Dec. 29, 2011 at 9:07 AM ET
Mary Tyler Moore turns 75 today, but to millions of Americans, she's still 32, forever driving from her small hometown to Minnesota's Twin Cities on a sunny freeway in 1970. How will she make it on her own? This world is awfully big, and girl, this time she's all alone.
But she had determination, moxie, smarts, charm, and something Lou Grant hated -- spunk.
After all, she'd already captured America's hearts in another beloved show when she played Laura Petrie, New Rochelle's "hostess with the mostess" on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." There's something magical about this scene, in which she dances in her famed capri pants. What, your parents' parties didn't involve conga drums and elaborately choreographed dances in the living room? Ours either, but this show made us wish they did.
Before "Dick Van Dyke," a teenage MTM played the goofy little sprite Happy Hotpoint in dozens of appliance commercials. You might not recognize her here. (Watch the whole ad though if you want a classic 1956 spiel on dishwashers.)
She was a million miles from Laura Petrie or Mary Richards in 1980's "Ordinary People," which earned her an Oscar nomination. Just watch the trailer (and wow, did that movie have a heckuva cast all the way around) and see her brittle, repressed Beth trying to hold things together. Not exactly the mother Laura or Mary would have turned out to be.
But of course, we can't forget "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." I grew up in Minnesota in the 1970s, and although only the opening credits were shot there, it was still a point of pride for residents. If you go to downtown Minneapolis, you can still eat at the very restaurant table (marked with a plaque) in the IDS Crystal Court where Mary and then-husband Grant Tinker are seen dining in the credits.
Everyone knew where the house was that was shown as Mary's, and also knew the real reason why Mary moved to an apartment in later seasons. When the studio came back to film the same giant lakeside home's exterior, its owner hung an "IMPEACH NIXON" banner on the home, forcing them to shoot elsewhere (it was 1973, after all).
I once interviewed one of the Toughskins-clad schoolkids who appear in the credits crossing a street with Mary and a school patrol. He was just walking home from school with friends one day, he said, when a man yelled "Hey! You kids wanna be on TV?" Half the gang scattered, and half stuck around and when ordered, crossed the street while Mary strode along with them, clutching a grocery bag. I sometimes wonder if the half that scattered know exactly what they missed out on.
There are too many classic "MTM" scenes to share, but Chuckles the Clown gets mentioned more than any other, and for good reason. Watch the bit where Mary scolds Murray for cracking wise -- "A man has DIED!" -- and then see if you can't feel her embarrassment when it turns out she's the one who can't stop laughing. Until the moment she's told to laugh, when of course she bursts into tears.
What's your favorite Mary Tyler Moore character, scene or line? Tell us in the comments or on Facebook.