A Complicated Nostalgia for Mary Tyler Moore

The documentary sets Ms. Moore’s life in the context of the women’s movement, interspersing footage of feminist rallies, news stories about Roe v. Wade, and clips of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. But while Ms. Moore’s TV self was fully in step with feminism, her personal life was more complicated. “She didn’t think feminism was that hot,” says the actress Beverly Sanders, a close friend of Ms. Moore’s. “He identified with it, to a point.”

Unlike the boldly single Mary Richards, Ms. Moore remained married throughout her adult life. He married for the first time at the age of 18 and had an only child, Richard. Divorced and soon after married producer Grant Tinker, who masterminded her career and with whom she founded her highly successful production company, MTM Enterprises. Not particularly independent at the time, Ms Moore admits she relied heavily on Mr Tinker’s judgement: “I was very much a person who liked to be directed and guided.”

His years with Mr. Tinker encompassed significant challenges. She suffered a miscarriage and then, at age 34, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (complications of which plagued her for the rest of her life). He also battled alcoholism.

In 1978, his younger sister, Elizabeth, died by suicide. And perhaps most painful was her estranged relationship with her son, with whom she struggled to connect. Friends often note in the film that, offscreen, Ms. Moore can seem aloof and aloof, in contrast to her upbeat onscreen self.

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended in 1977, and Ms. Moore began a new Mary Richards-style chapter in her personal life, divorcing Mr. Tinker and moving alone to New York City. Professionally, though, she left Mary Richards far behind and turned her attention to theater and film, proving particularly gifted in serious drama.

In 1980, Ms. Moore wrote “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” I won a special Tony for my portrayal of a quadriplegic hospital patient. And she was nominated for an Oscar for her subtle performance in the 1980 Robert Redford directorial debut “Ordinary People.” As Beth, an emotionally closed mother is coping with the grief of the death of one son and the suicide attempt of another.

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