Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 04, 2000
Head: Interview With Mary Tyler Moore
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.
On today's archive edition of FRESH AIR, Mary Tyler Moore. Monday she reunites with her former co-star Valerie Harper for the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda." She'll tell us about working on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
Also, "The Sopranos" is into its second season. It won four Golden Globe awards last month, including best TV drama series. We listen back to a panel discussion recorded last summer with David Chase, the show's creator, and Frank Lanzuli (ph), one of the writers.
And rock historian Ed Ward tells us about the New York vocal group sound of the '50s and a label that recorded it, Gee Records.
That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.
First, the news.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Two of TV's greatest sitcoms starred my guest, Mary Tyler Moore, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and, of course, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Here's a typical Mary scene. Lou Grant wants to add some comedy to the newscast, so they've auditioned a guy who writes for Chuckles the Clown. His commentary on grocery shopping isn't very funny, but Mary is doing her best to give him the benefit of the doubt.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW")
MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS: Oh, well, you certainly were right again, Mr. Grant. Boy, I gotta give you that. I mean, this is just what our show can use. It's got warmth, charm, humor. Boy, you sure were right!
Don't you think that you were right, Mr. Grant?
ED ASNER, ACTOR: Mary, I don't think that belongs on our show.
MOORE: But Mr. Grant, this is just the kind of material that people can identify with. I mean, like what we just saw, everybody goes to the supermarket.
ASNER: I don't go to the supermarket.
MOORE: Well, you got to admit, it was funny.
I mean, all right, it wasn't funny ha-ha, but it was certainly funny, just sort of...
MOORE: Right, whimsical!
ASNER: I hate that.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: Over the years, Mary Tyler Moore has played two extremes very convincingly. In the sitcom "Mary," she was the person everyone wants as their best friend. And she was also the cold, remote mother in the film "Ordinary People."
On Monday, Moore and Valerie Harper will reprise their roles from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in a new made-for-TV movie called "Mary and Rhoda."
I spoke with Mary Tyler Moore in 1995 after the publication of her autobiography. We started by talking about "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)
What were you told about the character of Laura?
MOORE: Just that she was going to be a wife, a television wife. And that really had its classical parameters and dimensions, and they were established, and they hardly ever varied, except as to whether or not the wife was the star of the show, in which case she was the funny one, or if she were the straight man for the male star, and she was then totally supportive.
But all these wives were kind of obedient and, you know, representative of the vows to love, honor, and obey. They hardly varied from that. And with Carl Reiner's character the way she was written, Laura actually had opinions of her own, and while she was asserting herself, she also didn't make Dick Van Dyke look like a dummy.
It was a matter of two people. I mean, society's expectations at that point still said, Hey, wait a minute, lady, you will only go so far here. But I think we broke new ground. And that was helped by my insistence on wearing pants, you know, jeans and Capri pants at the time, because I said, "I've seen all the other actresses, and they're always running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on, and I don't do that, and I don't know any of my friends who do that. So why don't we try to make this real? And I'll dress on the show the way I do in real life."
GROSS: But it wasn't that easy. The sponsors were afraid you'd look brazen.
MOORE: Right, they pointed specifically to -- they used a term, "cupping under," and I can only assume that that meant my -- you know, my seat, that there was a little too much definition. And so they allowed me to continue to wear them in one episode, one scene per episode, and only after we checked to make sure that there was as little cupping under as possible.
GROSS: Cupping under referring to the fit of your pants.
MOORE: The fit of the pants, yes.
GROSS: On your behind.
MOORE: On my behind, right. But within a few weeks, we were sneaking them into a few other scenes in every episode, and they were definitely cupping under, and everyone thought it was great.
MOORE: And the funny thing is, you know, women liked me. They were not envious of the fact that their husbands had a crush on me. It was OK with them. They were the first to -- you know, when I would meet people, they'd say, My husband loves you so much and he thinks you're so sexy. And this was an odd thing, because they were also able to identify with me as a friend, as a girlfriend. There was no resentment and no fear.
GROSS: Yes, well, I think that speaks so well for the character and your portrayal of her.
Now, how did you come up with the voice to say, "Oh, Rob!"
