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Thursday, September 24, 2015

45th Anniversary of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' Evokes Thoughts of Encounters with MTM Stars

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The press release for the October 13, 2015 PBS documentary "Mary Tyler Moore: A Celebration" evoked a textbook mix of emotions. Learning of this program, which will include interviews with a plethora of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (MTM) stars, was exciting. Learning that this prime time childhood favorite premiered 45 years ago last week evoked feelings of being old.

This release further prompted memories of amazing personal connections with MTM. The first dates to being drafted into escorting a gaggle of boy scouts on a trip to Maine in the early '90s. I noticed while in the Ralph Lauren outlet in Freeport, Maine that the young Republicans were huddled en masse and whispering loudly and pointing.

On investigating, I learned that the lads had spotted Gavin MacLeod, who played wonderfully cynical news writer Murray Slaughter on MTM. Both wanting to get the kids to settle down and to give MacLoed a break, I approached him and told him about our trip.

A few minutes into speaking with MacLoed, I heard the scouts chanting "Captain Stubing." Acting on pure instinct, I instantly replied "more importantly, 'Mary Tyler Moore.'"

Almost as instantly, I realized that I had inadvertently insulted MacLoed re: his "The Love Boat" role. I am certain that the devastation on my face was very clear to MacLoed as I stated "Mr. MacLoed; I am so sorry."

I will never forget MacLoed breaking into the biggest and brightest smile that I have ever seen as he said "I know EXACTLY what you mean."

This wonderful encounter ended with MacLoed writing the group an autograph on a shopping bag. That souvenir somehow ended up hanging in my home, rather than the scout building, and remains a valued treasure in my proudly displayed SWAG collection.

The second chance encounter with an MTM star occurred roughly 25 years after meeting MacLoed; coincidentally, this one was in northern New England as well.

I was taking a badly needed weekend in Woodstock, Vermont  and was planning on watching television in my room (which did have a view) when I saw a flyer announcing that Cloris Leachman, who was born to play social-conscious landlady Phyllis Lindstrom on MTM, was signing her autobiography at the local bookstore that evening. After profusely jay walking through traffic to get to the event, I was heartbroken to learn that sickness required postponing the signing.

I still purchased several copies of the book to have one for myself and to give others as gifts. (It truly was a good read.) Leachman not only provided the requested messages when she made it up there, but I have a photo of her using my copy as her reading copy.

The third encounter with greatness was from roughly the same period as the Leachman experience but is more indirect than that treat and the discussion with MacLoed.  This one related to interviewing "I Dream of Jeannie"/"The Bob Newhart Show" star Bill Daily, who is one of the top 10 nicest people whom I have ever met. The signed genie bottle that he gave me is the center of the aforementioned SWAG display.

Daily shared that he was strongly recruited to play arrogant but stupid anchorman Ted Baxter on MTM but turned down the role. He explained that he thought that the nature of that supporting role would have been a step down after his more prominent "Jeannie" role.

My response was joking that Daily at least had gotten out of doing "Too Close for Comfort," which was a horrible '80s sitcom starring Baxter portrayor Ted Knight. Daily graciously vigorously laughed at that remark.

The final story regarding a personal connection with MTM is a sad one. I was dealing with putting the shelter kitty whom I had adopted 11 years earlier to sleep. The cat is who decided on meeting me that I was the one the he wanted; manifestations of that included sleeping curled up next to me from his first night in his forever home until his kidney disease reached its final stages.

As a complete aside, the following image is of a book cover with a photo of my cat on it. (The story behind that has nothing to do with MTM.)

The Natural Cat: The Comprehensive Guide to Optimum Care

I was doing alright with the impending loss of my cat until calling the vet to schedule his final appointment. I immediately started strongly crying on hanging up but still looked up an online description of the DVD set of the fourth season of MTM for a review. Reading in the S4 recap that one scene had Phyllis remarking in the aftermath of learning that her husband had cheated on her that male bees mating once and then dying "all in all" was not a bad system prompted rapidly going from intensely crying to hysterically laughing. It is hard to image many scenes from many shows having such power.

The bottom line is that MTM pulled off the tough trick of mixing clever humor with an ideal cast that genuinely liked and respected each other. This, indeed, warrants a PBS tribute.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding MTM is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.