The Best of The MTM Gals

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post is inspired by the recent reunion of the Mary Tyler Moore gals on last week’s Hot In Cleveland. All five of these incredibly talented women not only had the honor of appearing in one of the best written sitcoms of all time (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), but they have also each starred in other successful shows — both before and after MTM. In this post, I will list the best Mary Tyler Moore Show performance by Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Betty White, Georgia Engel, and Cloris Leachman, as well as the best performance from another one of their successful series.

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Mary Tyler Moore

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Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, this beautiful brunette starred in another excellent sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show. As Dick Van Dyke’s wife, she was beautiful, charming, and not above utter loony-ness! Moore is probably one of the luckiest sitcom ladies of all time, as both of these series are beyond brilliant. (We won’t mention her other unsuccessful TV comebacks!) But with five years as Laura Petrie and seven years as Mary Richards, Moore got 12 years of consistently strong scripts. Which character do you prefer? It’s almost impossible to choose!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 3, Episode 23: “Put On A Happy Face” (Aired: 02/24/73)

Mary is nominated for a Teddy Award and her journey to the ceremony is fraught with disaster, but she doggedly perseveres.

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Mary’s great in “Chuckles Bites The Dust,” but this episode, unlike most from this series, gives Mary the opportunity to do excellent physical comedy. With a script that’s funny from beginning to end, this is Mary Tyler Moore’s favorite episode… and maybe mine too.

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

Season 1, Episode 16: “The Curious Thing About Women” (Aired: 01/10/62)

Rob uses Laura’s faults as a premise for a comedy sketch.

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This episode, like the one above, lets Mary exercise her physical comedy skills. I recently showed this episode to a handful of 19-year-old friends and they laughed throughout the entire episode. Expertly written with a great build. Mary’s phenomenal here.

 

Valerie Harper

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This talented lady will forever be remembered as Rhoda, lovable loser and sarcastic friend of perky Mary Richards. Harper was the first of the MTM stars to be spun-off into her own series, and the first season episode of Rhoda where she marries Joe (her love interest of only eight episodes!) was one of the most watched TV moments of all time. Though the series ran out of steam and changed formats, it was never as good as that initial first season. (But still better than her domestic sitcom from the ’80s, the ill-fated Valerie.) Rhoda and Valerie Harper will be remembered forever.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 1, Episode 2: “Today I Am A Ma’am” (Aired: 09/26/70)

At Rhoda’s urging, Mary tries to deal with her singles blues by reluctantly throwing a party for all their eligible male friends.

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Though the character became more defined and got better stories as the series progressed, this early episode sets up exactly who this character is and provides the first of many Rhoda laughs. She takes charge of the episode, which features her expertly.

Rhoda (1974-1978)

Season 1, Episode 2: “You Can Go Home Again” (Aired: 09/16/74)

Rhoda faces the impossible task of finding a cheap apartment in New York.

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The best episodes of this series feature Rhoda prominently (you’d think every episode would, but that’s not the case). This early episode explores the relationship between the Morgenstern women and gives Harper a chance to be as good as she was on Mary. Maybe the best script of this entire series.  

 

Betty White

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Everyone knows Betty White. She began on live TV in the late ’40s and had sitcom success in the ’50s with Life With Elizabeth and Date With The Angels before she married Allen Ludden and became a regular Password contestant. Mary Tyler Moore revived her sitcom career and led to her second GIGANTIC success as Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls. White can currently be seen in TVLand’s Hot In Cleveland. The poster girl for classic TV, White is one of the most well known television stars of today.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 6, Episode 13: “The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home” (Aired: 12/06/75)

Sue Ann pressures Mary into helping her land a date with an extremely reluctant Lou, who finds himself in the Happy Homemaker’s lair.

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I could have picked so many episodes — “Sue Ann’s Sister” (with her vibrating bed) was a close second. What makes this episode a real winner is our glimpse into Sue Ann’s date with Lou, where she gives him one of TV’s funniest smooches. Hilarious!

The Golden Girls (1985-1992)

Season 1, Episode 13: “A Little Romance” (Aired: 12/14/85)

Rose’s interest in a very small man is completely reciprocated, so her only hangup is more a difference in altitude than attitude.

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This early episode was one of the reasons that White won an Emmy for her work in Season One. The show is centered around her character, and like another hit from a few weeks later, “In A Bed Of Rose’s,” White is excellent. Her shock at being dumped by a little person is hysterical. (Of course, her three co-stars provide laughs a plenty too — making this episode a series classic.)

 

Georgia Engel

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This sweet lady’s career is also still going strong! In addition to recurring alongside White in Hot In Cleveland, Engel just had a successful three year run as Amy’s conservative mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. A featured player on stage and screen (both small and large), Engel’s distinctive style has been immediately recognizable since her days as Ted Baxter’s bubbly girlfriend, Georgette. There’s nobody like her!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 3, Episode 18: “The Georgette Story” (Aired: 01/20/73)

Mary is angry with the way Georgette allows herself to be manipulated by Ted and tries to straighten her out with Rhoda’s help.

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One of the character’s first appearances is actually one of her funniest. With a personality that just leaps off the screen — totally unlike anyone else in the series — Engel establishes herself as a reliable recurring character. Such honesty in her portrayal too — completely believable.

Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005)  

Season 9, Episode 15: “Pat’s Secret” (Aired: 05/09/05)

Robert learns a surprising secret about his mother-in-law, Pat, when Amy’s parents visit to celebrate their daughter’s birthday.