MOORE: (laughs) I don't know. I guess it began with the cry. The first time I cried was the episode in which Laura bleaches her hair blonde, looks in the mirror, and with her friend Milly's help, decides she looks more like Harpo Marx than what her goal had been. And so she quickly tries to dye it back before Rob gets home from work.
Now, this is a real stretch of the imagination. She decides to dye one half of her head back, not being able to get the other half done before Dick walks in the door. And so she greets him half blonde, half brunette, and sobbing.
And I had always been a big fan of Nanette Fabray, who worked with Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar on the "Show of Shows." And I loved her humor, I loved the way she cried. And so when I was called upon to bring forth the tears in my scene, I'm not sure how much of it was out-and-out stolen from Miss Fabray and how much of it was just a matter of influence.
But there was definitely a cracking in the voice and the -- an inability to maintain a tone, and a certain amount of verbal yodeling that took place. And from that came, "Ohhhh, Rob!" (laughs)
GROSS: Did you do a lot of rehearsing with Dick Van Dyke, or did you just have to do it minutes before the actual broadcast?
MOORE: Oh, the whole show was done in what they call multiple camera technique. It's still done today. But back then, we were maybe the sixth or seventh show to use the technique. It began with Joan Davis, not Lucille Ball, as everyone thinks. Joan Davis did a show called "I Married Joan"...
GROSS (singing): What a girl, what a world, what a life...
MOORE: Hey, good for you!
GROSS: Yes. (laughs)
MOORE: And then Lucy and several other shows followed. But in that show, it's a little like doing theater that's captured on film. You rehearse for five days, and then on the evening of the fifth day, the audience comes in, and the cameras having blocked their moves, and you're lined up with them. You film it from top to bottom in continuity.
So during those five days, it was -- at least the first three days, it was very much a matter of rehearse and contribute and attempt things and not be afraid to fail, to make a fool of yourself. Just pick yourself up, and if it didn't happen this time, then the next time you experiment, maybe it will.
It was a wonderfully supportive, creative environment. And Dick Van Dyke was the most generous and supportive human being that I have ever worked with, and he very strongly influenced my life and my standards when I went out on my own later on.
GROSS: Oh, I have another question about Laura Petrie's look.
GROSS: Laura wore a flip, a perfect little flip.
GROSS: Whose idea was the flip, and how were you wearing your hair in real life at the time?
MOORE: In real life, I was wearing it in a flip. But it wasn't quite as back-combed and lacquered as it was on the show. I mean, that thing had so much hair spray on it, you could hang clothes from it.
GROSS: Let's talk about "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," a show which I still love to watch. And I'm so glad that Nick at Nite (laughs) carries the show, because I used to love to watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Mary Tyler Moore."
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" got started because CBS wanted to build a series around you, and you and Grant Tinker hired people to, you know, write -- come up with the idea, write a series.
What was the original premise?
MOORE: The original premise was not too different from the one that we ended up pursuing, but I was to be divorced from a doctor, and rather than having, as we ended up doing, having me live with this doctor through medical school and internship and residency and then been dumped, CBS felt that having been divorced was unacceptable from a societal point of view, that people would see nothing humorous in divorce.
How could you possibly laugh at a woman who had a broken marriage in her past? And not only that, but, my God, they would think you were divorced from Dick Van Dyke, the world's most wonderful, adorable person.
GROSS: This was silly.
MOORE: Yes. And instead, what's so odd from a morality point of view, is that they found it acceptable that I had lived with this doctor, never married him, and then the relationship broke up and I went off to start my new life.
So, I don't know, morality, I guess, is a very personal thing.
GROSS: The character of Ted Baxter was originally conceived as being someone of your age.
GROSS: And there might be some, like, romantic attraction between you?
MOORE: Exactly. He was probably going to be tall, dark, and handsome, and instead what walked through the door was Ted Knight, short, white-haired, and handsome, yes, but not what you'd call a love interest.
But the writers, the writer-producers, Jim and Alan, were so open. And I think that's an important part of being a successful artist, is being open to new ideas and input. And they saw this man, and they began to think potential. All right, so it isn't our original idea, but, oh, wow, look and feel and salivate over all the juicy stories we could do in another direction!
