Mary Tyler Moore at The Richmond Forum

Mary Tyler Moore, who died yesterday at age 80, had a memorable appearance, both funny and poignant, 19 years ago at The Richmond Forum. Here’s the story, from The Forum Files: The Stories Behind The Richmond Forum:

Mary Tyler Moore waits in the Landmark Theater green room with a friend in March 1999. (Photograph: The Richmond Forum)

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The [March 21, 1998] headliner was Mary Tyler Moore, star of what are considered two of television’s best situation-comedies: The Dick Van Dyke Show and her own Mary Tyler Moore show. Stepping up to the lectern, she quickly sized up the situation:

“I think I know what you want from the story of my life.

“You want smut.”

The audience roared.

As is usually the case with stars, what everyone really wanted was behind-the-scenes stories, which she delivered.

Her first TV role was as Sam, a sexy switchboard operator on Richard Diamond: Private Detective whose legs and lips were all that were shown, but Moore became a women’s role model. Even as a suburban housewife in The Dick Van Dyke Show, she said, “I wore pants. TV wives didn’t do that. TV wives wore full-length floral flocks with high heels–usually while they were vacuuming.” Then, as the star of her own show, she was a single, independent career woman.

Not every role on her show was so positive, she revealed.

Popular Ted Knight, who played bumbling anchorman Ted Baxter, grew so tired of playing an idiot that he broke down in tears in front of the producer, Moore confided. “He said, “I can’t play Ted Baxter anymore. People think I’m stupid and I’m not. I’m an intelligent, well-read man and people think I’m a schmuck.”

The producer had nearly persuaded Knight to return to the role as it was when a staffer came in and clapped Knight on the back, Moore said. “He said, ‘Ah, Ted, America’s favorite schmuck.’ “

Mary Tyler Moore and friend, in "The Forum Files"

The Forum Files: The Stories Behind The Richmond Forum, copyright Ray McAllister and The Richmond Forum
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