Thank You Mary, Rhoda, Phyllis and Sue Ann
Updated: Jun 23, 2020
Saturday night was the best night. I got to curl up on the couch and get lost watching a single woman living in Minneapolis. The night that Mary Richards, Rhoda Morgenstern and the rest of the cast lit up the television screen.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a groundbreaking series. A 30-year old single woman moving to a new city, finding a job, and renting her own apartment. It was definitely ahead of its time, especially based on the rights of women at the time. For example, the series premiered in 1970, yet the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, allowing women to apply for credit, wasn’t in effect until 1974. Not only was Mary a groundbreaking leading character, the series tackled many serious workplace and social issues with humor.
I was seven years old when the series premiered and thirteen in its last season. I loved Mary’s studio apartment with the sunken living room, and Rhoda’s hippie beads at the entrance to hers. They were both so cool. Here was Mary, single, working at a job she loved, with quirky friends who would do anything for each other. She was an early role model for me as a successful, single, working woman. I actually learned something from each of the other female characters too, if not during the initial run than during the many hours of reruns I watched.
So what did I learn?
From Mary, I learned you could stay with one company for several years and still grow and develop both personally and professionally. She was hired as Associate Producer for the fictional WJM 6pm news and by the end of the series was the Producer. She learned how to stand up for herself, whether asking for increased responsibility or a raise when she found out she made $50 a week less than the man who previously had her job. She brought her authentic self to work everyday, even when it scared her.
I also learned from her that working hard is not a bad thing. It's okay to focus on your career rather always looking for Mr. Right. That's not to say that you don’t want to find your work-life blend. Mary had this blend. She always had time for her friends, went on endless dates, and found time to throw disastrous dinner parties. But concentrating on your career is perfectly acceptable if that is what is important to you.
I learned about the power of friendship from Rhoda. Rhoda and Mary met and became best friends almost instantly. We all need that friend in our life whose shoulder you can cry on, will call you out when you aren't being true to yourself, and you can talk with about anything; whether work, family or shopping.
Phyllis was a different type of working woman. She ran the rentals for her building, making all of the decisions. She also showed me the fierceness of a mother’s love. She would have done anything to set her daughter Bess up for success, constantly talking about her intelligence and talent, not her looks. It’s not that I didn’t have that type of love and support from my own mother, but you don’t always see it when you’re living it from the inside.
Then there was Sue Ann Nivens played by the incomparable Betty White. She taught me that you shouldn’t compete with other the women at work; rather we need to support each other and prop each other up. Her competition with Mary, that really was only in her mind, probably kept her from being all that she could be.
So thank you to the women of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and to the writers who created these strong female characters. They lived life with love, laughter and grace. Well sometimes grace. Did I mention Mary’s dinner parties?