January 26, 2017

The name I looked for in the tributes to Mary Tyler Moore: Marlo Thomas.

When Mary Tyler Moore died, was she celebrated as a television first having something to do with feminism? You can't say "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" presented a new kind of woman without dealing with the earlier show, "That Girl":
That Girl is an American sitcom that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. It starred Marlo Thomas as the title character Ann Marie, an aspiring (but only sporadically employed) actress, who moves from her hometown of Brewster, New York, to try to make it big in New York City. Ann has to take a number of offbeat "temp" jobs to support herself in between her various auditions and bit parts. Ted Bessell played her boyfriend Donald Hollinger, a writer for Newsview Magazine...

That Girl was one of the first sitcoms to focus on a single woman who was not a domestic or living with her parents. Some consider this show the forerunner of the highly successful The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and an early indication of the changing roles of American women in feminist-era America...

At the end of the 1969–1970 season, That Girl was still doing moderately well in the ratings, but after four years Thomas had grown tired of the series and wanted to move on. ABC convinced her to do one more year. In the beginning of the fifth season, Don and Ann became engaged, but they never actually married. The decision to leave the couple engaged at the end of the run was largely the idea of Thomas. She did not want to send a message to young women that marriage was the ultimate goal for them, and she worried that it would have undercut the somewhat feminist message of the show.
"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" did not begin until 1970. Look how similar the opening credits are for the 2 shows:





When I first saw the MTM opening credits I wondered how could they get away with such a rip-off. Also, I think MTM was a throwback to the 1960s and actively old, not new at all. Now, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" turned out to be a great, great show, undoubtedly one of the best shows in the history of television. I just hate to see descriptions of it that give credit for being ahead of its time. It followed "That Girl."

Here's how one NYT piece accounted for "That Girl":
Her predecessor, Ann Marie of “That Girl,” played by Marlo Thomas, was our first television singleton, but paired from the get-go with her boyfriend, Donald. She made her debut in the 1960s, a period that for women on the small screen was still the dark ages. Mary Richards had boyfriends, but they were ancillary to her real life, which played out at work. 
Mary's home life was also important. 2 of the main secondary characters — both women — were seen in the home setting. Mary was often getting ready to go out with men, we just saw little of those men, and there was no significant cast member to be the boyfriend. A good advance over "That Girl."

CNBC says:
At a time when women's liberation was catching on worldwide, [Mary Tyler Moore's] character brought to TV audiences an independent, 1970s career woman. Other than Marlo Thomas' 1960s sitcom character "That Girl," who at least had a steady boyfriend, there were few precedents.
The writer at Fox News, Robert Thompson, observes:
The norm for female characters in the early decades of television was in the role of “housewife” on shows like "Father Knows Best," "Leave it to Beaver," and "The Donna Reed Show."  But there was a smattering of mature single women, even in the time before Mary Richards.

In the 1950s, the leading character in "Our Miss Brooks" was an outspoken and confident high school English teacher.  On "The Lucy Show," in the 1960s, Lucy, a widow, worked in a bank and lived with her divorced best friend.  The principal goal of Miss Brooks, however, was to snag a marriage proposal from the dreamy but clueless biology teacher, and the hunt for husbands was also on the top of the agenda of both Lucy and Vivian.

"That Girl," which debuted in 1966, seemed at the time to be a groundbreaking series about an “independent woman.”  It featured Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie, an aspiring actress who’d left her suburban home to try to make it in the big city.  But still—whenever she got into a jam, she always looked for help from not one, but two men: her father (whom she called “Daddy”) and her fiancĂ©.

"That Girl" was still on the air when "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" debuted in 1970, and suddenly the show didn’t seem so groundbreaking and Ann Marie didn’t seem so independent.  Mary Richards had a father, but he played very little role in the show.  She went on dates with men, but had no steady boyfriend.

In fact, romance and matrimony seemed to be low on her list of priorities.  The traditional husband-seeking gags fell to Rhoda, her upstairs neighbor.  Mary was focused on her career, which she pursued with competence and dedication, and her colleagues at the local TV news show where she worked became her surrogate family. 
Here's Linda Holmes at NPR:
Mary Richards was not TV's first working woman, or its first woman on her own. But before Mary, if you saw a woman without a partner at the center of a TV comedy, she was probably a widow, like Diahann Carroll's single mom on Julia or Lucille Ball on the show she did after I Love Lucy, which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, called The Lucy Show.