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This is the second-to-last episode of the entire series and one of the few that’s centered on Pat. This episode is special because it takes Engel’s persona and adds a completely surprising dimension — she’s a closet chain smoker. This episode, along with “The Bird,” shows us that this lady really knows comedy.

 

Cloris Leachman

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Cloris Leachman is probably the most naturally funny MTM lady. In addition to playing Phyllis Lindstrom on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Phyllis, fans remember her as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein (1974), and for her Academy Award winning role in The Last Picture Show (1971). After an Emmy winning recurring role as Grandma Ida on Malcolm In The Middle, Leachman currently stars as Maw-Maw on FOX’s Raising Hope. Though I could include clips from any of those series, I think the best representation of her God-given comedic flair is her UPROARIOUS 2008 stint on Dancing With The Stars.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 5, Episode 18: “Phyllis Whips Inflation” (Aired: 01/18/75)

Pampered Phyllis is horrified when Lars takes away her credit cards.

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So many episodes to choose from. This was Leachman’s last Mary Tyler Moore episode before the spin-off. Leachman goes everywhere in this episode — big moments and quiet moments. Her scene with a young(er) Doris Roberts is great, and the tension-filled moment where she confronts Sue Ann is supreme.

Dancing With The Stars (2005 – )

Season 7; Week 1, Night 1 (Aired: 09/22/08)

Cloris and her partner Corky dance the foxtrot.

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As the oldest contestant ever, Cloris’s first dance and subsequent interaction with the judges is out-of-this-world. Take a look.

 

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This list just scratches the suface. For every episode I did choose, there were five more that I wanted to. Look for these series on future Situation Comedy Tuesday posts!

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And remember to tune in tomorrow as our Xena countdown continues!

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7 thoughts on “The Best of The MTM Gals

  1. Just the sight of Mary lambasting her own “perfect” image in “Put On A Happy Face” makes me smile. Another classic moment in Dick Van Dyke was in the early episode “My Blonde-Haired Brunette”. The first time we really got to see how hilariously funny Mary could be. The producers initially wanted Laura to be a more passive character, like Barbara Britton in the Carl Reiner-starring pilot or Marjorie Lord in Make Room For Daddy. Her incredible talent so impressed the producers and Dick Van Dyke that they wisely began to give her more chances to shine. Unlike other shows, I can’t think of a single bad episode of Dick Van Dyke. The show was watched every week in our house when I was a kid. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is my favorite ’70s comedy. I was running around a lot in those days, but I didn’t go out on Saturday night until after Mary, (and the other great CBS Saturday night shows). CBS owned Saturday nights in those days. Ditto with The Golden Girls. Loved that show from the first airing. Thank god for my DVD collection where I can see my favorite shows without all the annoying commercials. Another great post. Keep ’em coming!

    • Hi, Leslie! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Have been watching lots of DICK VAN DYKE (one of my favorites) to prepare for the next couple weeks of posts, and it’s invigorating to watch Mary develop. Of course they realized how great “Brunette” was and moved it up in the schedule, but it does take her about ten filmed episodes to get there. She had my friends in stitches at my sitcom fest this past summer. (We watched 12 episodes from 12 of my favorite sitcoms.) Mary was one of the MVPs… they were so impressed by her work in both series.

  2. Here are a couple of my MTM memories: The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s premiere in Chicago was at 6:00 pm instead of the regular time due to a football game bumping the show from what would be it’s regular spot. It was shown on a rather scratchy 16mm print. After the premiere, my Mother said it reminded her a lot of That Girl, although she enjoyed it. I loved it from the start. My other vivid memory is the fourth season premiere. I was watching at a friend’s house and instantly fell in love with Sue Ann, making her debut in that show. I admit I really didn’t know much about Betty White in those days, only having seen her on Password or hosting the Tournament Of Roses parade. I hadn’t seen her early sitcoms, Life With Elizabeth or Date With The Angels, in both of which she played the sweet housewife type. My first impression of Betty as an actress was of man-crazy, bitchy Sue Ann. I have loved her ever since.

  3. BTW, the MTM show that you covered from Season 3 originally aired 2/24/73, not 2/24/74. I just saw “Put on a Happy Face” with a friend, and we both thought it was hilarious, as Mary’s week got worse & worse, and she was really funny throughout. I found this as I was searching your archives for a detailed description of this particular episode. I figured you had it in your Top 10 for that year, and since I read about it here, I figure now it was likely your MVE for that MTM season.

  4. I agree with you about “Put on a Happy Face” being MTM’s best on her eponymous series–surely it’s the episode she submitted for the 1972-73 Emmy (which she won)! But while I agree that “The Curious Thing About Women” is terrific, my vote for Mary’s best work on a Van Dyke episode is season four’s “Pink Pills and Purple Parents” where Laura gets zonked out on Millie’s tranquilizers and makes an…uh, unforgettable first impression on Rob’s parents. Mary is hysterically funny here, and it’s fun to see Rob as straight man and Laura as the wacky one. If only the Emmys hadn’t messed with the awards process in 1965 I bet Mary could have won an Emmy for PPAPP.

    • Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I agree about the strength of Moore’s performance in the above mentioned fourth season episode, although I think the installment suffers from an overbearing broadness that strains all the performers, including Moore, and forces them to work harder to overcome a narrative lack of credulity that’s more tightly handled (and better motivated by the characters, especially Laura’s) in “The Curious Thing About Women,” ultimately making the latter a less illogically encumbered affair. But enjoyable episodes with Moore, both!

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