A Complicated Nostalgia in A New Mary Tyler Moore Documentary
The documentary frames 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 seemed fully in step with feminism, her personal life was more complicated. “She didn’t think feminism was so hotsy-totsy,” says Ms. Moore’s close friend, the actress Beverly Sanders. “She identified with it, up to a point.”
Unlike the boldly single Mary Richards, Ms. Moore had been married virtually her entire adult life. She wed first at 18 and had her only child, a son named Richard; divorced; and soon thereafter married the producer Grant Tinker, who masterminded her career and with whom she founded MTM Enterprises, her wildly successful production company. Not particularly independent at that time, Ms. Moore admitted that she relied heavily upon Mr. Tinker’s judgment: “I was very much a person who liked being directed and led.”
Significant challenges beset her years with Mr. Tinker. She suffered a miscarriage and then, at 34, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes (whose complications plagued her for the rest of her life). She also battled alcoholism.
In 1978, her younger sister, Elizabeth, died by suicide. And most painful perhaps was her distant relationship to her son, with whom she struggled to connect. Friends note often in the film that, offscreen, Ms. Moore could seem aloof and detached, unlike her onscreen upbeat self.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ended in 1977, and Ms. Moore embarked on 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 especially gifted at serious drama.
In 1980, Ms. Moore won a special Tony for her portrayal of a quadriplegic hospital patient in “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” And she was nominated for an Oscar for her subtle performance in Robert Redford’s directorial debut in 1980, “Ordinary People,” as Beth, an emotionally closed mother grieving one son’s death and coping with the attempted suicide of the other.