Mary Tyler Moore was an idol for all baby boomers. A TV icon. A feminist who artfully and beautifully paved the way for so many women to “make it on their own.” Just saying her name evokes incredible memories for me. At a time when other young twenty-somethings were at the discos dancing to Saturday Night Fever, I was happily cradling my newborn as Mary Richards came twirling into my living room.
I was all settled down in my favorite rocking chair—comfy and cozy and ready to nurse, with a beer on the end table. Suddenly, there was a chill in the air, and I could feel the hairs standing to attention on the back of my neck. I froze for a moment, then relaxed in the realization that it was just my husband who had tiptoed into the room to take in the maternal scene. I, “Mother Earth,” tilted my chin up, smiling my singularly loving smile, (almost as wide as Mary’s) at my adoring husband. I struck a pose—angelically batting my eyes and cupping the baby’s head gently. Then I reached to take a swig of beer before putting our baby to my breast, and his hand grabbed mine. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Me and Mary
“Don’t look at me that way.” I said, jerking my hand from his and tipping the glass, beer trickling on the baby’s brow. “The nurse from St. Mary’s said that beer actually lets my milk down… and she’s a nun!”
“She said that, did she? And what is she going to do if our daughter grows up to be an alcoholic.”
“Well,” I snapped, “There’s always Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Success! He stormed out of the living room and retreated to his man-cave for Saturday Night Sports. He may have been pouting, but I was rejoicing to be left alone with my baby, and my mentor: Mary Tyler Moore….
Who can turn the world on with her smile?
I remembered when I used to do that. I would smile and people would smile back at me.
Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
I was good at that, too. If it was raining, I would make a cake, or clean a closet.
Well, it’s you girl, and you should know it…
Yes, it’s me and NO ONE would know it, fat and bloated with postpartum depression. I joined in to sing to my baby: “Love is all around and… You just MIGHT make it after aaall!”
I watched as Mary threw her hat in the air, and had goosebumps up and down my flabby arms–milk now trickling inside my MuMu and settling in the creases of folds that encircled my once tiny waist. As she twirled, skinny legs and all, I saw the me of 3 years ago, before marriage and motherhood had stretched my 23-inch waist into some unrecognizable mass twice its size. I was disgusted with the monster body I was now living in. But, as a conscientious nursing mother, I knew I needed to eat to produce milk.
Me and Mary
I found my sustenance and comfort in popcorn with lots of dairy: butter and Parmesan cheese. Shoving a handful in my mouth, I watched as Mary entered the newsroom at WJM-TV in Minneapolis. I could totally relate! I too, was working at a TV station newsroom in St. Louis. I was an associate producer of a talk show that beamed from the lobby of the Chase Park Plaza. Ironically, my husband and I had met there also, in the SteepleChase Bar, where I was a guest on the Harry Fender Show to promote an upcoming play I was in: “Mary, Mary” with Marjorie Lord (Danny Thomas’ wife in Make Room for Daddy). The show aired in the morning, and we produced the next day’s line-up in the afternoon. It was very romantic. He proposed to me at the closing night cast party, and we announced our engagement on the air the next morning. Later, after marriage, I became the Lucy to his Ricky: doing anything I could to get “on-air”–including announcing guests, singing and dancing (luckily when most viewers were sleeping), and staying up for 24 hours on the Variety Telethon. My husband wasn’t impressed, and like most men of the era, he really wanted me home in an apron–but he quickly learned that he would go hungry unless we moved out of his bachelor apartment and into the Chase, where food was readily available.
Our rogue general manager decided to make me the first female anchorwoman in St. Louis. I was so proud of myself–and was so busy with my new job, I didn’t realize that this shrewd man was not only saving money by having me work 3 jobs, but ensuring his own job security by having the boss’ wife so, well… happy! Just as Mary worked with her producer husband, Grant Tinker, to create MTM and the character of Mary Richards in the Newsroom of WJM-TV in Minneapolis, I worked with producer husband, Ted Koplar, to create NewsWatch as the on-air personality “Nancy Scanlon” in the KPLR-TV Newsroom in St. Louis.
Reminiscing about the position that I would soon return to after my maternity leave, I began rocking back and forth, the rhythm of the rocking in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the baby nursing and my crunching on kernels. Rock back, baby suckles, rock forward, stop–take a handful of popcorn –Rock back, rock forward, stop– take a sip of beer. Swallowing my 4th mouthful of beer, I joined in singing, “Well it’s you and everybody knows it.”
