Laura Petrie was my first love. At a time when I didn’t even know what love was. Who was this slender sensitive soul in Capri pants? What are Capri pants and why do I like them so much? The Dick Van Dyke Show found a lot of laughs in the office of a comedy writing team, but we were drawn to the dynamic between husband and wife, between Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. And then suddenly, she was gone from our lives.
When she re-emerged, we saw her behind the wheel of a car heading to some new life in some new town. In the background, there was a plaintive, but hopeful theme song by Sonny Curtis called “Love is All Around.” She was in a new sitcom based in a Minneapolis newsroom. A severely understaffed newsroom. In her job interview, her prospective boss says that she has ‘spunk,’ and then says famously, “I hate spunk.” Whether it was her spunk or something else, Mary Tyler Moore anchored one of the most successful sitcoms in history. A career woman in a man’s world, she sparred with her boss, rolled her eyes at her brain-dead news anchor and joked with her desk-mate news writer. At the moral center of the show, she was easy to love.
The next chapter in her career was a little unsettling. The former Laura Petrie, the former Mary Richards became someone we didn’t recognize. As a mother who survived a dead son and a suicidal son, she dealt with her personal tragedy by shutting down emotionally. A powerful performance that garnered an Oscar nomination.
We will remember her for the catch in her throat when she called Rob Petrie’s first name. We will remember her for grace. And yes, her spunk. It was a simple spin in a Minneapolis crosswalk that we will always remember. An enduring symbol for starting over.