I Never Wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore

After Mary Tyler Moore died recently, several celebrity women said they were inspired by her character in her eponymous 1970s show, about a single career woman.


I hadn’t even entered double digits in age when The Mary Tyler Moore Show first aired. And to be fair, I was not their target viewer. But to me, the whole scenario had a pall over it. Mary had broken up with her boyfriend and was thirty (which seemed so very far, far away), and was starting over with no friends or family. The outside shots tended to show the house at night during a snow storm. So very, very cold.

Even worse, though Mary was 30, she had no serious romantic prospects. During the run of the show, you’d see a “date” but then he would never show up again. Why not? By the time the show ended, she was deep into her thirties, her situation hadn’t changed that much. I never aspired to be Mary. The thought was nightmarish.


Even worse, its broadcast time conflicted with my favorite show, The Partridge Family. I was permitted to watch “my” show only when Mary was in reruns. But what a difference! The Partridge family had each other. David Cassidy’s character, Keith, had romantic prospects, but he was young so if they didn’t work out, it didn’t feel depressing. The outside shots showed a perennially blue, bright daytime sky. At night, they donned ruffled shirts and sang happy songs. I wore out the grooves on my copy of “I Can Feel Your Heartbeat.”  Everyone was doing well and the future was as bright as the sky.


Both shows, in different ways, helped me define what trajectory I wanted for my life. As for Mary? Yes, I majored in Journalism in college, but my inspiration for writing came from novelists as well as people I knew, such as family and teachers. At 21, week after college graduation, I married my husband. By 31, I had given birth to two children. I had made it, but by following a path that still makes me happy.


Just as with television, books help us make decisions and set goals. If you don’t like the way a character’s life looks, what will you do differently? And how? Or, if you are inspired by a character, how can you take the same path? Both positive and negative impressions are key takeaways in fiction, and why we read novels.

Your turn:

What character inspired you?

What character didn’t appeal to you?

How did you respond?



30 Responses to I Never Wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore

  1. Terri February 2, 2017 at 5:43 am #

    Hey Tamela, I can’t say I ever found The Mary Tyler Moore show depressing. She struck me as life didn’t turn out quite like I expected, but I’m making the best of it.

    As for being inspired by a TV character, I honestly don’t think I was. Like you, I enjoyed The Partridge Family – David Cassidy was a cutie. ?

  2. Loretta Eidson February 2, 2017 at 5:56 am #

    I never watched The Mary Tyler Moore show. After five minutes it didn’t suit my taste. I preferred The Partridge Family. I loved the closeness of the family and how they settled their problems. I want my characters to figure out how to correct the wrongs in their lives and trust God in everything.

  3. Judith Robl February 2, 2017 at 5:57 am #

    For me, Mary was escape fiction.

    By the time she came along, I was deep into marriage, and the youngest of my four children was born in 1972.

    Just the thought of having a space of my own (let alone a private bathroom) and no one to answer to for my time… Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

    I think the character I most modeled my life after was from a book my godfather gave me when I was about twelve. Title was Judith, Daughter of Jericho. It revolved around her learning to know God.

  4. Robin Bayne February 2, 2017 at 7:09 am #

    Also preferred Bradys and Partridges, but did watch MTM. Never wanted to be her though!

  5. Cindy Fowell February 2, 2017 at 8:24 am #

    Perspective I hadn’t thought of before. When I think of Mary Tyler Moore, I remember her role in the Dick Van Dyke Show. The warmth of marriage and family and the crazy situations they were in week after week.
    As for character influence: Jo from Little Women. Always wanted to be an author just like she did.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 2, 2017 at 1:00 pm #

      Cindy, that first role was a lot closer to my real life!

  6. Chuck Thompson February 2, 2017 at 8:58 am #

    I think that without the Ted Baxter character, the show would have been even more depressing. I liked the “sunny” atmosphere of the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch a whole lot more.

  7. Jay Payleitner February 2, 2017 at 9:11 am #

    Are you kidding me? Rob Petrie! Hanging around a NYC office and writing comedy for a living! What a blast. Either that or one of those shows that had a fictional advertising agency: Bewitched, thirtysomething, Bosom Buddies, or, more recently, Mad Men.

  8. Nora Spinaio February 2, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    The MTM show did inspire me some. I liked her independence and never thought anything on it was depressing…except maybe the price on the meat in the opening credits. LOL

    TV characters that I found inspiring were John Boy Walton and Hoss Cartwright (him not so much inspiring but he was as sweet as pumpkin pie).

    I like certain characters from books and TV including David Cassidy. I always thought the Partridge family and the Brady bunch were a little on the silly side…but that was the point.