And that's what happened. And they cast Ted...
GROSS: What won them over? Was that big pretentious voice part of it?
MOORE: You know, there was another thing that won them over. It wasn't just the fact that he was pomposity to the nth degree, but that there was a vulnerability and a sweetness to Ted. We found out later that Ted, who was more out of work than in work after, had gone out and bought himself a blue blazer and a crest and had it sewn on the pocket so that he would look the part.
And everybody just thought that was, you know, real throat-clenching stuff, and, you know, if there had been any doubt about whether or not he was the right one, that clinched it.
GROSS: I think one of the real famous moments in television openings, the one famous (ph) freeze-frames is you throwing your hat in the air in the opening of the show, with the jingle underneath. Do you remember that moment?
MOORE: Oh, do I! It was freezing cold. It was in Minneapolis in January, I think, or February. And we didn't know what we were doing. We were just there to grab a lot of footage that showed a young woman's exuberance being in a new city, looking around, gazing at the sights.
And I had in my hand a hat, a little beret that my aunt had given me for Christmas. And I had packed that along with whatever other warm things that I had, which weren't too many, because I was a California, to go to Minneapolis to do these film spots.
And Jim Brooks said, "Oh, I have a good idea, Mary. Take that hat, put it on your head, and now run into the intersection. And you'll be all right, we'll watch for cars. And then throw it up in the air, as if to say, This is my town, and I'm celebrating my life that is taking place."
And I did it, and luckily, magically, wasn't hit by a car, although I got some pretty strange looks. And in fact, in -- I guess it must be in every episode, you can see this one woman in the background who looks at me as if not only am I the world's strangest person, but that she would like to personally lock me up.
MOORE: But it's interesting, isn't it, that something that becomes burned in people's impressions and memories can happen so happenstancely, out of nowhere. It wasn't written, it was just a spur-of-the-moment idea.
GROSS: So that traffic was the real thing.
MOORE: Oh, yes, it was. And it's a good thing I didn't have to speak any lines, because my lips weren't working, it was so cold. I literally could not form words.
GROSS: My guest is Mary Tyler Moore. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(END AUDIO TAPE)
GROSS: On this archive edition, we're featuring a 1995 interview with Mary Tyler Moore. Monday she reunites with Valerie Harper for the made-for-TV movie "Mary and Rhoda."
(BEGIN AUDIO TAPE)
GROSS: I have a colleague here who says, "`The Mary Tyler Moore Show' made me who I am today, single."
GROSS: And I thought that was particularly funny, because, you know, all those years you were playing Mary Tyler Moore, you had no idea what it was like to be single. You got married as soon as you got out of high school, you divorced, but you were only single for about six months before marrying Grant Tinker.
MOORE: That's right. Boy, you've read the book, haven't you?
GROSS: So really, you'd never lived that kind of single life.
MOORE: No, I hadn't. And when Grant and I finally ended our marriage and I went to New York to do a Broadway play, "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" I decided to stay in New York and try to capture my life for myself. I had never been on my own. I had never experienced any of the situations that Mary Richards had lived for the rest of the world every week. And I set about to make that happen for myself.
I dated, I made friends, I had a little apartment, did my own shopping and shlepped my own clothes to the dry cleaner and back, and the laundry, and all of that stuff. And I sort of generally played house, but in real life.
GROSS: I'm interested in hearing a little bit about your own family when you were growing up, since, after all, you know, you portrayed one of the most famous couples on television in "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and that had a wonderful family of friends and colleagues...
GROSS: ... on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." When you were growing up, your own family was probably what we'd now call dysfunctional.
MOORE: Yes, yes, I suppose so. It's an overused phrase, and I wish we could be a little more specific about it.
GROSS: I agree.
MOORE: My -- no, and I didn't mean to criticize you for that...
GROSS: No, no, no, (inaudible), I didn't take it that way.
MOORE: My mother and father were very much the couple that Grant Tinker and I became. I -- they say that you do follow the patterns that you grow up in, and this was certainly true in my case. WASP, repressed, unable to deal with things that are uncomfortable, pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, not discussing anything that's ugly or unpleasant, and just muddling through. A little of Jeff -- Beth Jarrett (ph) in "Ordinary People" came from those people, from myself.
