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MARY: The Mary Tyler Moore Story

An excerpt from author Herbie J Pilato's new book, exclusive to TelevisionAcademy.com

Herbie J Pilato
  • The cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

    The Classic TV Preservation Society
  • Jacobs Brown Press
  • Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore

    The Classic TV Preservation Society
  • The Classic TV Preservation Society

By the late 1960s, Mary Tyler Moore's career was in a downward spiral, and her personal life was not exactly on the upswing.

She and then-husband Grant Tinker hoped to have a child, but she suffered a miscarriage and was devastated. The doctors delivered more bad news:

At just 33 years old Mary was diagnosed with diabetes, which meant daily insulin injections.

The Emmy-winning writer Treva Silverman served as an executive story editor for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In a recent documentary for the Reelz Channel, Silverman said Mary "kind of didn't believe" that she was diagnosed with diabetes, "and rebelled against it…because the next day she just ate everything – pies, cakes, everything," thinking, "To hell with you."

"We see Mary's reaction kind of going against medical advice," said psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopoulos, "and eating donuts and…sweets. And I think this was a manifestation of not only her anger at this happening, but the kind of sense of injustice. And also probably the realization that, 'Maybe I can't control things as much as I thought I could, and if that's the case, if I can't control things then I'm going to enjoy the donut.' "

Adding to the mix were Mary's apparently complex issues with food and body image in general. "Some people say I err on the side of being too thin," she once said. "But I'm afraid that if I once overeat, I won't be able to stop."

All the while, too, she struggled with alcoholism, which did nothing for her digestion, or her diabetes, and which she continued to hide since her TV time with Dick Van Dyke, who later admitted to his own drinking issues.

Professionally, this period was also not much better for Mary's best-known leading man on screen. Like Mary, Van Dyke had also made a few career-stalling films (i.e. 1969's The Comic, directed by Carl Reiner). One sad moment led to another for both performers.

But for Mary, being stricken with Type 1 Diabetes, aka Juvenile Diabetes, proved especially devastating. As she once observed, "Juvenile? Diabetes?! What?! I'm not that childish! And I'm not that special!" Such self-talk unleashed what she called her "stunning insecurity in slightly loopy ways."

There she was, an Emmy-winner and TV Guide cover girl many times over, "…a darling of the critics," and she required a major disease as she put it, "to make me feel complete."

Around this time, Mary started to see an analyst in Los Angeles for approximately one year, which she later recalled as "the most boring year" of her life.

She went into analysis because she was afraid. She thought, "If I'm not going to be an actress, what or who am I? I wasn't a hostess, a gardener, a great cook or a full-time mother. But he never said anything. Luckily, the TV show came along and I didn't have to worry about it."

Mary needed a dose of good medicine in the form of laughter and a job. The TV show she was referring to actually began with a TV special. That same year, she reteamed with Van Dyke for what became a pivotal one-time CBS variety hour. Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman was written by Dick Van Dyke Show veterans Sam Denoff and Bill Persky, who had worked on annual specials for the performer since his original series folded.

In 1969, Persky approached Denoff and said, "It's been five years since we did The Dick Van Dyke Show. Why don't we do a reunion with Mary and Dick? She could really use the exposure." Denoff agreed. They went on to script Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, which Persky said Van Dyke "…very generously turned over to Mary, and made it all about her, to show her off."

"We did that special," Van Dyke said, "and I had her sing and dance. She did everything and, bang! Right after that, she got The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She still credits [that special] with getting her started. You know, and man – she took off!"

According to Van Dyke Show historian David Van Deusen, "Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman was clearly the spark that initiated CBS's interest in giving Mary a chance on her own sitcom, and my sense is that she had Dick to thank for that. And the genuine, natural chemistry that occurred between Dick and Mary on this special reminded us again of her talents and abilities…comedy, singing, dancing, and more.

"Much of the appeal to fans was being able to see Rob and Laura together again, as it evoked fond memories of their interplay on The Dick Van Dyke Show. But the material for the special was also top notch, with sketches and musical production numbers that were written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff."

Persky said Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman was "one of my most favorite things that I ever did. I loved it. There were pieces [skits] in there that were just wonderful. Dick and Mary did one final scene as a bride and a groom on a wedding cake. And they had been placed in a refrigerator on their 50th Anniversary. But that was their relationship…in the fridge."

The objective of the special, Persky observed "…was to show her off as a dancer. And I've always been a repressed choreographer, so I said, 'Why don't we do something where they were on crutches…in a ski lodge?' So, there was an entire dance number were everybody was on crutches, and it was fantastic."

Another skit involved Mary portraying an Emmy Award statue, and Van Dyke playing an Academy Award, or "Oscar."

"It played so well on the special," remembered Persky, "…that CBS used it to open the actual telecast of the Emmy Awards that year."

The high ratings and critical acclaim for Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman screamed to have the favorite acting couple of '60s TV back where they belonged on a weekly basis. Within a two-year period Other Woman indeed gave birth to The Mary Tyler Moore Show.


This material is an edited excerpt from the new biography, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY by Herbie J Pilato, and published by Jacobs Brown Press. For more information, please click here.