Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Saturday Night With Mary & More

Today the entertainment world and TV fans all over the country are remembering Mary Tyler Moore who passed away yesterday at the age of 80. 

A ground breaking TV actress, Miss Moore was a role model for many many of the young baby boomer girls in the 1960s. Her star started to shine when she played Laura Petrie, Rob's wife on the Dick Van Dyke show. 

Her role was supposed to be that of the supportive wife but she made it so much more. She quickly became a break out star. Laura was as funny as Lucy but with sex appeal. Mary Tyler Moore made that character so much stronger than any other stay-at-home character on TV had been before. 

 Then in the 1970s she starred in her own show. As Mary Richards she pioneered the way single women are portrayed on television. 

One of the things that made the MTM show funny and popular was the supporting characters portrayed by talented ensemble cast. The actors and characters were so well liked 3 of them were developed into spinoffs: Ed Asner as Lou Grant, Valerie Harper as Rhoda, and Cloris Leachman as Phyllis.  Here are a couple pictures of that amazing group. 

 A couple of years ago I listened to the audio version of a very interesting book about the history of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. If you are a fan of the show, I highly recommend picking up a copy. You'll learn a lot of the people behind the scenes and cast you didn't know.

The thing that makes TV shows and their stars endure the test of time and continue to loved by millions over the years is how it continues to resonate with each fan. Everyone has their own personal memories of how their favorite TV shows fits into their life story. 

For me, the Mary Tyler Moore Show was part of what I consider the best night of television ever. I'm talking about the CBS Saturday Night lineup throughout the mid 1970s. 
Although the combination of programs varied over the course of the years, the lineup I remember most consisted of these shows:
8:00-All In The Family
8:30-The Jeffersons
9:00-Mary Tyler Moore Show
9:30-Bob Newhart Show
10:00-Carol Burnette Show

I enjoyed this line up so much that, most Saturday nights while I was in high school, I make it a point to stay home just to hang out with the Bunkers, George & Weezy, the WJN news team, Bob Hartley's therapy group, Eunice & Ed Higgins and their Mama. 

Blogger's Note: Okay, I'll admit, the lack of friends, dates, a driver's license and a car were the main reasons I was home on Saturday night. But the CBS Saturday night comedies were responsible for the best night in television, at that time in my life.  On a lot of those  Saturday nights my parents were usually out visiting friends and my sister was staying over night at a cousin's or friend's house. So it was the only time I had the house, fridge and TV to myself. Other than a girl, what more could a teenage boy want? Because of this I really didn't mind that I didn't have anything else to do and I enjoyed staying home alone on a weekend night.  

I remember one night that all the previously mentioned friends from TV land were there for an very significant first in my life. 

It was a Saturday night in December 1977, during my senior year in high school. As had become the "norm" I found myself with the house all to myself. 

A new pizza place (I think it was called "Apollo Pizza") had just opened across the bridge in Easton and it offered free delivery to certain parts of the Phillipsburg area. This was in the days before the big pizza chains were around and home delivery from any restaurant was very rare. I was really excited when I found out that my house was in their delivery area. 

I had earned some spending money that week, so I treated myself. As "All In The Family" came on, I called and ordered a large 16 inch pie with extra cheese, sausage and mushrooms. The guy who took my order said they were very busy and it would be about 45 minutes. 

Right as the closing credits for "The Jeffersons"
 were running and the Mary Tyler Moore show was on the way, my dinner arrived at my front door. 

Other than friendly neighbors or members of our church, it was the first time I could remember anyone delivering food to our house. 

With all the elements to the perfect Saturday night in place (sans friends or a girlfriend) I set the pizza box on the dining room with the top open, facing into the living room. 

Then I put up a snack tray in front of the couch facing the TV. It had a plate, a can of soda, and some napkins. I was set for my feast. 

As the CBS eye logo came on the screen...
   ...and the announcer declared, "This Is CBS", I was pulling the first of eight slices from the box. The hot melty cheese resistantly stretched in effort to remain with the rest of the pie. But eventually it snapped away. The aroma of Italian seasonings delighted my olfactory zones,  and my plate was loaded with deliciousness. 

By the time I was settled onto the couch ready to take that much anticipated first bite, Sonny Curtis had finished singing the line, "You're gonna make it after all" and Mary's iconic hat had been thrown thrown into the air. 

