It's well known that "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was nearly canceled at the end of its first season, in the spring of 1962, and that Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard, who produced the series, had enough muscle that they were able to convince either the sponsor (Procter & Gamble) or the network (CBS) or both to give the situation comedy another season to prove itself.

It's also well known that the series became a hit during its second season and then went on to become a sitcom classic that turned Dick Van Dyke into a TV superstar and made Mary Tyler Moore big enough not only to land another series, but one that would bear her name. That she then was greatly responsible for boosting the careers of Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Gavin MacLeod, Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper and Betty White was a tremendous accomplishment.

But I can't help but wonder . . . what if "The Dick Van Dyke Show" never been given a second chance? Would Mary Tyler Moore have found any kind of success?

That may seem a ridiculous question, but during the 1961-62 season, when "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was struggling in the ratings, Mary Tyler Moore was a virtual unknown and considered by many to be the program's weak link. A gorgeous weak link, but a weak link nonetheless.

Watching first-season reruns 52 years later — Oh, my God! Can it really be that long? — it's not easy to see why any critics picked on her. I think people simply had to get used to her . . . because Laura Petrie, in those early days, was just as funny as Mary Richards would be several years later.

However, when I recall what happened to Patricia Harty after her sitcom, "Occasional Wife," was canceled at the end of its first season, I can't help but wonder if relative obscurity also would have greeted Ms. Moore. Harty, at that stage of her career, was a better actress than Moore, I think, though a slightly different type, one with more bite.

I had two interviews with Mary Tyler Moore, the first conducted over the telephone during the early days of the second season of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" when it was becoming clear that it deserved to be renewed and would find a slot in the Nielsen Top 20, perhaps even in the Top Ten. And it was clear to some of us that Mary Tyler Moore had become one of the program's strong points. Even some who questioned her acting abilities had come to love and laugh at the way her character, Laura Petrie, could turn her husband's name — Rob — into a 12-syllable word, or even longer if she were more nervous and upset than usual.

By the time I interviewed her a second time — in person during a California visit — she was one of the most popular TV performers in the country. Meeting her was the highlight of my trip . . . even if I had to share her with her then-husband, Grant Tinker, who joined us for lunch.

As successful as she had become by 1964, I don't think anyone could have guessed how big a star she would become after "The Dick Van Dyke Show" ended its run.

Akron Beacon Journal, September 30, 1962


Mary Tyler Moore describes herself as one of the rarest of creatures – “a satisfied actress.”

Moore, who plays Dick Van Dyke’s wife each Wednesday on CBS, claims she couldn’t be happier doing anything else.

“Some day I’d like to be a big star,” she said, “but now I’m satisfied to be working with such wonderful people on a television series.”

Those wonderful people are Van Dyke, Rose Marie, Morie Amsterdam, Richard Deacon and Larry Mathews, her co-stars, and Carl Reiner, Danny Thomas, Sheldon Leonard and John Rich, the writer, owner, producer and director of the show.

Moore, 24, did regular work on one other TV series. She was Sam, the telephone operator, on “Richard Diamond,” but only her shapely knees and sultry voice were exposed.

Speaking on the telephone from her California home last week, Moore sounded less like sultry Sam and more like the young housewife who might be living next door. Her housewife voice, the one she normally uses, is not sultry at all. And her real husband is not Dick Van Dyke, but an NBC vice president named Grant Tinker. Like the housewife she plays on TV, Moore has a son named Ritchie, a six-year-old from a previous marriage to Richard Meeker, a CBS sales representative.

“I had nothing to do with the choice of names,” she said, adding that she often reads scripts aloud when she’s at home, occasionally causing her son to come running, asking, “Mommy, why did you call me?”

Her phone call was one of several she made during a week-long break from filming. “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” despite good reviews, was lucky to survive its first season. Another highly regard comedy, “The Bob Newhart Show,”** was not so lucky.

[**NOTE: This is not to be confused with Newhart’s classic sitcom with Suzanne Pleshette that went on the air 11 years later.]

“Frankly, our show didn’t do well at all with the ratings last season,” said Moore. “We feel many people who watched us during the summer were watching us for the first time. We hope to pull some of those people away from Perry Como this fall.”

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” airs at 9:30 p.m., the halfway point for their two competing programs, Como’s variety show on NBC and ABC’s “Hawaiian Eye.” Van Dyke’ show suffered its first season because its lead-in was the low-rated “Checkmate.” This year its lead-in is “The Beverly Hillbillies,” one of the most highly touted new programs.

“If ‘Hillbillies’ does as well as expected, we should do a lot better than last year. Our show was renewed only through the generosity of our sponsors, Proctor and Gamble, who had faith in us.

“We won’t be doing anything different this season. We felt we had a good show last year.”

The Van Dyke show rehearses five days a week and films on the sixth day.

“We work in front of an audience and it takes about two hours to get 30 minutes of film.”

This helps the show avoid the phony laugh track, but it creates other problems in the same area.

“If I blow a line,” Moore explained, “the director will explain it to the audience. Sometimes I’ll fluff two or three times. Then, when I get it correct, the audience will applaud. The home viewers wouldn’t know what the applause is all about, so the sound track has to be altered.

“We did a show where Dick makes a difficult pool shot. It was set up for him four times and he missed each one. Finally, when he made the shot, the audience went wild. That scene wasn’t supposed to evoke so much laughter, so, again, the sound track was altered.

“Besides, it has been proven the home audience doesn’t laugh as loud as the live audience, so we subtract laughter rather than add it.”