Mary didn't have a living husband, a dead husband, an ex-husband, or even a permanent boyfriend like Marlo Thomas did on That Girl. It wasn't that she didn't want one. Jennifer Keishin Armstrong wrote Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of the show. And in 2013, she told NPR how Mary stayed single for so long: The show tried out some possible boyfriends, but "no one was good enough for her."
At Vulture:
There were programs before The Mary Tyler Moore Show that focused on women who were employed. Our Miss Brooks, which made the leap from radio to television in the early 1950s, starred Eve Arden as a witty high-school teacher. Julia starred Diahann Carroll — the rare African-American female lead on prime time television — as a nurse and ran on NBC from 1968 to 1971. That Girl, the Marlo Thomas comedy about a single woman trying to make it on her own in New York, is considered a forerunner to Mary Tyler Moore (James L. Brooks wrote for That Girl before creating the latter series), but Thomas’s Ann Marie was an aspiring actress who hopscotched through temp jobs. She didn’t represent a career woman in the same way Mary Richards did, who worked for the same station for the duration of the series.

Unlike Julia, who was a widower, Mary had never been married. Unlike Ann Marie, she had a consistent job. And unlike Connie Brooks, Mary Richards was working in a position that was not typically given to women. The fact that Moore took on such a role when she was previously known for doing what most women on television did at the time — playing the housewife — made the evolution to working girl that much more significant.
At The Guardian, here's John Patterson:
As Mary Richards, Moore showed that a professional single woman in her early 30s could live alone and happily; date lots of men without being on a perpetual husband hunt; and could keep the coolest head in her male-dominated professional environment. Richards was not quite the first happy, single woman on American television. That honor goes to Marlo Thomas on the 1960s show That Girl! But Thomas, for all her pathbreaking charm, was also the daughter of an enormously influential TV executive, Danny Thomas. Moore, however, was the co-founder, with her husband Grant Tinker, of MTM (with its cute meowing-kitty logo satirizing MGM’s roaring lion), and was thus her own producer. That made her not just a pop culture feminist icon, but a powerhouse figure in network television.
Here's Susan Silver (who wrote for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show"):
In the beginning days of feminism, early 1970s... [t]he only comediennes were either second bananas, like Rose Marie or Imogene Coca, and neither was known for her looks. Lucille Ball was a comedy icon and businesswoman, but her characters were more slapstick. Finally, Marlo Thomas broke the mold with her unmarried career woman, Ann Marie in That Girl.
And here's Marlo herself:
"I'm proud that we were in that groundbreaking sorority that brought single independent women to television. She will be deeply missed."

60 comments:

Earnest Prole said...

"That Girl" followed "Bewitched" on Thursday night. I was allowed to watch the first show but not the second. I always wondered why.

Michael K said...

I knew Marlo Thomas fairly well in college when she was still "Margie Thomas" and she had her father's nose. She was pretty talented then and my fraternity did a Homecoming show with her sorority.

A nose job and a name change and the rest is history.,

Brando said...

I loved the hell out of "That Girl" reruns. It was like watching the '60s the way it was meant to be watched--without hippies!

Old episodes of "Dragnet" (the version with Harry Morgan) were great too, because they did show hippies, but they showed hippies from the counter-counterculture POV. Resonates much better today!

Henry said...

Watching those openings, I keep expecting to see Jon Voigt in a cowboy hat.

Scott said...

I dimly remember He & She, a sitcom about a married couple with no children who both worked jobs. That was also groundbreaking for the mid-1960s.

traditionalguy said...

The attack of the Female Planners. The really good ones are a blessing, but you have to follow the plan, no exceptions allowed.

And I don't know how many times I have heard, " a man is not the plan".

But you can win one with Romance. Then you become part of the plan.

Scott said...

Actually, she was the one who worked a job. Her husband drew cartoons. I remember mostly the theme music, which was sort of pop jazzy-harpsichordy.

rehajm said...

The show tried out some possible boyfriends, but "no one was good enough for her."

This sounds familiar.

Also:

EEEEEAAAHHHHH!!!! THAT MANNEQUIN IS ALIVE!!!

Also:

Mary Richards had boyfriends, but they were ancillary to her real life, which played out at work.

"I hate spunk!"

Jake said...

Kellyanne Conway took her inauguration dress cues from Marlo Thomas I guess.

Bob R said...

The big difference is that the MTMS was very much a workplace drama. Work was more central to Mary's character than her love life. The TV station was more central to the show. This probably gave it a much broader audience. I don't think I ever watched a whole episode of That Girl, and I don't think I imagined myself dating either of them. (They are my mother's age.) But I did imagine working in the newsroom.

Sebastian said...

Real life at work, a surrogate family, and no one good enough for her: the triumph of feminism in a nutshell.

sane_voter said...

