Ed Asner passed away this morning at the age of 91. He was the last surviving cast member of the original cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (My #2 favorite show). 2021 has been a particularly tough year for fans of ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ as we lost Cloris Leachman in January and Gavin MacLeod in May. 2019 marked the loss of Valerie Harper. 2017 was particularly heartbreaking, in that we lost Mary Tyler Moore. Ted Knight sadly passed away from cancer in 1986. During the fourth season of the series, we were introduced to Georgia Engel and Betty White who played Georgette Franklin and Sue Ann Nivens, respectively. Ms. Engel passed away in 2019. Betty White and John Amos (who played Gordy the Weatherman in a few episodes throughout the series, but was never a regular) are the only surviving cast members of the series. Betty White is also the only surviving cast member of “The Golden Girls” (my #3 favorite show).
The characters of Georgette and Sue Ann were intended to serve as replacements to Rhoda (Harper) and Phyllis (Leachman) whose characters were spun-off into their own series. With the departure of Mary Richards’ (Moore) two best friends, the focus of the show switched from Mary’s home life to her work. Georgette’s role as Ted Baxter’s (Knight) girlfriend and later wife, and Sue Ann’s job as “The Happy Homemaker” made sense to shift the show’s attention to life at WJM. With this increased focus on WJM, Mary’s relationship with her co-workers deepened. Much like a real job where co-workers have spent a lot of time (and years) together, you become like a family. Mary regularly went to Lou Grant (Asner) for advice or solace. She also had touching moments confiding in her work BFF Murray (MacLeod). Mary even had some wonderful moments consoling Ted and Sue Ann. WJM was a family. The real heart of the show though was the relationship between Mary and Lou Grant.
Mary and Lou Grant’s relationship was very much like a father/daughter relationship, even though I believe that Lou was really only like 15 years older than Mary. We’ll ignore the episode toward the end of the series where they tried going out on a date, that was just awkward. Thank goodness that Mary and Lou did not become an item at the end of the show. A romantic relationship was not what Mary and Lou were about. Mary was able to confide in Lou about her deepest insecurities, her toughest problems. Lou was there to give her advice and his opinion, whether she wanted it or not. At the same time, Mary was a source of comfort for Lou. When he separated from wife Edie and later when Edie remarries, Mary is there as a shoulder to cry on–though she’s the one who ends up crying. Even after WJM fires Mary and Lou, and the two of them presumably go their own ways, we know that they’ll remain friends to the end.
As a tribute to my second favorite show with one of the all-time greatest ensemble casts ever assembled, my top five favorite episodes:
#1 Put on a Happy Face. Season 3, Episode 23. Originally aired February 24, 1973.
Summary: Poor Mary is having the worst week ever. It starts off with her coffee cup having a crack and dribbling coffee all over her new sweater. She then learns that her date, Dan, has made plans to attend a basketball game instead of being her plus-one to the annual “Teddy Awards.” Needing a date, Ted promises to hook her up with a “good-looking version of Robert Redford.” At first, Mary turns down his request, but relents after she’s unable to secure a date on her own (it seems that every man in her address book is unavailable or married). The next day or so, Mary’s hair is being unruly and she has a big “hair bump.” While trying to walk to the bathroom to fix her hair bump, Mary slips and sprains her ankle on the newly waxed floors. Now at home, Mary ends up catching a cold from having to soak her ankle in water. Throughout the week, it’s one thing after another for Mary: she drops her phone in her foot water, the dry cleaner ruins her Teddy Awards gown, her hairdryer breaks, and she has a run in her stocking while getting ready for the Teddy Awards. Then of course, it’s raining when Mary has to leave for the award show. And, if things aren’t bad enough, her “good-looking version of Robert Redford” ends up being none other than Ted!
Why I Like This Episode: I love this episode because it finally shows Mary having some bad luck. I very much identify with Rhoda while watching this series and it seems that everything works out in Mary’s favor. To see Mary having a bad week, with one minute thing happening after another, it makes it so much fun to watch. And of course, Mary Tyler Moore delivers a tour de force performance, culminating with her having to go on stage in front of everyone to accept her Teddy Award. Mary Richards’ comedy very much stems from the fact that she hates embarrassment and hates making a scene. At the Teddy Awards, this is probably the one time that Mary hopes that she doesn’t win. But of course, nothing else that week is going right, so why should it now? Poor Mary has to go on stage with one wet slipper, her hair a mess, her fake eyelashes all askew, sniffling and sneezing because of her foot-water cold… all leading up to her starting off her acceptance speech with, “I usually look so much better than this.”
