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An iconic modern woman who starred in two very different, but very successful sitcoms, actress Mary Tyler Moore also made an enormous contribution to television history as the producer of numerous acclaimed comedies and dramas of the 1970s and 1980s. Audiences first fell in love with Moore as a believable symbol of the smart, young, pants-wearing mom on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (CBS, 1961-66) before she came to signify a new breed of independent, liberated professional woman on the Emmy-winning sitcom, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77). In addition to her longstanding reputation for comedy, Moore delivered a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance in the 1980 feature "Ordinary People," in addition to starring in over a dozen television movies. As co-founder of MTM Productions, Moore was integral to the success of top rated "Mary Tyler Moore" spin-offs "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78) and "Lou Grant" (CBS, 1977-82), as well as "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78) and the police drama "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). Though her career slowed down in later years, Moore remained active in numerous charities and causes, particularly Type 1 diabetes, which she was diagnosed with early in her career....
An iconic modern woman who starred in two very different, but very successful sitcoms, actress Mary Tyler Moore also made an enormous contribution to television history as the producer of numerous acclaimed comedies and dramas of the 1970s and 1980s. Audiences first fell in love with Moore as a believable symbol of the smart, young, pants-wearing mom on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" (CBS, 1961-66) before she came to signify a new breed of independent, liberated professional woman on the Emmy-winning sitcom, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77). In addition to her longstanding reputation for comedy, Moore delivered a powerful, Oscar-nominated performance in the 1980 feature "Ordinary People," in addition to starring in over a dozen television movies. As co-founder of MTM Productions, Moore was integral to the success of top rated "Mary Tyler Moore" spin-offs "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78) and "Lou Grant" (CBS, 1977-82), as well as "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78) and the police drama "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). Though her career slowed down in later years, Moore remained active in numerous charities and causes, particularly Type 1 diabetes, which she was diagnosed with early in her career. Because of her contributions to television, Moore remained a timeless icon whose influence with subsequent generations of female performers remained incalculable.
Born on Dec. 29, 1936, in Brooklyn, NY, Moore was raised in nearby Queens until the age of eight when the family moved to Los Angeles, Moore attended strict Catholic schools, but studied ballet with dreams of someday becoming a dancer. Fresh out of Immaculate Heart High School, she landed her first show business job as a singing and dancing elf named Happy Hotpoint, promoting kitchen appliances in television commercials. She married salesman Richard Meeker and hung up her elf costume when she became pregnant with her only child, Richard Jr., who was born only months after Moore's own mother, Marjorie, gave birth to daughter Elizabeth. Moore resumed her career in 1959 when her legs and voice were featured in the role of a switchboard operator on the mystery series "Richard Diamond, Private Eye" (CBS-NBC, 1957-1960).
Following a dozen guest appearances on shows like "77 Sunset Strip" (ABC, 1958-1964) and "Hawaiian Eye" (ABC, 1959-1963), Moore was cast as the young wife of a television comedy writer (Dick Van Dyke) on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," a semi-autobiographical sitcom created by Carl Reiner. While she was in the midst of divorcing her first husband off-screen, Moore brought a down-to-earth believability and maturity to her onscreen role and was crucial to the success of its often daring subject matter. With her standard wardrobe of Capri pants signaling an end to the era of the dress-and-apron clad June Cleaver, Moore became a symbol of the new era of modern mom, resonating strongly with audiences and earning Emmy Awards for her work in 1964 and 1965. The beloved star also won the heart of television executive Grant Tinker, whom she married in 1962. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was still popular when producers decided to bow out gracefully after five seasons, at which time Moore returned to the stage opposite Richard Chamberlain in an ill-fated stage musical adaptation of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1966).
