Friday, January 27, 2017

Death of an Icon

A week or so ago, something that I now cannot remember inspired me to search YouTube for The Mary Tyler Moore Show opening. Such an extended and catchy sitcom opening theme is a relic of a bygone and, I daresay, better time. Why have a minute-and-a half opening when three commercials can run in its stead? I’m just happy that this bottom-bottom line mindset didn’t exist on network television when I was growing up.

Anyway, after my aforementioned YouTube search, I chanced upon a bona fide treasure trove: complete episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show with the openings and closings intact, including the renowned MTM meowing cat. (MTM trivia: The feline was captured yawning and the meow a dub job.) I imagine the episodes will be eventually taken down for copyright infringement, but in the meantime I’ve been watching and thoroughly enjoying them. Despite it being a 1970s sitcom, the look, feel, and humor of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I believe, holds up well all these years later.

I was telling a friend last week that I had gotten hooked on The Mary Tyler Moore Show via YouTube. I told him that—with the exception of Ted Knight—the main cast of the show was still among the living, including ninety-five-year-old Betty White. Considering that the show debuted in September 1970—more than four decades ago—that’s no small accomplishment, I said. And just a few days after this exchange, Mary Tyler Moore passed away.

From my perspective, Mary’s show represents a portal into the simpler days of my boyhood, when my brothers and I descended a flight of stairs to watch prime-time television with our paternal grandmother and aunt. They owned a color television set—a Zenith model with a light-up channel dial—and we didn’t. Somehow to me, The Mary Tyler Moore Show underscores both the serenity and fervor of youth. It aired on Saturday nights, which meant there was no school the next day. This fact alone added to the show’s incomparable and agreeable ambiance. Not having to get up early the following morning and trudge to a place I loathed going to—let’s just say—mattered a great deal. And Mary’s original apartment was a soothing visual with its picture window and outdoor deck overlooking what was supposed to be Minneapolis. The fake snow frequently falling outside inspired pleasing thoughts of Christmas and wintertime frolics in an age when I revered the white stuff.

There was even that mysterious woman crossing the street and caught in a freeze frame—looking puzzled in Mary’s direction—when the show’s star gleefully tosses her hat into the air during the intro. I recently found out her name. She was Minneapolis resident Hazel Frederick, who just happened to be on a shopping trip when the production team was filming exterior shots in the city. I recall saying how Hazel resembled Mrs. Heegan, a schoolmate of mine’s mother. (In The Bob Newhart Show’s opening, Bob gets on a train to go to work in the morning. An anonymous woman is seated across from him, a dead ringer for a neighbor’s grandmother known by one and all as Mama.) It’s minutia like this that was a huge part of being young and unsaddled with life’s baggage. It’s just one of many reasons why the death of an icon like Mary Tyler Moore is so sad.

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