By Chuck Marshall
Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People 1980
*Today I break away from politics. Readers should keep in mind that "Marshall in the Middle" also reflects my middle class background and experiences so I'd like to indulge that aspect of this blog today and will probably do so more often in the future.
Sad news yesterday that Mary Tyler Moore passed away. I was a huge fan of hers, and watched, "The Mary Tyler Moore" show with my family as a kid. She was a beautiful, modern, intelligent, funny and independent woman all while maintaining her femininity. Her show demonstrated smart stories with an edge that never took themselves too seriously or bashed you over the head with their politics. Funny and smart. An accomplished actress, Mary Tyler Moore was also widely regarded as an astute business woman running MTM productions with her second husband, Grant Tinker that produced a huge list of very popular programs in the 1970's and 80's. I greatly admired her.
Nominated for an Oscar for Ordinary People., she played the icy mother of the lead character, Conrad Jared (played by Timothy Hutton who won the Oscar for "best supporting actor", a ludicrous title since he was the LEAD actor, not the supporting actor), and after watching that movie I knew her talent had more dimensions than anyone thought. Always the funny, open protagonist, her character in Ordinary People was nothing like that. This is one of my favorite movies for what I consider the best acting demonstrated from every single main character; Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, Timothy Hutton and of course Mary Tyler Moore along with superb directing from Robert Redford. I still don't think its been topped in my mind for acting talent.
This movie has a lot of personal connections also. It came out my senior year in high school (1980) when the lead character is also around that age. I identified with him and his awkward nature, his cynicism, resistance to sports, frequent masturbation (LOL- a somewhat taboo subject at the time) and a tendency to read too deeply into other people's motives. My English teacher that year was EXTREMELY popular and she had a son who was acting out in LA. He had auditioned for the part of Conrad's deceased brother (shown in flashbacks). My English teacher's son was killed that same year that Ordinary People came out, 1980, in a tragic, senseless shooting. I remember a friend of mine read the letter from our teacher to the class regarding the entire tragedy- it was one of the most moving things I have ever heard. The conclusion went something like this; "the last thing David said to me was "I love you Mom" so don't wait, take the time, go to your parents and tell them you love them." Our class was dead quiet except for girls crying for 10 minutes straight. I wanted to cry too. Understandably, our teacher was never the same after that. Her inspired teaching and efforts diminished by a crazy woman in California. I witnessed a broken heart. This was the beginning of an anger in me towards people who find excuses or sympathize with murderers. The wounds to the heart and soul of the family will never diminish. It will never really be over for them.
So, you see this movie has enormous connections to me and I think consequently caused me to scrutinize the movie and Mary Tyler Moore's performance more than I think I might have otherwise. Everyone always says how "icy" her character was, and it was, but there's also a window of vulnerability and intelligence and pain and authenticity that Mary Tyler Moore revealed that I don't think any other actress could have done. As many of you know, "black and white" don't settle well with me and her nuanced performance of a complicated woman who lost a son in an accident and nearly lost another to suicide was remarkable. Mary Tyler Moore offered up the character as more than just "the bad mother" that she could have easily done. It was done with facial expression and body language by a brilliant woman. It was an intelligent and moving demonstration of superior acting. She was nominated for the Oscar as best actress but didn't win.
Goodbye Mary Tyler Moore and rest in peace. You were a national treasure.