Beth Alston: Moore’s Mary Richards — my hero
Published 11:45 am Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Mary Tyler Moore died earlier this week at age 80. I hope she’s on that big sound stage in the sky, sometimes known as Heaven.
Moore was a class act, no matter how you look at it. Battling her own demons, she provided American audiences with laughter and tears during the 1960s in “The Dick Van Dyck Show” and later in the ‘70s with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
She was my hero in the latter show in the role of Mary Richards, a single, young woman who went to the big city to take a job as a TV journalist. That mid-western girl never lost her hometown values but through her charm, wit, grit, and talent, broke into a world dominated by men. She became the face of women’s liberation during that decade.
Raised by an alcoholic mother, Moore later used alcohol to drown her sorrows while maintaining the sleek exterior of a professional actress for her fans. Her co-star and friend, Van Dyke was an alcoholic as well.
She had a son, Richie, with her first husband, Dick Meeker. Her success in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” took a toll on that marriage. Her marriage to second husband Grant Tinker also ended in divorce in 1981. He died recently, on Nov. 28, 2016. Hope they meet up again.
She was diagnosed with Type I diabetes but continued to drink. She became more estranged from her son. He became addicted to alcohol and cocaine. Her sister died of a painkiller and alcohol overdose in 1978. Son Richie later shot himself to death.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show finished its successful and highly acclaimed run in 1977, the year I graduated college.
Moore entered the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984, and finally became sober.
“The third time’s a charm” came true for her when she married Dr. Robert Levine whom she had met shortly before she went into rehab. Despite the 15-year age difference, they remained married for 33 years, until her death.
Moore went public with her battle with diabetes and was an advocate as the international chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Her brother Robert, suffering from terminal kidney cancer, asked her to help him take enough stashed painkillers to end his life. She complied, but his suicide attempt was unsuccessful. He died three months later.
Moore, as Mary Richards, embodied what I wanted to be: a single young woman making her own way in her chosen field of journalism. I took a circuitous path, starting in radio fresh out of college in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter had just completed his first 100 days in the White House. Later I diverged and went into other jobs: sales, copywriting, teaching, and ultimately, in 1984, back to journalism which held an irresistible pull.
And over the next 30 -plus years in newspapering, I have enjoyed life as a single woman in journalism, even in a small town like Americus, or a little larger one like Valdosta. I was fortunate to get to know the people I wrote about and to make a positive impact on the community I had chosen to make my home. I was promoted and undertook new responsibilities and new challenges. At a time when many are starting to consider retirement, I took on the dual title of editor and publisher a little over a year ago, and have no plans to retire.
Mary Tyler Moore, as brilliant an actress as she was, leaves a legacy in film and in the two books she penned. She proved that what is inside a person is not always apparent from the outside, and that achieving all the success in the world cannot mend a broken person. She gave us precious moments of herself during the five decades of her career. I will never forget her.
Beth Alston is editor and publisher of the Americus Times-Recorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 229-924-2751, ext. 1004.