The opening credit montage for MTM changed every year, and the theme song changed as well.

The first season opening credits

Bay Area Guy said...

Yeah, I have a lot of fond memories and feelings for Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas from That Girl.

I was just a tot, when those shows were playing, but my Mom, a New York gal, looked like an exact cross between MTM and Marlo Thomas, same brown hair style, same big smile, same thin body types.

Those 3 lovely ladies made a big imprint on my little boy brain (....must find and marry lovely brunette, must find and marry lovely brunette, must find and marry lovely brunette...) So, indeed, 20 years later, that's what I did.

If the modern-day feminists looked and acted like MTM and Marlo Thomas? Sheeee-it, I'd be protesting Trump too!

Bob R said...

Sister Bertrille didn't like with her parents or a husband. Married to the job.

madAsHell said...

That Girl! had a boyfriend named "The Donald".

PB said...

the 60's. Back when they worked harder to earn our attention - averaged 27 shows a year. 30 in the first 2 seasons

Ignorance is Bliss said...

As Mary Richards, Moore showed that a professional single woman in her early 30s could live alone and happily; date lots of men without being on a perpetual husband hunt; and could keep the coolest head in her male-dominated professional environment.

John Patterson does not appear to understand that this was fiction.

madAsHell said...

"The Donald" was played by Ted Bessell. He played the role of fiancé, and I always thought "That Girl!" was his beard.

Steven Wilson said...

I always found That Girl insipid and annoying whenever I ran across it or was in a room where it was playing. MTMS was, as pointed out above, more about the workplace and the interplay of some truly diverse and entertaining characters.

In many respects MTMS reminded me of a book from the 1950s "Of Mikes and Men" written by Jane Woodfin concerning her experiences in the early days of radio in Portland Oregon. In the introduction she apologized to the normal people she had worked with and who would look in vain for themselves in her book because she wrote about the eccentrics who were the entertaining ones. You had to love Ted Baxter, Lou Grant, Murray, and Sue Ann Niven. The genius of MTMS was she played straight woman to the crazies and tried to navigate among them.

I also remember He and She and recall regretting at the time that it didn't have a longer run and an opportunity to establish itself.
Much like My World and Welcome To It based on James Thurber, it failed not because of poor quality but because it was slightly out of kilter with the mass audience limitations of only three networks at the time.

tcrosse said...

The Mary Richards house was in one of the more fashionable neighborhoods of MInneapolis. I used to show it to out-of-town guests back in the day. A few years into the show's run the crew wanted to get some more exterior shots of the house, but the owners objected, and draped the place with political banners.

tcrosse said...

At the time, I thought That Girl was just an update of My Little Margie, beta-male boyfriend and all,

Lydia said...

None of the articles quoted (or at least the excerpts) noted that the Mary Richards character made the move to Minneapolis because her romance with a man she'd stuck with while he studied to be a doctor hadn't panned out. It wasn't out of a desire to have a career.

Ann Althouse said...

"I knew Marlo Thomas fairly well in college when she was still "Margie Thomas" and she had her father's nose. She was pretty talented then and my fraternity did a Homecoming show with her sorority."

Cool.

Here's my earlier post about Marlo before the nose job.

Ann Althouse said...

If you go to that earlier post of mine, you'll see a recent picture of Marlo Thomas. She's completely unrecognizable now.

Ann Althouse said...

"I always found That Girl insipid and annoying whenever I ran across it or was in a room where it was playing. MTMS was, as pointed out above, more about the workplace and the interplay of some truly diverse and entertaining characters."

I think the MTM was best as setting up the model of a sitcom located in the workplace rather than in the home. It was also distinctive for having so many secondary characters. Mary would have been much more annoying if there weren't all those other characters. All of them were being annoying (but in different ways).

Bad Lieutenant said...

Sebastian said...
Real life at work, a surrogate family, and no one good enough for her: the triumph of feminism in a nutshell.
1/26/17, 2:57 PM

+ die alone having left no trace on this earth.

So, that's something.

Why is that feminist? It's a loss for a man also not to have a family and pass on his line.

Ann Althouse said...

There was also "The Ann Sothern Show" from 1958 to 1961:

"Katy O'Connor (Sothern) is the assistant manager of the Bartley House, a swank New York City hotel. Katy's boss, Jason Macauley (Ernest Truex), was a timid, elderly man who was constantly bullied by his overbearing wife, Flora (Reta Shaw). Katy's secretary, roommate, and best friend Olive was played by Ann Tyrrell...."

The female character had a secretary!

"Dr. Delbert Gray (Louis Nye), a humorous dentist who became Olive's boyfriend and eventually, her husband was also added along with Ken Berry as Woody the bellboy."