Moore said she thinks the show and its on-stage filming have helped her immeasurably as an actress. She feels she’ll be ready when the opportunity presents itself to star in an important feature film.

“Right now a company would probably lose money if they starred me in a picture. I’m just not that well known.

“Another thing, it’s very difficult to get a part in movies in Hollywood. The companies are filming so many of their pictures in other locations.”

Van Dyke had a break this summer when he was given the lead in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” one of the few films done on a California lot. Van Dyke also starred in the Broadway production of the musical.

Moore has done just one movie – “X-15” – and that was made before the Van Dyke show went on the air.

“My agents are being very kind to me,” she said. “If I am getting any other offers, they’re not telling me and I’m glad. I’d hate to think I was missing anything.”

Akron Beacon Journal, June 7, 1964


HOLLYWOOD – I talked with Mary Tyler Moore a week before she received her Emmy, and quite expectedly she predicted someone else would win her category, which was best actress in a television series.

“I’d bet on Irene Ryan,” said Moore.

Later I talked with Irene Ryan, and television’s Granny Clampett was much more realistic about the situation. “Mary Tyler Moore is a leadpipe cinch to win,” she said, in a tone that mixed three parts resignation with one part bitterness.

Ryan knew she wouldn’t win because cast and crew of “The Beverly Hillbillies” are pretty much shunned by television’s so-called “In” group. The Hillbillies may be number one in the ratings, but Hollywood gives it about as much respect as Northern liberals give Alabama governor George Wallace.

Ryan also realized – as became obvious on Emmy night – that no program is more in with the “In” group than “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” And no performer this season is more in with the “In” group’s in show than Mary Tyler Moore, once regarded as her program’s weakest link. Which is why no one enjoys being the innest on the “In” group’s “in” list than Mary Tyler Moore.

As she might well express it, her feeling is “neato.”

An Emmy doesn’t necessarily mean Moore has arrived as an actress. Her critics argue that she hasn’t proven herself because her career is pretty much wrapped up in one role – as Laura Petrie, uncomplicated housewife and mother in a situation comedy. She might well be playing herself. Moore and Laura Petrie each has a son named Ritchie, and both boys are about the same age.

Moore and her TV counterpart also are married to behind-the-scenes show business people. Laura Petrie’s husband is a television comedy writer; Moore’s husband is an NBC vice president, Grant Tinker, which is why she is sometimes called “Tinker’s Toy,” a nickname she despises.

This season Moore is branching out. She did a guest appearance on “The Danny Kaye Show,” appearing in comedy sketches and displaying her dancing talent. That’s how she got into show business – as a dancer.

She doesn’t claim to have much singing talent, however, which is how she found herself in a dispute with producers of “The Ed Sullivan Show,” where she was supposed to perform last month. She accepted the offer on condition she could pre-record the song she was supposed to sing with her dance number.

When she arrived in New York to do the show she was told “The Ed Sullivan Show” doesn’t allow guests to pre-record their songs. So she went back to California without doing the show.

During our conversation she said she wouldn’t have much time in the fall to do many guest appearances on other programs, but that she had already been signed to do two more appearances on Kaye’s show, plus one on Andy Williams’ variety series.

“But first we have to work out a sponsor conflict,” she said.

[NOTE: It was fairly common during the early days of television that sponsors controlled shows and often dictated content.]

Eventually Moore wants to do movies, especially like the comedies that have become Doris Day’s specialty.

“My biggest danger is being forever typed as Laura Petrie.”

She recalled her first regular television job as Sam, the answering service operator on “Richard Diamond.” That show is in syndication now – sometimes bearing the title “Call Mr. D.” – and Moore receives residual payments of $15 per episode per area in which the program is seen. “Which goes to show not every performer gets rich from residuals,” she joked.

On television she comes across like Snow White, with jet black hair and a fair complexion.

I was surprised, therefore, that the woman who joined me for lunch had brown hair and skin that might have won an honorable mention in a freckle contest. Her voice was different, too. It lacked that whiny quality her TV role often brings out.

She had just finished a morning of house hunting in Beverly Hills and was glad to take a rest.

“We’re getting an addition to our family,” she said. “My husband’s 13-year-old son is coming to live with us.” (Tinker has three children by a former marriage.)

As she prepared to begin her fourth season, Moore said she and other members of the Van Dyke cast don’t feel they’ve gotten into a rut. She attributed the freshness to the weekly surprises born in the fertile mind of writer (and series creator) Carl Reiner.

“He’s a genius,” said Moore. “Carl comes up with a lot of unlikely comedy ideas, but he always makes them funny. I trust him so much that if he were to have me get a divorce on the show and run off with a traveling salesman, I’d say, ‘Great idea!’ because I know somehow he’d make it amusing.”

Mary Tyler Moore never made the transition from television to movies — though these days theatrical film are dominated by computer-generated images, not real people — but she more than held her own with Donald Sutherland in "Ordinary People" in 1980.

She had more luck in television films — "Just Beween Friends" (1988), with Ted Danson and Christine Lahti; "Lincoln" (1988), a two-part film in which she played Mary Todd Lincoln opposite Sam Waterston's Abraham Lincoln; "Stolen Babies" (1993), in which our sweet Mary revealed just how evil she could be, and "Blessings" (2003), which had her cast as a bitter grandmother.

She was unsuccessful in four attempts to launch another hit TV series. "The Mary Tyler Moore Hour" (1979); "Mary," (1985); "Annie McGuire" (1988), and "New York News" (1995) were all quickly canceled.

Mary Tyler Moore died in Greenwich, Connecticut, on January 25, 2017, a month after her 80th birthday.

Mary Tyler Moore on Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com)