I was deeply saddened to learn of the death this week of Mary Tyler Moore, at age 80. She was a television icon and, through The Mary Tyler Moore Show, an inspiration to a generation of young women who saw, through her example, that living and working as a single woman in a big city was a viable alternative to more traditional paths.
It’s not a coincidence that Mary Tyler Moore starred in two of the very best situation comedies the small screen has ever produced. I loved her as Laura Petrie in the Dick Van Dyke Show; she was talented and funny and a perfect foil for Van Dyke’s classic brand of physical and facial comedy. (“Oh, Rob!”) But The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also a lasting, brilliant contribution to the medium of television, with one of the greatest ensemble casts ever assembled and some of the greatest comedy writing as well.
In my view, the “Chuckles Bites The Dust” episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is arguably the funniest single episode of any network sitcom in the history of television, period, and its final scene, shown above, demonstrates Mary Tyler Moore’s enormous range as a comedic actor. For those who haven’t seen the episode, a local TV personality named Chuckles the Clown is killed in a mishap — dressed as his character Peter Peanut, he is brutally shelled by a rogue elephant — and for most of the episode the characters make jokes about Chuckles’ demise while Mary Richards, the soul of rectitude, is offended by their cavalier attitude about Chuckles’ death. In this final scene, though, Mary just can’t hold it in any longer, and the result is one of the great turns by any TV actor, anywhere.
Mary Tyler Moore was one of the giants. She will be missed.