Yeah, it’s still me, Nancy Scanlon, even though no one would suppose it! Sitting here looking and feeling like a dairy cow, moo-ing my postpartum woes. My milk was definitely letting down now, and my depression lifting. I pictured taking over for Mary Tyler Moore when she retired. But first, of course, I would do the decent thing and finish out my year as anchorwoman.
Me and my News Team – Mary and Hers
The loud car commercial woke me from my milky stupor, and not feeling the familiar tug at my breast, I looked down to see a very contented baby sleeping peacefully in my arms. I struggled up from the rocker, trying not to awaken her, and waddled to our bedroom to put her in her crib. Her adoring father would keep an eye on her while I finished my favorite show. I knocked on the door–(he had locked it in anger at his lush wife), and when he opened it I offered our precious bundle up to him: “Here, Daddy. Would you like to cuddle your little girl?”
“What IS that all over her? She reeks!”
Although he proudly changed diapers, the “modern father” persona stopped at the poopy ones. I reached down to dust the parmesan cheese off her hair, and the little bit that was stuck to her lip, then I slipped a finger into her diaper. “No poop. She’s all yours.”
I closed the door to retreat back to the second half of my favorite show. Mary Richards was home without a date on Saturday night–a common theme in the 70’s show to make single women all over the world feel like they were not only not alone, but that they too could follow Mary’s path. They could have a career,and not have to be married, or even have a boyfriend, to be a full, happy human being.
“Well Mary, I am home on Saturday night, too, watching you, so I guess I have made it after all. Although I’ve lost the 23 inch waistline, I’ve gained a beautiful daughter in the process.” I hoped my daughter would one day throw her hat in the air, following in the footsteps of Mary Tyler Moore, and her own mother, Nancy Scanlon.
HaHa–I doubled over with laughter as Mary got into one of her one-ups with boss Lou Grant. “Go get him, Mary!!” I said to the most beautiful feminist that TV had ever seen.
I could relate to all the bantering and arguing between her and Mr.Grant–Because we had to fight with the men in the news room for our “female” views to be taken seriously. Even with a very forward thinking general manager, I had to work harder than my male cohorts to get my point across.
“You’re fired,” Mr. Grant shouted back at Mary. She shriveled in shame as her big mouth went from a wide-open gaping freeze, to a pucker, to a full-out howl. She shrunk, bellowing and crying, but got the final stab as she slammed the newsroom door in his face–leaning on it for support as anchorman Ted Knight attempted to bolster her up, his arms wrapped so tightly around her she was unable to breathe and slipped helplessly and humorously to the floor.
While laughing at the slapstick antics, I thought– Poor Mary! What a jerk that Mr Grant is (even though I knew he’d be begging her to come back to work soon). Thank goodness that’s one benefit of working for my husband: job security.
Just then, the door opened. I turned and said, “Oh honey, is the baby awake?”
My husband answered, “No, she’s still sleeping, but when your show is over, there is something I want to talk to you about.”
I didn’t like the sound of that. Any time he says “There’s something I want to talk to you about,” it’s something bad.
“We can talk now. This is the last commercial break. It’ll be over soon.”
“Well, honey… You know how Christine Buck is sitting in for you during your maternity leave?”
“Of course I do, I watch her every night. I trained her. Don’t you like her?”
“She’s fine. Er, well, I just think you need more time at home. With the baby.”
“I have plenty of time with the baby, and Katie will give her my milk when I’m back on the air.”
“Well, we have this trip coming up in a couple of months. The party for the syndication of Maude… At Norman Lear’s House in L.A. And I want you to go with me.”
“I know. I’m so excited, honey. I’ll be through nursing by then. I can’t wait to go. It sounds so exciting.”
“Well, that’s the thing–you’ll be off the air for over 6 months by then, so Dad and I were thinking this would be a good time for you to retire.”
“Retire? I’ve only just begun.”
“Listen, you’ve done a great job, but I’ve already talked to Christine. She’s ready to go full time.”
Waaaaaaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaah! Now I was the one with mouth agape… I turned just in time to catch the end of the Mary Tyler Moore show. Lou Grant was at Mary’s apartment, begging her to come back to WJM-TV. Was I dreaming? What just happened to me? What happened to women’s lib and equal rights– and nepotism for goodness’ sake?! I needed a lawyer. My husband hired me, got me pregnant, and then fired me! There’s gotta be a law against that.
In an attempt to soften this cruel blow, he said cheerily, “You can STILL be Public Affairs Director!”
“Thanks, honey. That’s great. With my Federal Communications connections, I just may file a petition against you for sexual discrimination.”
The theme song to Mary Tyler Moore played in the background… and the words I heard were: “She’s not gonna maaaake it after all!”