Louis Nye! Ken Berry!

"Storylines typically revolve around the personal lives of the staff and guests of the Bartley House. The series was somewhat advanced for its time regarding women in the workplace and the issues they faced. Not only did the single Katy hold a position of authority in the hotel, which made her the supervisor of a host of male employees. When the character of Dr. Delbert Gray was introduced, so was his mother (Cherrio Meredith), who was a practicing dentist and was, like her son, referred to as "Dr. Gray.""

A female dentist!

"Throughout the three-year run, a storyline of potential romance between Katy and Mr. Devery lingered. In the third season finale episode, Mr. Devery realizes that he is in love with Katy and proposes to her. The episode ending was cliffhanger as Katy kisses Mr. Devery but does not answer his proposal."

Similar to the way "That Girl!" ended 10 years later.

Michael K said...

Cool.

Here's my earlier post about Marlo before the nose job.


Somewhere I have a couple of photos of her side view. She really had her father's nose.

Jim Grey said...

I watched That Girl in reruns in the 70s when I was a kid. I always thought, even then, she was a silly little girl in a grownup's body. MTM was always a woman, period.

Sydney said...

Interestingly, the NYT obituary for Mary Tyler Moore said she auditioned for the part of the daughter in Danny Thomas's sit-com but didn't get it because her nose was too small. They didn't think she would be believable as his daughter.

Wilbur said...

"The genius of MTMS was she played straight woman to the crazies and tried to navigate among them."

Sounds like The Andy Griffith Show. Once they realized Sherriff Taylor should play straight man and not get the funny lines the show found its footing and excelled.

I believe the show was owned by Danny Thomas.

richlb said...

When I heard MTM dies, I actually made a comment to someone about her being married to Phil Donahue, before I realized I was talking about Marlo Thomas.

rehajm said...

Marlo Thomas Pre Rhinoplasty

Ann Althouse said...

I just watched an episode of "The Ann Sothern Show."

Lucille Ball guest stars as Lucy Ricardo. She's checked into the hotel because she's mad at Ricky. Discovering that Katy (Ann Sothern) is single, she urges her to try to marry her boss, Mr. Devery (played by Don Porter, who in later years would play Gidget's father). Katy ridicules Lucy for promoting marriage, so Lucy hatches a plot to try to make Katy think Devery is in love with Lucy, so Katy would notice it makes her feel jealous and thus that she really does want to marry Devery. We see Lucy acting seductive toward Devery, whom she calls "Pussycat." Somehow that leads to Katy putting sleeping pills in Lucy's champagne and Katy putting sleeping pills in Katy's candy and the 2 women stumbling around like a couple of ladies who've had too much Vitametavegamin. In the end, Katy learns that Lucy does still loves Ricky and Devery never really loved Lucy but just wanted Katy to know he's not "a stuffed pimento."

EDH said...

Ann Althouse said...
I just watched an episode of "The Ann Sothern Show."

So, retirement's been good to you?

WA-mom said...

Marlo Thomas was a transformational influence on kids now in their late 30s/early 40s.
Her 1972 "Free to be You and Me" album was taught extensively in schools. My kids still refer to it.

tcrosse said...

After My Little Margie, Gale Storm went on to do O Susanna, in which she played cruise director on a cruise ship, sort of a proto-Love Boat. As in My Little Margie, her character was a real pain in the ass.

JohnG said...

While the format of the intros are very similar - quick cut vignettes of a young brunette going about a city set to an easy listening intro song - I think that's where the similarity ends.

Margo is twee, dashing around being entertained to the point of bursting by all the the amazing sights of New York. She's there to emote and be pretty. And the theme song is a poppy prequel to the "Love American Style" Theme.

Mary's intro is quieter, more reflective. Her hair is a bit messed up. She's running from place to place with an air of being 3 minutes late and is surrounded by people not paying any attention to her. Her moments are grocery shopping, washing her car, squatting awkwardly to not be in a shot, and carrying her groceries behind a gaggle of children the other women her age had produced. She's not bursting at the seams about most of it either. The moments of beauty aren't Broadway lights; they're some ducks on the water or a glint of light on some anonymous Minneapolis buildings. If anything, it's almost a point-by-point anti-That Girl intro. It's only in the last few seconds of Mary's intro do we see her actively happy with her coworkers and then the hat scene where we see her celebrating the life she has.

Original Mike said...

Watched both That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore. I remember That Girl as unfunny. MTM, OTOH was very funny.

Quaestor said...

She's jewish.
It's ok to say that...