And I emulated that with Grant Tinker. My father is very well educated, intellectual, a lover of classical music and classical literature. My fath -- my mother was an English major. And everything was just perfect in that house, but nobody was talking to anybody.
GROSS: Well, another thing that was less than perfect was your mother drank.
MOORE: My mother was an alcoholic, as I was to become. Her alcoholism took another form from mine. She would, by the dint of determination, be sober for months at a time, and then be unable to continue. And all of the problems that had been building up, and she had been stuffing under the rug of her emotions, would burst forth, and she would start drinking in the day, and she would not stop until somebody found the bottle and took it away, and pretty much held her captive in the house until she sobered up and we were able to plead with her to stop. And then she would try again.
Back then, nobody knew what we know about alcoholism today, and the kind of counseling it takes, and the kind of sharing and support that is needed to get through this, to break this cycle. They feel now, I think most scientists agree, that it's -- there is a genetic predisposition to alcohol, which, in combination with other factors in life, is going to almost guarantee some form of dependency in later life.
My form of alcoholism was much more controlled, because I grew up in that very uncomfortable, very sad situation, and I determined that I was never going to do that, never be drunk. And I probably never was really out-and-out drunk. And I certainly never drank during the daytime. But I wasted a lot of my time, and I forgot a lot because I didn't remember much of what had happened the night before.
I got out-of-proportion angry about things that were really unimportant, but that's what alcohol does to you.
GROSS: Did being an actress help you be able to drink and not show the signs of it? How'd you cover it up?
MOORE: Well, maybe so. I don't think so, though, because once your speech is slurred, once you lose balance, you know, there's no way you can pretend that away. But I paced myself. I never allowed myself to drink any more than the company I was with. And there -- that way nobody could judge me, nobody could see.
GROSS: Did you drink alone?
MOORE: Yes, I did, but I was seldom alone, except when I moved to New York, and then I was alone. And then my drinking really escalated. And I found myself not going out after 5:00 and making sure that everything was set up for me to have my dinner there on the bed that was by the air conditioner that was near the phone that was near the television set, and that I had my blender full of drinks that I was concocting in an attempt to do something worthwhile in the kitchen. (laughs) It was a pretty sad lady that was emerging.
GROSS: You stopped drinking, I think, it was, what, the mid-'80s?
MOORE: It was '86.
GROSS: You did Betty Ford (inaudible).
GROSS: Do you think your emotional character changed after you stopped drinking?
MOORE: Oh, there's no question about it. In a way, I sometimes feel grateful that I did have this alcoholism, except that there were so many sad events that were caused by it that I can't wholeheartedly say that.
But at least it got me to the Betty Ford Center, where I was able to, with the help of some counselors and a lot of group therapy sessions, examine myself and the way I handled my life and the way I handled problems and the way I reacted to any given situation, and was able to make major changes.
I allowed myself to be imperfect, I allowed myself to make mistakes. And laugh at it, to handle my real-life mistakes the way I handled the acting mistakes on "The Dick Van Dyke Show," to think of those as positive steps forward rather than anything to be ashamed of.
GROSS: Mary Tyler Moore, thank you very much for talking with us.
MOORE: Thank you. I really enjoyed it, Terry. It's like talking with a pal.
(END AUDIO TAPE)
GROSS: Mary Tyler Moore, recorded in 1995. On Monday, she reunites with Valerie Harper for the made-for-TV movie "Mary and Rhoda."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, PA
Guest: Mary Tyler Moore
High: Actress Mary Tyler Moore starred in the Emmy award winning television shows "The Dick Van Dyke Show," and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," as well as the film "Ordinary People." She also wrote her autobiography, "After All." In her book, Moore traces the track of her career and reveals the hardships of the person whom America considered "the typical American
girl," including her struggles and triumphs over alcoholism and diabetes. On Monday, February 7, Moore co-stars with her former co-star Valerie Harper in the TV movie "Mary & Rhoda."
Spec: Entertainment; Mary Tyler Moore; Television and Radio
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End-Story: Interview With Mary Tyler Moore
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