Moore stuck close to her first love of song and dance for the next few years, co-starring alongside Julie Andrews, Carol Channing and Beatrice Lillie in the lavish 1920s musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (1967), which she followed by playing a nun with a wandering eye for a handsome young doctor (Elvis Presley) in "Change of Habit" (1969). Later that year, she made her first television movie with "Run a Crooked Mile" (1969), which allowed viewers to see the serious dramatic side of her talent. Several years had passed before she was approached by CBS, and offered a deal to develop and star in her own sitcom. Moore and her husband wisely formed a production company, MTM, and inked a deal that would give ultimate creative control of the series to MTM productions.
Her company's first project, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," chronicled the life of an independent thirty-ish professional female navigating a career, friendships and dating life. The show was the first to feature such an unprecedented "liberated" woman as the lead. Once again, Moore found herself at the forefront of the changing image of women on television with her role as an evening news producer and single woman who alluded to sex and birth control. As producer, Moore was key in assembling an outstanding writing staff and a supporting cast including Edward Asner as her gruff boss, Valerie Harper as her brash New Yorker best friend and Ted Knight as news station WJM's dimwitted anchor. Moore was nominated for a Lead Actress Emmy every year during the show's seven-year run, taking home wins in 1973, 1974 and 1976, while the show itself amassed over 29 awards.
In 1972, Moore and MTM productions launched their second series, "The Bob Newhart Show," which carried MTM's hallmark quality writing and acting and became another of television's most respected programs. Meanwhile, Moore produced the first "Mary Tyler Moore" spin-off "Rhoda," an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning success based around the character's best friend returning to New York. Another spinoff series, "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-177), which was centered on Moore's unlikable landlord (Cloris Leachman), was cancelled after its second season. Likewise, "The Tony Randall Show" (ABC/CBS, 1976-78), suffered the same fate and was axed after two seasons. Like Dick Van Dyke before her, Moore chose to end "Mary Tyler Moore" while on a high note. By the time the final episode aired in 1977, Moore was a beloved figure and winner of the People's Choice Award for Favorite Female Television performer. Moore and MTM productions launched the spin-off "Lou Grant" the same year and enjoyed more critical success for the straight-ahead drama whose format allowed Grant (Edward Asner), a staffer of a Los Angeles newspaper, to explore social issues and current events.
As an actress known for comedy, Moore was anxious to explore her dramatic side, which she did with the TV-movie, "First You Cry" (CBS, 1978), earning an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of a reporter battling breast cancer. Meanwhile, Moore's off-screen life took a tragic turn when she divorced from Tinker, while suffering the pain of losing her sister, Elizabeth, to a drug overdose, and her only son, Richard, to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She continued to helm MTM ventures, which included the wildly popular "WKRP in Cincinnati" (CBS, 1978-1982), while exploring painful territory onstage in the hit Broadway play "Whose Life Is It, Anyway?" which earned her a Tony Award for playing a quadriplegic sculptor fighting to determine her own destiny. Further proving her range and distancing herself from her television persona was a riveting portrayal of a strained mother coping with the suicide of one son and the resulting suicide attempt of the other (Timothy Hutton) in Robert Redford's "Ordinary People" (1980). She received an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for the heavy-hitting family drama. In 1981, MTM rolled out another successful dramatic series, "Hill Street Blues."
Whether or not the combination of real-life and onscreen tragedy was to blame, Moore entered a rehabilitation program for alcohol addiction in 1982. She returned to the big screen in "Six Weeks" (1982), which again found her exploring the modern professional matriarch, but in a less successful melodrama. She delivered award-nominated performances in middle-aged television movie dramas "Heartsounds" (ABC, 1984) and "Finnegan Begin Again" (HBO, 1985), then attempted to revisit sitcom glory with "Mary" (CBS, 1985-86), a newspaper-set comedy that failed to score with audiences and was cancelled after 13 episodes. Moore had better success with a long run Broadway comedy, "Sweet Sue," before offering an astonishing portrait of the first lady opposite Sam Waterston in "Gore Vidal's Lincoln" (NBC, 1988). Another stab at Moore-centric sitcom, "Annie McGuire" (1988), lasted less than one season, which was followed in 1990 by Moore and ex-husband Tinker selling MTM Productions.
