Myself, Then and Still Sometimes
"And the Emmy goes to...Mary Tyler Moore!"
It is, if you can imagine, a pleasant punch in the stomach, a nice jolt that catapults you out of your seat, soaring above even the balcony. Then, in slow motion, the descent while you watch the audience become a court: queens and kings all applauding, welcoming you back to your rightful place among them. That's what I experienced in 1993, at the forty-fifth annual coronation celebration of its best by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. I turned to kiss my husband and reached for my father, who sat on the other side of him. Dad took my hand in both of his and kissed it.
I saw the moment as a happy-ending snapshot for the story of a child who failed as a youngster to win her father's approval and affection. Here I was urging him to get up off his knee and sit down. I felt that was a personal triumph. For Mary the actress it was a special Emmy, an award without the protective canopy of genius that surrounded me on the Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore shows.
I'd won six of the statuettes for lead actress in those years. I couldn't help but look good standing in the midst of that talent. But this Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries was the first in fourteen years.
It was for Stolen Babies, a true story about the selling of children into adoption during the years 1936 through 1944. The character was Georgia Tann, director of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. I wanted to play her because she wasn't easily pigeonholed. She had started out a dedicated social worker struggling within the imperfections of the child-welfare system. Eventually she became a self-serving manipulator of young lives and of the parents who were forced to give up their children. Too often on television the good are good and the bad say things like, "I'll destroy you." I enjoyed bringing some humanity to her pinched face and wizened spirit. And I loved the improbable casting.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air in 1977, a decision that was made by the producers and writers, who felt that they had taken their characters down all the roads that held promise during the show's seven-year run.
It had been for us all personally enriching as well as satisfying professionally, and it had been a commercial hit. The show also garnered a total of twenty-nine Emmys, a record that stands to this day.
I didn't understand why "the guys" felt that we had exhausted the show's possibilities. The truth lay in the lure of fresh fields to plow, new series such as Lou Grant, The Betty White Show, Taxi, Cosby.
Was I fearful? Nah, nothing more than the terror a child feels being lost from her parents in a shopping mall. However, I marched out with that famous smile, looked the press straight in the face, and said, "Yes, this is a creatively healthy move we're making. Quit while you're still on top!"
After the announcement, as the countdown to the last episode moved on, I could feel the separation anxiety welling up daily. I had spent more of my waking hours with the people on this show than I did with my real family, including my then husband, Grant Tinker. The years that loomed ahead in my vision without the show seemed cold and gray and threatening. I would have to come to terms with what my abilities were. Did I have any talent? Or was I mostly a very determined kid who was also very lucky?
One might think that after so many years of success at least some of these questions would have been answered for me.
But if you look carefully while walking through the park, you will see that there are snakes in the trees. And those snakes are all-knowingthey see your core. As I write it, I don't know where this dark metaphor came from. Nor do I understand the insecurities and self-doubts that created it. Perhaps as I write down my story, I'll become enlightened.
I've two very distinct inner spirits who live my life for me, playing hide-and-seek at times. I don't mean this to sound like The Three Faces of Eve or a split personality. But there does seem to be one brooding, paranoid, and pessimistic Mary Tyler Moore. I think she's the one who supplies the comedy. The other Mary is a supremely confident champion. They do battle with each other, one emerging the ruler for a time depending on outside circumstance: Am I working? Has someone been unkind? Is someone angry because of something I did (or think I did)? The possibility of the latter is the main reason I don't drive in New York City. How is it that as a successful woman I am intimidated by angry horns and yelling if I drive too slowly or make a mistake of some type?
I'm like a chameleon in that I take on the colors of success or failure, happy or sad, depending on what's going on, or how it seems to be going. They just gave me an Emmy so I must deserve itfor five minutes. If Sissy Spacek wins the Academy Award, as she did the year in which I was also nominated, it is because I am not good enough and never was. I can see with my intellect the ridiculous logic of this, but emotionally, I am, after all, the chameleon waiting to see what color I am meant to be.