Mary Richards may not be an icon to younger viewers who grew up wanting to sip cosmopolitans with Carrie Bradshaw or vanquish vampires alongside Buffy Summers. But to women of a certain age, there was no greater role model on TV than the WJM news producer.
“I think Mary Tyler Moore has had more influence on my career than any other single person or force,” Oprah Winfrey said in a 2015 PBS documentary celebrating the series.
Alix Kendall, co-host of the Fox 9 Morning News, has fond memories of watching “MTM” with her mom, who worked as a receptionist at several Twin Cities newsrooms.
“That was absolutely a new era for women on television that were independent thinkers,” Kendall said. “She wasn’t always forthright in her opinions, but she was real. I was totally fascinated with her sisterhood with Rhoda and the fact that she was a professional woman and the fact that it was in a newsroom was always in the back of my mind. I can honestly say that show had something to do with where I am today.”
Richards, who insisted on calling her boss “Mr. Grant” long into her tenure and felt the need to be the station’s social butterfly, may be an outdated protagonist to those born after 1980.
But Kathy Magnuson, publisher and editor of the Minnesota Women’s Press, believes Richards would gladly have labeled herself a feminist.
“Today, she would not be particularly radical,” she said. “But then, she was breaking the mold, writing her own definition of self, making her way and breaking some barriers.”
Moore’s influence stretched beyond newsrooms.
“Mary Tyler Moore was a role model for countless women and girls in the 1960s and 1970s, including me,” said Lt. Gov Tina Smith in a statement. “She showed us how to survive bell bottoms, macramé and bad dates and grow into women with the careers and lives we want — and have fun in the process! In real life, she may never have called Minneapolis home, but Minnesota will always love Mary Tyler Moore and consider her ours.”
Becky Roloff, president of the St. Catherine University in St. Paul, never missed an episode, struck partly by seeing Minneapolis on TV but also by watching “a really professional woman who was living her own life.”
She recalled the show as a mix of comic and serious moments, like when Richards had to ask for a salary increase. “Some of the issues haven’t changed,” Roloff said.
Although she may not have been a household name among most millennials, some recognize her contributions both during her heyday and beyond.
“Mary Tyler Moore’s humor, style and vulnerability have had a profound influence on me as a television creator and on every woman I know working in television to upend expectations of traditional femininity,” 30-year-old “Girls” creator Lena Dunham said in a statement. “Her remarkable presence and ahead-of-her-time ability to expose the condition of single working womanhood with humor and pathos will never be forgotten. Her generosity as an animal-rights activist and icon will never be forgotten. I never met her, and I’ll love her forever. I know I’m one of millions.”
And let’s not give short shrift to Moore’s second most beloved TV character, one who got almost as many laughs — and Emmys — as the co-star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
“If I ever had a style icon that I emulated, it was Laura Petrie,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said. “Her style was out of fashion for a while, but it’s back. Thank goodness.”