In a year when we lost more pop-culture icons than our hearts could bear, there is one blessing: Mary Tyler Moore is still with us.
The actress whose portrayal of a spunky Minneapolis newswoman on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” made her a TV icon and inspired a generation of young women turned 80 on Thursday. By all reports, she’s not in the best of health. Aside from a news release in November mourning the death of her ex-husband, legendary TV executive Grant Tinker, she’s been out of the public eye.
But her legacy is alive and well. Few sitcoms achieved more critical success or resonated more deeply with viewers than “MTM,” in large part because of the character of Mary Richards, who valued work and friendship above marriage, a radical concept when the show debuted on CBS on 1970.
During its seven-year run, the show collected 29 Emmys, a total surpassed only by “Saturday Night Live,” “Game of Thrones” and “Frasier.” More importantly, Richards became a role model for women who would emulate her character’s can-do attitude.
“I think Mary Tyler Moore has had more influence on my career than any other single person or force,” Oprah Winfrey said last year in a PBS documentary celebrating the series.
Moore and the show’s creators, which included future Oscar winner James L. Brooks, also helped establish the Twin Cities in the national imagination as a progressive metropolis.
Rufus Wainwright was so inspired by the series that he moved to Minneapolis for five months in the 1990s, waiting tables at the now-defunct New French Cafe in the North Loop.
“It all started, of course, with Mary Tyler Moore,” the pop singer told the Star Tribune in 2008. “I remember the first time actually going there and getting this sense that it is this oasis in the middle of America where people are open-minded, which is unusual because the Midwest has a certain beauty to it, but I wouldn’t say open-mindedness is one of their traits.”
To this day, tourists cruise through the Kenwood neighborhood to catch a glimpse of the Victorian house where Richards resided during the show’s early seasons. In 2002, the city of Minneapolis and TV Land teamed up to erect a statue on Nicollet Mall, commemorating the moment in the opening credits in which Richards hurls her tam in the air after a satisfying day of shopping.
In 1999, Entertainment Weekly named the shot as the second greatest moment in TV history, behind only the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy.
“Tossing the hat inspired so many women,” former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton told the Wall Street Journal right before the unveiling that drew thousands of fans. “It showed us we’re capable. We’re bold. And we’re cute.”
Moore showed up for the opening ceremonies, shivering her way through the proceedings on a chilly May morning. It was her last public appearance in the Twin Cities.
She may not have embraced her relationship with Minnesota in the ensuing decades — and that statue has been moved inside, at least temporarily — but some ties can never be severed.