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.
What character inspired you?
What character didn’t appeal to you?
How did you respond?