"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is one of America's most beloved sitcoms — but it came packed with controversy! The adventures of Mary Richards ran for seven years and won a remarkable 29 Emmy Awards. But the production was more daring than many people remember. Here are forgotten facts about the show that turned Mary Tyler Moore
into a feminist icon...
Mary’s character originally was a divorcée — but test audiences didn’t like that concept because they felt it meant she had left her old costar Dick Van Dyke! That's how Mary Richards became an aspiring career gal who'd broken off a two-year engagement.
Viewers were shocked back in the 1970s when Mary Richards went out on a date — and spent the night at the guy's apartment! The big moment didn't happen until the third season, and Mary had to fight to let people know that it was okay for her to play a sexually-active single. “I’m hardly innocent," the character announced. "I’ve been around. Well, maybe not around, but I’ve been nearby.”
That same season, the writers even dared to announce that Mary Richards was using birth control. The character's parents were visiting, and Mary's mom shouted to her dad: "Don't forget to take your pill!" The script got a big laugh when both father and daughter replied: "I won't!"
Mary's sexual activity was shocking enough to even get mentioned on the CBS sitcom "Maude." In an exchange on the hit Bea Arthur
series, Maude expressed surprise that Mary Richards was seen on TV spending the night at a man's apartment. “All night? Our little Mary?” asked Maude, with her uptight neighbor complaining: “You can sneer all you want, Maude, but as Mary Tyler Moore goes, so goes America.”
“Mary” had three spinoffs: “Rhoda,” with Valerie Harper; “Phyllis,” with Cloris Leachman
; and “Lou Grant,” with Ed Asner, which lasted five seasons and won 13 Emmys. Valerie Harper almost wasn’t cast as Rhoda Morgenstern, though — because producers feared she was too pretty and would take attention away from Mary!
The character of Rhoda contributed another groundbreaking moment on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," when Valerie Harper's character had to explain why she wasn't romantically interested in Phyllis' visiting brother. “He’s not my type!” Rhoda told Phyllis, breaking a new TV barrier by adding: “He’s gay.” In a further twist, Phyllis — who never could stand Rhoda — replied: “I’m so relieved!”
Mary’s famous hat toss in the show's opening sequence was named the second-greatest moment in television by Entertainment Weekly — and true fans of the show will remember seeing Hazel Frederick (in a blue headscarf) watching Mary at the start of every episode.
The “Lights Out” final episode launched the idea of a big emotional ending for a series, which many sitcoms have since followed. It was also the first episode of a sitcom where the cast was seen taking a final bow to the audience.
Sadly, there was one bold lady who never got to enjoy success with a "Mary Tyler Moore Show" spin-off. Barbara Colby had made a few guest appearances on the show, and briefly became a regular on the spinoff “Phyllis” — only to be tragically shot to death in Venice, Calif. in an unsolved murder.