Following a string of TV films including "Stolen Babies" (Lifetime, 1993), where she earned an Emmy for playing a spinster trafficking in illegal adoptions, Moore returned to series television in a supporting role as a hard-driving newspaper editor in the short-lived drama, "New York News" (CBS, 1995). She had a delightfully funny supporting role as an adoptive parent of a grown child (Ben Stiller) searching for his birth parents in "Flirting with Disaster" (1996), then enjoyed a recurring role as Tea Leoni's mother on Leoni's sitcom "The Naked Truth" (NBC, 1995-98). In 2000, Moore reunited with Valerie Harper in the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda" (ABC), which depicted both actresses revisiting their classic characters Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern - one a widow, the other a divorceé - as they rekindle their friendship in New York. The Moore-produced movie was a means to test the waters for an anticipated sitcom sequel, but a lack of humor and an overdose of maudlin sentiment failed to excite audiences.
Moore produced and starred in the true crime biopic "Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes" (CBS, 2001), playing a con artist, thief and murder. Her chilling performance earned her a fresh round of critical accolades. She maintained her position as a sturdy television movie mainstay with films including "Miss Lettie and Me" (TNT, 2002), where she played a cantankerous elderly Southern woman, and "Blessings" (CBS, 2003), based on the Anna Quindlan novel about an abandoned baby found on an aged woman's estate. She reunited with Dick Van Dyke and a large number of her former cast mates in the nostalgic "The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited" (TV Land, 2004), then faced off with Van Dyke in a PBS version of D.L. Coburn's stage play "The Gin Game," where the old co-stars showcased their old spark playing two residents of a nursing home whose gin rummy games bring out the best and worst in them.
Still happily working at the age of 70, Moore continued to appear annually in made-for-television movies, finding herself to be an increasingly popular sitcom guest star. In 2006, she enjoyed a hilarious recurring run as a high-strung TV host on "That 70's Show" (Fox, 1998-2006). Two years later, she revisited the world of the working woman with a multi-episode arc on the fashion-set comedy, "Lipstick Jungle" (NBC, 2008-09 ). While focusing on her charity work, Moore found time to take the occasional acting job. In 2011, she reunited with old friend Betty White to make a guest appearance on the sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010- ). That same year, Moore had surgery to remove a benign tumor from the lining tissue of her skull, a routine procedure from which she recovered quickly.
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Inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1986
"Mary Tyler Moore must be counted, along with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, as one of the great comediennes of American television. She is quite different from those other two raucous clowns, however; doll-like and a little distant, projecting a kind of determined innocence that was captured most perfectly in her famous role as a single career woman on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." --Tim Brooks ("The Complete Directory to Prime Time TV Stars," Ballentine Books, New York 1987)
Moore suffers from diabetes and has done TV promotional advertisements for diabetes charities and produced workout videos whose proceeds go to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame (1985).
Former board chairwoman of MTM Enterprises, Inc. (which she founded with then-husband Grant Tinker).
"I love comedy and I hope always to have it a true part of my life. But I decided that I was not going to play any more characters with whom I was totally familiar. It doesn't interest me to play a very nice, very likeable, somewhat naive, vulnerable ... you know, all those adorable features of the two ladies I've played." --Moore commenting on her choice of new type of character role in "New York News" from Daily News, July 25, 1995.
"I've lost the baby fat, and with the help of a cosmetic surgeon, I've pulled up some of the slack ... I like to think of (the surgery) as staying fit. And if it can keep my face up where it belongs, then I will go to a doctor and get his assistance." --On cosmetic surgery in Entertainment Weekly, October 13, 1995.
In her autobiography, "After All", Moore revealed that she and her husband Dr. Levine helped her terminally ill brother John with an assisted suicide attempt. Her brother had a stash of painkillers which Moore mashed into ice cream and spoon-fed to her brother while her husband operated a morphine pump. Moore admitted that for her husband "it was difficult from an ethical point of view but he was never directly involved". Her brother survived for an additional three months before succumbing to natural causes.
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