20 Things About The Mary Tyler Moore Show Its Star Would Rather Keep Under Her Hat

The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which ran from 1970 to 1977 – was the first American sitcom to feature a successful, single woman as the star character. The media slammed the show to begin with, branding the character of Mary Richards as a mere “spinster.” However, this view quickly changed as the controversial show gained popularity, and it went on to achieve icon status. Still, there are plenty of things you probably didn’t know about the modern classic – and here’s 20 of them.

20. Mary Richards was originally going to be a divorcée

Mary Richards was initially intended to be depicted as a recently divorced 30-year-old, hunting for a job after being dumped by her husband. However, the producers were cautioned by CBS network researchers that mainstream audiences would never welcome a divorced woman on their TV screens. And as they were fearful that this would cause the premature death of the show, the character’s backstory was duly rewritten.

19. Ted Knight had money problems when cast as Ted Baxter

Blond Ted Knight was not the actor that the creators of the show initially had in mind for incompetent newscaster Ted Baxter. Still, after producers spotted him performing in a small-town version of a Broadway comedy, they decided he was hilarious and invited him to audition. And after digging into his rent money, Knight bought a second-hand anchorman-style suit and wowed the team.

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18. And Knight almost walked out of the show

During season three Knight walked into a producer’s office, apparently wailing, “I can’t do it. I can’t play Ted Baxter anymore. Everyone thinks I’m stupid and I’m not.” After a pep talk, however, he decided not to quit the show and was given the odd special episode where Ted Baxter appeared less dim-witted.

17. An unknowing extra appeared in every single episode

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The opening sequence of the show accidentally featured an older woman in the distance, looking confused as to why a woman was throwing her hat into the sky. She was Hazel Frederick, a Minnesota local who was shopping when the scene was recorded. And charmingly, when Frederick later attended one of Moore’s book tour events, she was addressed by the TV star as her “co-host.”

16. Mary Richards’ apartment became a tourist attraction

The exterior of Mary Tyler Moore’s character’s home was featured heavily during the first five seasons of the show. As soon as it became successful, in fact, the real owners of the house were swamped with visiting fans arriving in tour buses. So in a bid to discourage further exterior filming for series six, one of the owners, political activist Paula Giese, draped “Impeach Nixon” posters outside. Her tactic worked!

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15. The pilot episode was almost a disaster

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Interestingly, the first episode of the show actually premiered two times. Initially, in fact, it was shown to a studio audience but failed to generate the amused reaction the producers expected. Polls eventually revealed that the character of Rhoda was seen as overly nasty, so creators then had to tweak the script to get the audience on board.

14. Valerie Harper almost wasn’t cast

As she was deemed as too attractive, Valerie Harper almost lost the part of Rhoda. Originally, in fact, the character was meant to be a little overweight and self-deprecating. Indeed, the producers even suggested that Harper “frump herself up a bit.” Eventually, however, they gave in and rewrote her character as a beautiful woman who would self-criticize instead.

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13. The MTM kitten mascot came from a local shelter

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Based on her initials, Marie Tyler Moore launched MTM, her own production company, to make the show. And as the name was similar to Hollywood giant MGM, a plan was hatched to play on its infamous roaring lion logo. MTM duly recruited Mimsie, a cute orange kitten, from a local shelter to mimic MGM’s mascot.

12. The male cast might not have been so sad when Valerie Harper left

The character of Rhoda became so popular that Valerie Harper was given her own spin-off series. And while Harper got along with her MTMS male co-stars, there was a heavy focus in the series on the narrative between her and Mary Richards… which took precious screen time from the men.

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11. The actress who played the character who gave Mary Richards her green dress died horrifically

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Barbara Colby played the brief role of Sherry, a stripper who befriended Richards and created her infamous, revealing green dress. However, tragically, while filming another show in California in 1975, Colby was shot in a parking lot and died at the scene. The murder is still unresolved to this day.

10. It was the first U.S. series to break the fourth wall

In a bid to go out on a good note, the producers decided to end the series after season seven, even though it was still performing extremely well. In a rare closing scene, moreover, the show allowed the cast to bid farewell to each other on camera in the context of the show – breaking down the fourth wall as a result.

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9. The role of Ted Baxter was meant for actor Jack Cassidy

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Having just played a heartthrob character on He & She, Jack Cassidy wasn’t interested in joining the cast of The Marie Tyler Moore Show. But when the show became a cult success, Cassidy duly got back in touch with the producers. He later appeared in an episode as Hal, Baxter’s self-obsessed brother.

8. Moore pioneered the capri pants fashion fad

Moore first spearheaded capri pants on The Dick Van Dyke Show, insisting that she be alllowed to wear them in every single episode. Back then, women were expected to only don dresses; Moore, however, refused to conform. What’s more, she eventually sparked a capri pants-wearing phenomenon across America.