No, it's not. If Marlo Thomas converted I'm unaware of it. Her father was a very devout Maronite Catholic. She married a less than devout Catholic called Phil Donoghue.

The Godfather said...

Please don't try to append too much social significance to TV situation comedies. Every TV show was/is reflective of its era, so MTM was different from I Love Lucy, and both are different from Friends, and Roseanne, etc. What matters is: were they good, were they funny, did we care about the characters?

Some say that Mary TM was a bitch. Some say that Bing Crosby was a bastard. I DON'T CARE! Unless you are nominating someone for sainthood. They entertained us! Thank you.

William said...

I guess the Flying Nun doesn't qualify. I never watched the show, but I understand that Sally Field never had a boyfriend.......If the office was Mary's surrogate family, it was still a patriarchy. She always called Asner "Mr. Grant", and there was never any question as to who was calling the shots.

Bob Ellison said...

Bay Area Guy, that's great until she leaves you.

Ann Althouse said...

@JohnG

Thanks. Good points of how the intros are different. I agree and would connect them to why mtm was a much better show.

Known Unknown said...

" and there was never any question as to who was calling the shots."

God?

Known Unknown said...

There's an endless amount of people who misunderstand Leave it to Beaver.

The parents are so decent and nearly infallible because the show was told from Beaver's point of view. When you're a six year old kid, your parents are the greatest thing in the world.

Sally327 said...

The Mary Tyler Moore show was great TV but I also think MTM was an excellent actress. Her performance in Ordinary People was outstanding and had no connection to the role she played in her TV show, a very hard thing to do, I think, when the TV character was so iconic and everyone would have preconceived notions about her. She's also great in Flirting With Disaster, one of my favorite movies.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Quaestor said...
She's jewish.
It's ok to say that...

No, it's not.

Not at all. "She's Jewish" would at least be correctly spelled.

MikeD said...

Being an adult from the beginning of MTM's career (I know, just a patriarchal 50's clone)Mary in the Dick van Dyke Show was a much more entertaining character. The MTM show started strong but degenerated into a leftist mish/mosh.
"That Girl", from the beginning was a nothing burger. Failed as comedy, which it supposedly was, failed at "I'm woman, hear me roar". So much of the commentary of 60's TV seems to come from people who were in Jr. Hi-School then. That's not to say they were less informed/educated than the blob clogging higher education today.

CarolMR said...

Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show, played by Rose Marie, was single, had a career, and lived alone.

tcrosse said...

Part of the genius of the MTM show is that the zany characters who revolved around her were all Serious Actors, not comics. But they had the acting chops to do comedy, which is very difficult, indeed.

Laslo Spatula said...

Marlo and Mary TM: one would do anal, the other wouldn't.

There are reasons.

I am Laslo.

Big Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Left Bank of the Charles said...

Are we leaving Miss Kitty and Victoria Barkley out of the feminist history of television?

Bill Harshaw said...

"Our Miss Brooks" was on the radio before TV. One of my family's regular listens. We tend to homogenize the past, wrongly, forgetting data which doesn't fit our stereotypes (yes, I'm talking about DJT).

Professional lady said...

That Girl was not in the same league as the MTM Show. I would watch reruns of MTM today for entertainment. That Girl - no way. I recently got a DVD of the original Bob Newhart Show from the library. I wondered if it was as good as I remembered - it was.

Roger Sweeny said...

Mary was focused on her career, which she pursued with competence and dedication, and her colleagues at the local TV news show where she worked became her surrogate family.

NO NO NO NO! Like everyone at WJM-TV News, Mary Richards was neither competent nor dedicated. We almost never saw any successful covering of the news. We saw lots of failure--including the anchor, whose major character trait was his incompetence. The second half of that sentence is closer to the truth. Family comedy--people who know each other, care for each other, and are stuck with each other--was transferred to the workplace.

boycat said...

Very very little is ever new in Hollywood. Everybody rips their ideas from somebody else.

Roughcoat said...

"Pete and Gladys." Before "He and She."

Roughcoat said...

Nothing at all new about "That Girl." Just another variant on the showbiz stereotype of the nagging woman / bumbling ineffectual man pairing: both of them annoying, both sexually unattractive. When did this start? Why? Nowadays it's more extreme, like just about everything in popular culture. Girls are grrlz, empowered and obnoxious, and men are betas, weak and childlike. The grrlz are unlovely even when they're physically hot, and the men are boys, unmanly despite their three-day stubble or hipster beards.

I've been thinking a lot about his lately as a result of conducting oral history project interviews with a Marine Corps vet of World War II -- 19/20/21 years old when he fought on Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian,and Okinawa.