The ‘Buttoned-Up’ Mary Tyler Moore
By Joseph N. Bell
“Basically,” says Mary Tyler Moore, “I’m a pretty buttoned-up person, and I don’t share my innermost feelings with anybody, except my husband. I’m pretty structured. I tend to be ahead of time and waiting when I’m working. To pull back from uncomfortable situations. To be reserved. I generally weigh and evaluate social causes, then take a moderate, even conservative, position.”
None of these cautious tendencies, however, has prevented Mary from taking strong positions on behalf of American women, both on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” in which she plays a single woman competing with some happily chauvinist men in the newsroom of a minor-league TV station, or in other public activities in which she has spoken cogently and effectively for the women’s movement.
“I like women,” she says, “out I recognize that lots of people don’t. Women over the years have let themselves be made into unlikeable creatures, permitted out once in awhile to make big talk with the men. If women don’t like themselves, how can other people like them’
“Although I totally accept these arguments intellectually, I sometimes have a tough time accepting them emotionally, partly, I suppose, because I’m forever tempering my views with other considerations that have become a part of my life.
“I still tend to defer to my husband, to accept his dominant role. And even though the areas men and women can explore together have been broadened so much in recent years, there are still female things I like to talk over with women friends.”
There are two walls around Mary Tyler Moore. The first is papier mache and can be penetrated by virtually anyone who needs help and can get his problem before her. She will respond. With grace, with style, with charm. Up to a point.
The second wall is tall and sturdy; its ramparts are defended by a battalion of concerns, longings, and uncertainties. Practically no one scales that wall, including Mary, who prefers to live out front, and does most of the time.
On June 22 Miss Moore will receive the “Susie” Humanitarian Award from B’nai B’rith for her efforts on behalf of several medical foundations and rehabilitation centers. A few months earlier, she was seen on CBS-TV narrating a program designed to dramatize the new stirrings and needs and injustices borne by American women.
Both her public and private image can easily bridge the mild militancy of women’s lib and the earnest humanitarianism of the Fund for Animals and the other charities she sponsors and supports. Nor is the humanitarianism abstract. Last year, one of her closest friends, Valerie Harper, who plays Rhoda on the show, was offered a show of her own for next year and was agonizing about what to do.
Finally she put the question to Mary, whose answer was immediate: “I’ll miss you terribly, but I can’t hold you here. You must go on.”
Says Valerie Harper: “I value Mary’s friendship, especially because she doesn’t offer it easily, even though she’s warm with everybody and always makes you feel very easy, very fast. She’s never permitted a hierarchy, a star structure on this show because she doesn’t see herself that way. She’s a fellow player, and her show has an ensemble feeling. All our awards go right back to her doorstep. During the time I worked with her, I’d always take my lead off Mary because she was someone I looked up to.”
Another associate, close to her for a long time, says: “Mary is one of the few people I know who can ad lib in complete English sentences. She answers the phone on the set and picks up her own coffee. The star sets the mood and atmosphere of any show — and that’s why there’s a minimum of back-biting and politicking on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show.'”
This is the out-front Mary. On the several occasions I’ve interviewed her, she has been impeccably cooperative. Her luminous brown eyes look straight at a visitor. She answers questions earnestly and honestly — as long as they don’t invade areas of personal privacy that she protects absolutely. She is warm, outgoing, self-deprecating. But when the interview is over, it’s over. There is no lingering small talk, no easy confidences. Mary doesn’t do this sort of thing well — or at all — and she knows it.
Miss Moore’s husband is Grant Tinker, TV executive and guiding hand behind MTM Enterprises, Inc., which has a stable of highly successful properties — of which Mary’s show is the cornerstone — on network television.
Tinker is a friendly, expansive man who met Mary when she was making her first big mark as Laura Petrie on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” They were married in 1962 and separated — as quietly as it is possible for people so much in the public eye — last year. At the time, Mary said: “There’s no other man. There’s no other woman. There are just some very personal problems between two people named Grant and Mary. We hope we can work them out and be happy.”
Since their separation, the two have — as a friend put it — been “courting” and are reportedly back together again. At no time has their working relationship apparently been affected.
Mary Tyler Moore was born in Brooklyn one of three children in a middle-class American family — in 1937. (It is typical of Mary, that she is one of the few actresses over 18 or under 60 who permit their actual birthdates in press biographies.)