January 27, 2017
Mary Tyler Moore, R.I.P.
In Minneapolis, however, it was not only Mary Tyler Moore who had died, it was Mary Richards. The coverage was personal; "Our Mary" was gone. It didn't matter that, aside from the famous opening credits and a few exterior establishing shots, the show had nothing to do with Minneapolis. What was true was that, in a television world dominated by New York and Los Angeles, The Mary Tyler Moore Show had put our city on the map. We've always had something of the need for recognition from others, their approval making us somehow legitimate. As Lileks put it yesterday, "It’s hard to understate how Minneapolitans felt . . . validated by that show. That was us. Yes yes no, it wasn’t, of course, but we knew where she was walking and running and shopping and smiling."
Yes. That's it, exactly.
You look at the "Open Tonight" in red neon to the right of Mary, between her head and beret: that's Dayton's downtown department store, before it became Marshall Field's, before it became Macy's, before it became closed. The places she touched became local landmarks: the building in which she worked (which, if memory serves, was actually home to an insurance company, but it seemed like a television station should have been operating out of there), the house in which she lived (which is now up for sale), the table at which she ate (in Basils; the plaque marking the "Mary Tyler Moore table," at which I've actually eaten, is still there). For years, no trip to Minneapolis would be complete without visiting them.
I remember my own feeling in 1970 when I read that her new show was going to be set in Minneapolis. There was a real excitement about it - imagine a big star like that picking us for her show! It didn't matter that it was probably the creators who'd made that decision; the point is that she made us feel good about ourselves.
*Who, for example, can forget the funeral of Chuckles the Clown?
Outside of her hometown and the neighborhood in which she lived, it's probably no exaggeration to say that nowhere was her death felt as keenly as it was in Minneapolis, a city that could only claim her indirectly. And why not? After all, the lyric of the series' famous theme song, a lyric quoted on the plaque at the base of the statue, asks "Who could turn the world on with her smile?" The world, yes, and also one city that never forgot what she meant to us, what she did for us.