RHODA (to MARY): You’re having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal again. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 300 peanut butter cups and die.
#2 Angels in the Snow. Season 4, Episode 2. Originally aired September 22, 1973.
Summary: Mary meets and picks up (!) a young man, Stephen, from the market. They end up spending the day together, cavorting in the snow. When Rhoda meets Stephen, she’s instantly concerned about the age difference between Mary and Stephen. It turns out that Stephen is 25 to Mary’s 33. From the way that Mary and the rest of the gang talk about her age, you would have thought Mary was 70 dating an 18-year old. Anyway, Mary is unconcerned about the age difference. When Lou, Murray and Ted meet Stephen, they are also concerned about the age difference. Lou says to Mary, “Your young man, he’s a YOUNG man.” And of course, Ted babbles on about how he and Mary are both carrying on “Autumn/Spring” relationships. Anyway, Mary is determined to prove all the naysayers wrong. Stephen invites her to a party at his place. Wanting to fit in and look younger, Mary and Rhoda go shopping in this ridiculous store, “Shot Down in Ecuador Jr.” She puts on a hideous pair of pants with patches on them, that would look terrible on a 5-year old. Thankfully, Mary gives up on the clothes and wears her own wardrobe. When Mary and Rhoda go to Stephen’s party, they discover that they are completely out of place and it becomes apparent to Mary that she and Stephen are not compatible.
Why I Like This Episode: I like this episode purely for the “Shot down in Ecuador Jr” scene and the ridiculous party where Mary and Rhoda talk about “hitching to Europe” and “staying in one of the funkier rooms” in Amsterdam. There’s just something about this episode that I find it fun to watch–even the awkward voice-over in one scene where Mary obviously re-records her line, “Maybe I’ll see if Rhoda wants to come to the party.”
BECK (Stephen’s friend at the party): Hey Rhoda, don’t go yet. We could go downtown and goof on people.”
RHODA: Goof on people? What’s that?
BECK: You know. Walk around, act weird, hope somebody notices.
RHODA: That’s my life, kid.
#3 The Lars Affair. Season 4. Episode 1. Originally aired September 15, 1973.
Summary: Mary is throwing a party, which surprisingly isn’t terrible–except that Lou and Edie have an offscreen argument. But that doesn’t matter. The real story is Sue Ann and Phyllis’ never-seen husband, Lars. This episode introduces the hilarious Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) who hosts “The Happy Homemaker Show” at WJM. Sue Ann regularly gives unsolicited household tips and can be very catty while continually keeping a smile plastered on her dimpled face. It seems that Lars has offered to give Sue Ann a ride home. Hours later, Lars still hasn’t returned home and calls Phyllis with the absurd story that their car broke down and he has taken it to an all-night body shop for repairs. In the days following, Phyllis reports that Lars and Sue Ann are continuing to see each other. Ted even sees them having lunch together. Upset, Phyllis goes down to the studio to confront Sue Ann. Mary gets pulled into the middle.
Why I Like This Episode: This episode is absolutely hilarious. From Phyllis’ monologue about the mating rituals of bees and trying to compete with Sue Ann and bake a pie, to Sue Ann’s collapsed chocolate soufflé, this episode has everything. Mary’s speech telling off Sue Ann is hilarious. Phyllis trying to talk Sue Ann out of an affair with her husband, by discussing his irrational fear of swallowing hair is hilarious. This entire episode is a riot from beginning to end. The funniest moment of the entire episode though might be when the supposedly prim and proper Sue Ann shuts the oven door with her knee after removing the collapsed chocolate soufflé from the oven.
PHYLLIS: “Do you know how hard it is to make an apple pie? My beautiful hands, hands that once touched the notes of Chopin. This is what that woman has driven me to to save my marriage! Cooking a damn pie!”
PHYLLIS: “I was reading this wonderful book called ‘The Life of the Bee.’ Maybe you’ve read it. Did you know that the male bee is nothing but the slave of the queen? And once the male bee… uh, how should I say… um, has serviced the queen, the male dies. All in all, not a bad system.”
#4 I Was a Single For WJM. Season 4, Episode 24. Originally aired, March 2, 1974.