I took my first bite just as Mary Richards was walking into the WJN news room greeting Murray who was tapping away at his manual type writer, making a lame joke at the expense of anchorman, Ted Baxter. 

Soon I finished that first slice and started second. When the opening billboard for Bob Newhart Show ran over the scenes of it's star leaving his office, commuting through Chicago to get home to Emily (which is the title of the theme song, by the way), I was on my 3rd slice.

After finishing #3 I thought of something that I hadn't considered until then. I had never had the opportunity to eat an entire pizza before. I mean I paid for it with my own money. It was mine. It's fate was totally up to me. That's when I set the goal to for the first time in my life, finish a whole pizza.  

As Carol Burnette came out to answer the audience questions at the start of her show, I was on slice 5. I was a bit full but after "resting" for a few minutes; I was back at it again. 

I was a teenage boy with one of nature's most amazing combinations: a bottomless pit for a stomach and an seemingly endless appetite. I had challenged myself with this quest. There was no going back now. I was going to do it, no matter what.  

At 11PM when the WCAU news anchor man came on the air with the news out of Philadelphia, the pizza box was empty and my stomach was overfull.  I had eaten an entire 16 inch pizza for the first time in my life, in the space of 2 hours. 

I knew I had achieved an accomplishment to brag about with the guys at school on Monday. But that was a couple of days away. 

There was now something on the horizon that I  hadn't considered until I let loose with that very first post-consumption burp and looked at the empty box on the table.

How my parents would react once they came home and saw the evidence of how I had spent my evening? My first inclination was that they wouldn't be pleased. I decided to do my best to do everything I could not to have to discover the answer to that question.  

I took the pizza box to the kitchen, strategically placing it between the between the tall trash can and the stove. It was as hidden as much as possible. I was pretty sure the white side of the stove would serve as camouflage. I was banking on the fact that like a chameleon the evidence would remain hidden in plain sight. At the very least maybe they wouldn't see it for a day or two. By then it would be too late to chastise me for my gluttony. 

Don't ask me why I didn't just tear up the box and put into the metal covered trash can on our back porch.  I was a kid. The fear of being "caught" by my parents clouded the logic in my under developed mind. 

I also decided that another strategic move would be to be in bed and asleep when they came home. I went to my room, and started watching Saturday Night Live on my small portable black & white TV. I fell asleep before mom & dad got home. I didn't realize that being in bed before they got home served to raise their suspicions rather than defer them. 

At one point, my dad woke me up when he opened my door but I pretended to be deep into dreamland. He lingered a long few seconds but didn't bother me. 

The next morning, I was awakened by the sun shining bright into my bedroom window. I meandered downstairs and there my mom & dad were at the dining room table drinking coffee. 

They both turned to me with a look that was a combination of both wonder and disdain. "A whole pizza? Really Ronnie?" my mom asked with a bit of amazement in her voice. I swallowed hard, took a beat to decide how I would answer. 

"I was hungry and there were some good TV shows on", I returned. "I paid for it with my own money" I added in my defense. My dad shook his head, "I don't know about you, Son". With that they both shook their heads and went back to their coffee cups. The conversation was over. 

Happy that I wasn't in any kind of trouble, I turned and went into the kitchen, got a bowl, spoon, the box of Raisin Bran and the gallon container of milk. I was hungry. 

As I ate my breakfast while watching Charles Kuralt report a story on the CBS Sunday morning news show. I smiled to myself. Sure, it was most likely that some of the guys I knew had spent the night before sharing a bucket of popcorn with their date. A night that would soon be forgotten. But I,  unforgettably, had eaten a whole pizza. 

Me and my Saturday night TV friends had our own special memory. One that I knew I would be sharing with my school friends with pride on Monday.  Now, I share that story with you 40 years later. It's my way of demonstrating to you what the Mary Tyler Moore show meant to me.  

Mary Tyler Moore was just as much of an influence outside the world of TV as she was within. You can access stories and articles online about all the things she advocated throughout her life. She will be remembered for all of them. 

Because recollections of history turned personal are called "memories" I felt today was the day to share with you one of my favorite memories about a night in December 1977, when me and my favorite TV shows shared a pizza...kinda. 

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