    As for inspiration, there’s a few in fiction, a few in non-fiction, and a few in real life which is also the point. 🙂

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 2, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

      Nora, I have a vague memory of a “meat shortage” so the observation about the price of meat at the time is well-taken!

  9. Carol Ashby February 2, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    I watched a lot of TV in those days, but I didn’t have a female character that inspired me. I enjoyed the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I loved Star Trek. Mr. Spock was by far the best character, but Scotty the engineer was pretty cool as well. I liked the spy shows, too, with Illya Kuryakin being my favorite character. Again, the scientific, intellectual type with engineering skills is what appealed. In the 80s, MacGyver was a blast with the way he could kluge a solution to any problem with whatever odds and ends he had on hand.

    I still like the cerebral techie guys. I went into science as my own career, and I married one of those scientific guys decades ago. He’s been a great husband, an excellent father, and he loves God as much as I do. He can kluge with the best of them, and it took him no time at all to design and build a tray that lets me use my laptop on the exercise bike.

    I wonder if I would have considered a science career so attractive without seeing the admirable science types in the TV shows. Going into science or engineering was not something many girls did in the early 70’s. When I told one of my mother’s friends about my major, she replied, “You can always change your mind.”

    • Linda K. Rodante February 2, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

      Your answer is wonderful–especially as I liked the same type of shows you did–I also liked cerebral guys. Even today, I don’t get the girls running after a “hunk.” It’s the inside (heart and head) that matters. 🙂

      • Carol Ashby February 2, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

        I agree, Linda. A handsome package sometimes hides low-quality merchandise. I have to confess that my guy is still pretty hunky even though he’s retired, but it wasn’t his athletic build that won my heart. (It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t the main attraction.) He’s the model for the better parts of my male characters: kind, smart, and reliable with a heart that loves God and knows what’s truly important. I love writing those kinds of men.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 2, 2017 at 1:04 pm #

      Carol, what a hilarious quote! My daddy’s father told him that Daddy didn’t need to send me to college because I’m a girl. I’m glad he (and Momma) didn’t listen!

  10. Martha Whiteman Rogers February 2, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    I did like the MTM show, but liked her on Dick Van Dyke show as well. I never thought about her age, but I was already married and had children, and MTM and I were born the same year, so age was just a number.

    Our boys watched the Partridge Family and loved it as well as The Brady Bunch. Because I had three sons, I watched Fred McMurray on My Three Sons and enjoyed the relationship they had.

    I was never really inspired by a TV or movie character. The one who inspired me was Jo March. I read Little Women so many times the book came apart, and I wanted to be a writer like her and imagined early on what it would be like to be a writer. I bought another copy of the book several years go simply because I wanted a copy. I also have a Jo March doll designed by Wendy Lawton. It’s one of my treasures.

  11. Sheri Dean Parmelee February 2, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    Tamela, this may sound really weird, but I was inspired by Lucille Ball and her never-ending quest to be somebody on I Love Lucy. She literally never gave up and I found that heart-warming. Sure, she never exactly succeeded either, but her spirit could never be totally crushed.
    Who did I hate? Nobody, really, though those folks on the soap operas never accomplished their dreams. You couldn’t fix their problems, ever, and neither could they.
    Great posting!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 2, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

      Sheri, your comment reminds me of what my aunt said when she stopped watching soap operas. “They (the actors) have to have some kind of problem to stay on there.”

      No happy endings on the soaps!

    • Jm September 16, 2019 at 11:58 am #

      Im writing this after googling the mtm show while watching an episode on tv. Im a man in his 40s and i agree that i felt there was a melancholy to the show and the opening song despite its positive lyrics, “You’re gonna make it after all”, was maybe referring to the ‘new start’ you referred to in your article. I think for some people and especially women, who never got married it could be hopefull or accepting of their own lives. Mary may have been braver for making a new start rather than accepting her prior situation. Today, many shows show single people who may never marry. I dont think it’s necessarily better but it reflects todays demographics. I wish i was married and living in a great marriage w kids! But it never happened and there was never a hint of it in my life. Maybe i never wanted it bad enough but no one ever gave me a reason to think it would happen. Mtm is a great actress with great eyes and her character was emotional, smart but KIND. And Rhoada was a knockout. Enjoyed reading your article and the responses.

  12. Ann February 2, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    I really liked the Mary Tyler Moore show and found the character very inspiring. I think for many people – like Mary – life doesn’t turn out as planned, and Mary was a great example of moving on and enjoying life. Not everyone has the same idea of what a perfect life is. I watched the Partridge Family but honestly found it a litte silly. I also enjoyed I Love Lucy for sheer fun and The Bob Newhardt Show.