Summary: Lou wants to do a location feature as something different on WJM. Murray suggests covering the new singles’ bar, Valentino’s. However, Murray’s wife isn’t keen on Murray covering the goings on in a singles bar and he’s unable to cover the story. Being single and wanting to prove that she can handle the assignment, Mary offers to perform the reconnaissance work at the bar solo. Wanting to make sure that Mary is okay (not that she can’t handle the assignment), Lou also goes to the bar, but mostly to make sure Mary doesn’t get into trouble. Mary is irritated but continues to talk to the regulars and find out some information for their story. However, when it comes time to film, the bar-goers find out about Mary and WJM and their cameras, and flee for a neighboring bar. On camera, Lou, Murray and Mary have to report the story from an empty bar. The funniest part of the entire episode is when Ted asks Mary the reporter how she found about about Valentino’s. Mary points at Murray and says, “he told me.” And Murray has a deer in headlights look on camera.
Why I Like This Episode: I love the entire scene at the singles bar, with Big Dino, and Penny Marshall and Arlene Golonka (who just passed this year as well). But the funniest part is the part at the end with the WJM staff reporting from an empty bar, trying to salvage their story. From Mary’s discussion of “remnants of people,” and Murray’s hilarious “deer in headlights” face, to Lou’s very poignant, stoic speech that falls four minutes short, to Ted’s four minutes of silence for the closing of the Auto show, it’s very funny.
MY FAVORITE QUOTE:
LOU (on camera, trying to salvage the story by giving it a poignant closing): “There’s nobody here tonight. Our camera crew scared them off. Uh…we…uh…we wanted to tell you, something new about a singles bar. We didn’t find anything new. Uh, the people here, got what they came for. They met each other. Maybe that’s all we found out. I guess, it’s our blessing, and our affliction, that people, need people. My name is Lou Grant.
CAMERAMAN: Lou, we still have four minutes to fill.
LOU: And back to you, Ted.
#5 The Square-Shaped Room. Season 2. Episode 13. Originally aired, December 11, 1971.
Summary: While Edie’s away, Lou wants to redecorate their living room as a surprise. He plans to get his buddy who designs bus stations to help with the design, because he doesn’t want to spend a lot of money doing so. Mary, not liking the idea of Lou’s living room being decorated by someone who decorates bus stations, helps to find him an inexpensive (but not cheap) decorator. Mary decides that the perfect candidate for this job would be Rhoda, who makes her living designing window displays at Hemple’s. Rhoda is excited about the opportunity, feeling that this might help her break out of the window decorating business and get into something more prestigious. To secure the job, Rhoda even offers to let Lou pay her after the job is done, so he can decide a fair price. Lou agrees and Rhoda has the job. However, Lou is a tough client, as he has no ideas about how he wants the room to look, only that it has to include his crappy chair, a doorknob, and he doesn’t want antiques. Rhoda goes to town collecting catalogues and re-doing his room. When it is finally revealed in one burst, we see an all white, blinding contemporary room that is very clean and minimalist but is not Lou’s style whatsoever.
Why I Like This Episode: Rhoda’s redesigned living room is everything. It is so bright and blinding and does not take into account Lou’s character at all. It’s so 1970s that it’s amazing. Parts of it are actually kind of cool, but all together, it’s completely unusable. It looks like a showroom rather than someone’s actual living space. But Lou’s tirade about the living room is hilarious as his is flip-flopping and saying “I love it” when he obviously hates it. And seeing the room in one burst, is really what makes the entire episode.
LOU: “Mary, you may not have noticed, but I don’t live in a window.”
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was my second favorite show to watch back in the day on Nick at Nite (I Love Lucy was #1). Nick at Nite is where I discovered this show and it was one of my must-see programs. Even if I didn’t get all the jokes initially as a 10-11 year old, there was something endearing about the program and its characters. Mary Richards was and still is one of my role models and I was truly devastated when Mary Tyler Moore passed away. Now everyone is gone, and slowly as the years pass, so many of my Nick at Nite favorites are gone. Thank goodness for ME-TV and other channels devoted to classic television, streaming services, and physical media. In some form or another, all the classic shows from my childhood (albeit, I wasn’t old enough to have seen them during their first run) will live on.
Who’s up for petitioning Viacom to bring back the 1990s iteration of Nick at Nite? Surely the graphics and jingles must live on somewhere and obviously, they can be re-created with today’s computers.