By Alice Walton, City News Service
Mary Tyler Moore, who rose to fame as housewife Laura Petrie on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and became a household name as television news producer Mary Richards on the classic comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Sunday night.
Moore, 75, was presented the award by her former television husband, Dick Van Dyke, at the SAG Awards ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium.
The actress/producer told the crowd there was a reason she became known as Mary Tyler Moore, instead of just Mary Moore.
“In 1955, I was 18 years old determined to make my father proud and prove to the sisters at Immaculate Heart High School that I would indeed amount to something,” she said. “So I sought out the Screen Actors Guild in hopes of becoming a member, but there was a small problem. It seems there were six other Mary Moores on the SAG pages. Word came back, `Wanna work in the business? Change your name, sweetheart.’
“Change my name? Oh come on, no, I’m Mary. Mary Moore. Everybody is going to know my name. I can’t change my name. Besides, what would my father say? I mean it’s his name too.”
Moore said it was then she realized she shared a middle name with her father — George Tyler Moore.
“Tyler was my middle name too,” she said. “I was Mary Tyler Moore. I spoke it out loud. Mary Tyler Moore. It sounded right. So I wrote it down on the form, and it looked right. It was right. SAG was happy, my father was happy. And tonight, after having the privilege of working in this business among the most creative and talented people imaginable, I too am happy, after all.”
Moore won four Emmy Awards for her work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which earned a total of 29 during its seven-year run. The show was developed by the production company MTM, which was formed by Moore and her then-husband, Grant Tinker.
MTM became the production house behind classic comedies such as “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart” and “WKRP in Cincinnati,” along with the dramas “Hill Street Blues,” “The White Shadow,” which starred Howard as a high school basketball coach, and “St. Elsewhere.”
On the big screen, Moore earned an Oscar nomination for her role as a mother coping with the death of her son and attempted suicide of another in “Ordinary People.” She also appeared in films such as “Six Weeks” and “Flirting with Disaster.”
“I love that woman,” Dyke said in presenting the award. “I know everybody loves her, but I mean, I’m serious about it, and I saw her first. I love her, I always have.
“We all met her when she was 23 years old — beautiful and bright and talented, and I said my now-famous line, `Do you think she can do comedy?’ And we all had a kind of a front-row seat watching Mary discover little by little what she was capable of, and as it turns out … she was Katherine Hepburn, she was Lucille Ball, she was Judy Garland, she was Ginger Rogers.
“She was one of the few performers, women, who could do a flat-out comedy scene, slapstick, and still be beautiful and feminine and adorable. She has one thing I’ve never told anybody. She is slightly psychic. She always knew what I was gonna do before I did it.”
Moore was diagnosed with Type I diabetes in 1970, and has been a vocal and visible advocate for people living with the disease. She has been the international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since 1984 and has repeatedly testified before Congress in support of increased funding for diabetes research.
“Mary Tyler Moore won our hearts as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards, our respect as her production company became synonymous with quality television, our awe as she tackled difficult subject matter in film and on Broadway, and our admiration as she turned her public recognition into a catalyst to draw attention to critical and deeply personal health and social issues,” SAG President Ken Howard said.
“She truly embodies the spirit behind SAG Life Achievement Award, and we are honored to proclaim her as its 18th recipient.”