the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is reuniting on Oprah's stage—Mary, Lou, Murray, Sue Ann, Rhoda, Phyllis and Georgette are all here!
Oprah says The Mary Tyler Moore Show became her lifeline. "I was 16 years old when I first saw this groundbreaking show," she says. "I watched this show every Saturday night like my life depended on it."
Growing up, Oprah says she wanted to have Mary Richards's clothes, hairstyle and job. She says she was crushed when she learned there wasn't really a WJM-TV in Minneapolis.
See how Oprah's staff brought WJM-TV to life.
Now, her childhood dreams have come true! "It feels so completely surreal to me," Oprah says. "I wanted to walk through those doors and sit at Mary's desk. And, today, I get to do it."
Mary Richards and her friends inspired Oprah to live the life she always imagined. "The show was a light in my life, and Mary was a trailblazer for my generation. She's the reason I wanted my own production company," Oprah says. "It's the reason there is a Harpo because that was the inspiration."
Despite her gruff professional demeanor, Mary says her aunt always encouraged her to follow her dreams. "She was the one who said to me when I was failing subjects in school, 'You're going to be a dancer, or you're going to be an actress. Whatever it is, you're going to be very good at it,'" Mary says.
Part of Mary Richards was inspired by the real Mary as well. "My then-husband, Grant Tinker, chose Jim Brooks and Allan Burns to create the character based on what they were getting to know about me," she says. "So a lot of what I have as an actress came into that character."
Throughout her accomplished career, Mary has won seven Emmys, received one Oscar® nomination and starred as one of Elvis's leading ladies on the big screen. The year before The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired, Mary played a nun opposite Elvis's doctor in Change of Habit. Oprah says she read that Elvis once said there was only one leading lady he never slept with. Was it Mary? "It was I," Mary says. "What was I thinking about?"
Mary says she was proud to play a hardworking, single character on television. "What was so wonderful about the way Jim and Allan created this show was it was never a question of Mary being on a soapbox, saying, 'Look at what I'm doing and do try to emulate me because it will make you a better person,'" Mary says. "It was just, 'Here I am.'"
After the lights went out at WJM-TV, Oprah spent years wondering whatever happened to Mary Richards. What does Mary think? "There are all kinds of possibilities," Mary says. "One that I liked was that she continued working and then met and fell in love with a wonderful man and they got married and had wonderful children."
Diabetes is a "very deceptive disease," according to Mary. "People say it's not that serious a disease, but it is," she says. "It's pernicious. It just keeps eating away."
Mary herself has felt many effects from the disease but says she's lucky to have good doctors—including her husband. Mary says she's lost a lot of her vision as well as her sense of balance. "That's why I can't ride horses anymore. I don't drive because of the vision," she says. "Arthritis hits at an earlier age. Anything that can go wrong goes wrong in a bigger, earlier way."
In fact, Mary's struggle with diabetes has inspired her to write a new autobiography. "It's the story of how I was happy and had a wonderful life as Mary Tyler Moore, but I never really tested myself," she says. "And it was because of diabetes, I think, that it caused me to grow up. In fact, that's going to be the title of the book—Growing Up Again."
Ed says he had performed comedy on stage but never on film or television before The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Although he eventually made viewers laugh out loud, he didn't get many chuckles during his original audition for the show. "It stunk," he says. "Years later, I found out that after I left the room, [Mary] turned to the two producers and said, 'Are you sure?'"
After that audition, Ed asked for another one. "So I tried it. I read it as crazily as I could," he says. "And they said [yes]."
Mary compared making the show to Camelot, but Ed says he had his own name for it. "I call it 'The Seven Years of the Yellow Brick Road,'" he says. "I was the cowardly lion, and Gavin needed the oil. And Ted was the brainless one."
So was Murray in love with Mary? "Are you kidding? Who wasn't?" he says. "He sure was."
Gavin says one of his favorite shows featured Murray's 40th birthday. "He realized on that day he was in love with Mary Richards, and we had a wonderful show about that," he says. "She told him what love was all about, and he was so enamored by her and taken about it, and he turned [to tell her how he felt] and she had already left. That was a great moment."
"Seven years with these people ... it just doesn't come any better," Gavin says.
The commitment of each cast member is what Betty thinks made the show such a success. Even if an actor wasn't in a scene, Betty says they would stay onset. "They wouldn't go back to their dressing room between scenes," she says. "They'd stand by and listen. 'Why didn't that get a bigger laugh? What went wrong?' They were so into the show and so tuned in."
Betty says Mary was a true leader because of her ability to captivate the audience's attention with ease. "She just was a class act and such a professional," she says.
Now a four-time Emmy winner, Betty went on to star in The Golden Girls and has kept us laughing for more than five decades. Although they live far apart, Betty says she still keeps in touch with the whole gang. "You can't work and live together that much and not become—it's the oldest cliché in the world, but family."
There was another cast of characters waiting for Mary once she got home. Valerie Harper played Mary's best friend, Rhoda, a funny, loyal, tell-it-like-it-is kind of girl. Valerie says the best part about Mary and Rhoda's friendship was its authenticity. "That really was how girlfriends are and that your best girlfriend could be really jealous of your hip measurement, as I was of Mary's, but really be there for her," Valerie says. "Tell her the truth."
Although they became two peas in a pod, Mary and Rhoda didn't start out that way when Mary moved into the apartment Rhoda wanted. "They started out that we are going to be adversaries, but then it turned into a friendship."
Valerie went on to star in her own popular spin-off, Rhoda. Always known for being man-crazy, when Rhoda finally got married on the show in 1974, her TV wedding was one of the highest-rated events of the entire decade. Valerie herself is now a four-time Emmy winner.
Although Phyllis was Rhoda's archenemy on the show, viewers might be surprised to know is that Cloris and Valerie were actually good friends offset. "I have a one-woman show, and I talk about her all the time and how she called me her girlfriend, and she was always wonderful to me and it changed me," Cloris says.
While The Mary Tyler Moore Show was filming, Cloris says she had a friendly bet with Ed. If he would lose 30 pounds, she would sleep with him. "That's why it never happened. ... He lost 29...and he went right back up!" she jokes. "We looked in each other's eyes, and we were terrified. I don't know who was more frightened."
On the soundstage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was taped hangs a plaque that Georgia thinks says it all. "'On this set, a group of loving friends put together The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' Georgia says. "It's so simple and so perfect."