  13. KT Sweet February 2, 2017 at 11:29 am #

    I didn’t much watch MTM, that I remember joining the workforce in the late 70’s thinking women deserved to move up the corporate ladder. I was in a male-dominated profession, too. Success was more important than most everything else. To survive, I needed to succeed. That was my best understanding at the time.

    Reading about MTM’s life in the obituaries, it reminded me how I/we can reach for the apple fully believing we’re reaching for something wholesome, powerful, even. Yet, it’s biting into the apple, not the abundant life.

    My life hasn’t turned out as I planned. We all know what God says about man’s plans. Thankfully, God had a better plan for me. Relationships are what matter most, not our successes or interminable striving. I hope she found peace. A beneficial role model shows us how to be fruitful and connected to others in deep ways.

  14. Linda K. Rodante February 2, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    Wow. At first I thought I was the only one in the country who never aspired to be Mary! The few times I watched it, I thought, My goodness what a dumb life and character. Not very generous there, I admit; but to me life was so much more. Anyway, thank you for the post. It made me feel not so alone 🙂

  15. Heidi Gaul February 2, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

    I LOVED the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Of course, I’m older than you, so my perspective is different. I loved her optimistic attitude. Just knowing she was willing to wait for the right man rather than settle gave me tremendous hope. After 35 years of sharing married life with a wonderful man, I can say that show helped me a lot. I learned it was okay to be a woman with high intelligence, capable of caring for myself—and to still want to be a wife and mother. And that it was just fine to laugh at life, and especially myself! It meant enough to me that I wouldn’t schedule dates for Saturday night.

  16. Damon J. Gray February 3, 2017 at 6:26 am #

    I quietly chuckle to myself as I read through the comments and enjoy the varied reactions and responses. As a young boy, with three older sisters and no brothers, I had no choice but to endure the MTM Show. As a 55 year old husband, I now lovingly sit next to my best friend/wife as she still watches MTM on DVD.

    Growing up in the 60s, my sisters subjected me to MTM, Room 222, That Girl, and the like. My preference leaned more toward Mannix, Hawaii 5-O, or Mission Impossible. But by the time dad got home, we knew we were in for an evening of westerns with the Cartwrights, Victoria Barkley, or a John Wayne movie.

    These experiences helped mold me into the man I am today. With three older sisters, I learned the world largely through their eyes, and as a result, my best friends throughout life have been female. With the influence of Ben, Hoss, and The Duke, I learned the value of integrity, hard work, the often-quantifiable difference between right and wrong.

    What little television my wife and I watch today is what we find on retro channels, not because we are living in the past, but because we will gladly accept the portrayed values of those days over the endless stream of trash fed to us by today’s entertainers. Otherwise, we will spend the evening with a box of dominoes, or a good book and some soft music.

  17. Cleo Lampos February 3, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    Thank you for this blog. I feel the same about Mary Tyler Moore and her lonely existence. I longed for a family and friends, too.

  18. Heather Morse Alexander February 3, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    Yes, yes, yes! I appreciate this so much. Mary didn’t impact my thinking much…but I did have a major crush on David Cassidy. 😉 I liked Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” but I don’t remember why she and her boyfriend Donald never got married, or did they eventually? She bumbled around and didn’t let things get her down, and I related to that, being a bit of a bumbler myself. 🙂

  19. Natalie Monk February 6, 2017 at 10:05 am #

    Though I wasn’t born when the show first aired, I never cared for MTM reruns when they came on, simply because of the look of the show. Hard to explain, but probably something to do with the cameras and filming style. I never watched an episode long enough to learn what the story was about.

    The plot sounds interesting to me now, since I’m nearing thirty and still single but have always dreamed of marriage and family. I’m blessed enough to still live at home and share in the family ministry, though. So days aren’t as lonesome as they sound to be on MTM. Thank goodness!

    Anne of Green Gables, The Music Man, Red River, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and Runaway Bride were my favorite movies growing up. I always wanted a “bosom friend,” whom I discovered in my sister after we passed the hair-pulling stage. Then I’d dream of being protected from a wagon train raid by a handsome Montgomery Clift. Nowadays that prospect sounds more scary than thrilling. I did become a piano teacher like Marian Paroo and a writer like Anne Shirley, and I’m even a screwdriver wielding “fix-it” girl like Maggie Carpenter. But marrying into a family of redheaded mountain men is still among the list of possibilities. Ha! 🙂

    Fun post, Tamela!

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