Monday, January 30, 2017

"Maybe It's Not Important"

“But it ought to be”?

You read my mind, “Blue Italics Nosey Person.”  But that’s the part I am trying to eradicate.

I was looking for a recent post where I acknowledged taking the evidence before me too literally but I couldn’t find it and I gave up.  Maybe it had to do with evaluating material – wait, it’s coming back to me now – it’s kind of a magic trick I’ve learned; you give up trying to remember something and it almost immediately comes to mind – I was talking about my revisiting, via reading the script, Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane – and realizing that if I took the play’s storyline literally I would have a negative reaction, but if I set the storyline aside, focusing instead on the richness of cultural detail, language and character, I’d discover its recognizable attributes. 

I had taken the Beauty Queen experience too literally.  (Understandable, because I’m a “story guy”, a reasonable albeit, I have belatedly determined, unexculpating – thank you, Law & Order – rationalization.)

So what am I taking too literally and I shouldn’t be this outing?


After her recent passing, L.A. Times television critic Robert Lloyd – whose work I appreciate because his critiques are consistently incisive without eviscerating their targets – penned “An Appreciation” of Mary Tyler Moore.

It is hard every time someone I have known and/or have worked with hits the road.  It is a terrible loss for the grieving loved ones left behind.  And, selfishly, you cannot help wondering, “Who’s next?”

Anyway – he said, thinking about what he would greatly prefer not to think about –

I was fortunate to have written four scripts for The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  We were never “buddy-buddy.”  I was a relatively low presence on the totem pole and Mary and her then-husband Grant Tinker – who himself recently moved on – owned and operated the totem pole.

Still, I have one worth repeating personal reminiscence.

Unlike all the other MTM show “regulars” who ate their pre-“Show Night” dinners with the production participants, Mary – intensely focused, chronically shy or aloof, my money placed on a combination of the first two – invariably dined alone.

One night, chatting offstage before the filming of that season’s finale, I announced that I would be vacationing in Tahiti, where I’d try snorkeling for the first time.  In the course of that conversation, a voice suggested that I invest in a mask tailored to my personal specifications which would fit more snugly thereby enhancing my maiden snorkeling experience.

That contributing voice belonged to Mary Tyler Moore.

Shock surprise all around.  Mary had emerged from her self-imposed “Show Night” isolation to offer a valuable – and unsolicited – piece of advice.  I was deeply appreciative, both of Mary’s helpful suggestion and, even more so, her unexpected participation. 

So there’s that. 


In the course of his “Appreciation”, in the context of acknowledging her as a beacon of emerging feminism, reviewer Robert Lloyd described the “Mary Richards” character as a “single, childless career woman – and not regretfully so.”

Hold the phone here.

I have researched this oft-mentioned assertion – more than once to insure my information was correct – examining the series’s pilot episode for the facts.  And here’s what was confirmed.

Armed with the Minneapolis “Want Ads”, Mary Richards interviewed at WJM, a marginally successful TV news operation, looking for not for a career in journalism but simply a job. 

Additonally, in the early seasons particularly, Mary conducted a continued campaign to encounter a Minnesotan “Mr. Right” (and presumably eventually have children.)

I admired Mary’s characterization on the show.  But “feminist icon”, I believed, was a wishful misreading of the available evidence.

This reminded me of a similar observation of mine concerning an equally honored “feminist icon”:


Who despite macho steadfast Ricky’s resistance, maneuvered aggressively to “get into the show.”

The problem with this example was that, unlike Lucille Ball, Lucy Ricardo was excluded from participation in the show not because she was a woman but because she was monumentally untalented.  (Note:  Ethel Mertz, in a “Double Act” with husband Fred, appeared regularly in the show.)

Elevating Lucy Ricardo to “pioneer” status seemed too to be a mischaracterized designation.  Reading Mr. Lloyd’s rounded “Appreciation”, however, I quickly realized my mistake.

Shattering the mold, real life Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore co-ran their own production companies.  Mirroring their personal experiences, the characters they portrayed on their shows were themselves recognizably strong women – independent in their aspirations, indefatigably positive and fiercely determined, active opponents of the prevailing stereotypes of the day.  (“Mr. Grant” notwithstanding.)

That’s how they were iconic beacons of feminism.

Glossing over those encouraging attributes, I had ignored the subliminal “Big Picture” in favor of the literal evidence of the story.

I had taken Lucy and Mary’s honoring description too literally as well.

Hopefully, some day, I will stop doing that.

It gets tiresome –and embarrassing - continually missing the point.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

As a child, I was much more inspired by Marlo Thomas/Ann Marie in THAT GIRL. Granted, she, too, had a boyfriend, and unlike MTM she didn't get to have a real sex life, but she really *was* a career woman trying to make it on her own. And Thomas didn't sob, which I really appreciated.

MTM in her own show always seemed to me basically Laura Petrie with a boss instead of a husband.


frank said...

who knew there was a personal snorkel mask profession?