Greetings again from the darkness. It’s borderline unfathomable that someone who has worked for almost 20 years as a cinematographer and a decade as a TV director could be “unfamiliar” with the work and career of one of the industry giants, yet that’s the claim of director James Adolphus (“Soul of a Nation” mini-series) when it comes to Mary Tyler Moore. His film does play a bit as if he’s opening a Christmas present that everyone else in the room knows what’s under the wrapping, and it’s because of this, the film works as not just a retrospective of her career, but also a tribute to a woman who influenced so many.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” ran for 158 episodes between 1961 and 1966, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ran for 168 episodes between 1970 and 1977. These were two immensely popular shows during their respective eras, and because of her characters in each, Mary Tyler Moore spent time as both America’s favorite wife and America’s favorite single woman. These characters were cutting edge (for different reasons) for their time. Director Adolphus also provides insight into her childhood and early career. Mary was first married in 1954, not long after high school graduation. She found work as ‘Happy Hotpoint’, the dancer on Hotpoint advertisements, and clips of the ads are included here. Even after she became a world-famous actor, she remained a dancer at heart.
Betty Friedan and “The Feminine Mystique” are referenced a few times, and the point is made, even if it’s in a subtle manner, that Mary’s impact on feminism has long been overlooked. We hear from such industry folks as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ed Asner, James L Brooks, and Treva Silverman, as well as friends and family, but it’s really Mary herself that we see on screen for the vast majority of the two-hour run time. In particular, a loose structure is formed from clips of her appearances on “The David Susskind Show” and an interview with Rona Barrett. These segments allow for some rare personal insight into Mary Tyler Moore as a person.
So many rare pictures, clips, and home movies are included that we easily follow a career that spanned 50 years … and three marriages. The first marriage produced her only child. The second marriage, to Grant Tinker, resulted in MTM Productions and her greatest professional success. However, it was the third marriage to Dr. Robert Levine, where she found true and long-lasting love, as well as the motivation to find herself with a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic for rehab in 1984. We learn of her Broadway redemption with “Whose Life is it, anyway?”, after her setback on stage many years earlier with a musical “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Probably the most surprising segment here revolves around the original pilot for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” … it has great video and behind-the- scenes scoop.
Given her comedic chops displayed in her two most famous sitcoms, many of us were caught off guard with her Oscar nominated performance in Robert Redford’s ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980). What we discover here is that Mary’s personal life was nearly as rosy as Laura Petrie’s or Mary Richards’, and many real-life personal losses allowed her to reveal a bit more of her true self on screen. Most of us know that Mary was the female lead in Elvis Presley’s final feature film, CHANGE OF HABIT (1969), but we might not have known that Carl Reiner was her comedy hero, or that her own struggles with diabetes (over decades) led her to become International Chairperson of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). For one who seemed to constantly define the contemporary woman, Mary Tyler Moore’s story is impressive, and her personal archives bring more meaning to “Love is All Around.”
Beginning May 26, 2023, the documentary will air on HBO and stream on MAX