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7. The hat toss was done in real life

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The iconic moment in the show’s opening sequence where Mary Richards throws her hat in the air was filmed without casted extras. That’s right: the crowd of people seen in the background were real pedestrians with no idea what was going on. Furthermore, the scene was filmed using concealed cameras to create the most authentic take possible.

6. The actor Gavin MacLeod could have played Lou Grant

Future The Love Boat star Gavin MacLeod in fact originally auditioned for the role of Lou Grant. He then decided to read for the part of Murray, as he thought it would be a better character fit for him – and he was right on the money.

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5. Moore got her break in showbiz in a Hotpoint commercial

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As a mascot for the Hotpoint home appliance company, Moore danced as “Happy Hotpoint” in one of its commercials in 1956. She was just 17 and wore a comical all-in-one gray leotard and corset. In the now somewhat cheesy ad, Moore would pop out of an oven and say, “Hi! Harriet, Aren’t you glad you bought a Hotpoint?” Perhaps something, then, that she now regrets…

4. Moore was diagnosed with diabetes early on in the show

Before even the second season of the show came to air, Moore received the potentially life-threatening diagnosis of type I diabetes. And in her 2009 book, Growing Up Again, Moore explains what it’s like to live with the condition. Today, however, she’s lost much of her sight due to nerve damage caused by being diabetic.

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3. Moore didn’t have to make a pilot

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It wasn’t common practice for an actor to forgo shooting a pilot audition in the ’70s. And the decision to take The Mary Tyler Moore Show to series right away was even more surprising considering that Moore’s fame was fading at that time. Indeed, her career after The Dick Van Dyke Show didn’t take off – and she was only given her own show once she appeared in the spin-off Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman in 1969.

2. Mary Richards cast a shadow on Moore’s future parts

Because The Mary Tyler Moore Show was such a success, after the show ended many of Moore’s parts dulled in comparison. Furthermore, the character of Mary Richards was so loved that Moore found the persona hard to shake. By 1980, however, her dramatic work began being recognized in its own right, beginning with her gripping role in Ordinary People.

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1. Prominent women’s activists criticized Mary Richards

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Feminist activists, mainly Gloria Steinem, came down hard on the character of Mary Richards for not standing up for herself. She was also slammed for being too meek in her fight for equal pay. In addition, they also pointed out both that she was the only one to call her boss “Mr Grant” and that the theme tune referenced a “girl” and not a woman.

But The Mary Tyler Moore Show wasn’t the only forward-thinking ’70s sitcom to have its fair share of juicy off-screen secrets. Indeed, Norman Lear’s All in the Family broke new ground by tacking themes previously seen as taboo for U.S. prime-time comedy. And these 20 details prove that it was just as interesting behind the scenes, too.

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20. Carroll O’Connor wasn’t the first choice to play Archie

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Carroll O’Connor undoubtedly made the Archie role his own, but he wasn’t producers’ first choice. In fact, Mickey Rooney was originally offered the part but turned it down over fears about its chances of success and its controversial nature. Scott Brady also said no, but later played Joe Foley for four episodes, instead.

19. O’Connor wanted flight money before accepting the role

Based in Italy at the time, O’Connor also took some persuading to accept the role. The actor wanted reassurance his flight home would be paid for if All in the Family stalled at the pilot stage. But as we all now know, producers never needed to take out their wallets.

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18. Sally Struthers sued the show’s producers

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Frustrated with her character’s lack of development, Sally Struthers took drastic measures. The actress, who played Gloria Bunker, sued producers in 1974 to break free from her contract. The tactic worked and Struthers was given more to do, keeping her on the show for a total of 157 episodes.

17. Lear once threatened to kill Archie off

Struthers wasn’t the only major cast member to threaten producers with a lawsuit. Carroll O’Connor himself missed five episodes in 1974 following a contract dispute with Norman Lear. The pair eventually managed to settle their differences, but not before Lear claimed he was ready to kill off O’Connor’s lead character.

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16. O’Connor also sued Lear over a spin-off

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And the lawsuits don’t end there. All in the Family produced a staggering seven spin-off series including Maude, Good Times, 704 Hauser and The Jeffersons. Despite not actually appearing on the latter, O’Connor unsuccessfully tried to sue Lear for some of its profits.

15. Isabel Sanford was coerced into doing The Jeffersons

The Jeffersons also caused behind-the-scenes tensions elsewhere. Isabel Sanford, a.k.a Louise Hemsley, initially didn’t want to make the leap to the spin-off. But after producers told her they would write her character out of All in the Family and recast her in The Jeffersons, she soon changed her mind.

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14. Two “Archieisms” were derived from Lear’s real family

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Creator Lear used his own family experiences as the basis for much of the show. Indeed, two of Archie’s most famous quips were first uttered by Lear’s parents. His father would often tell his mother to “stifle herself.” She would then retaliate with, “you are the laziest white man I ever saw.”

13. The show underwent several name changes

The pilot’s original cast wasn’t the only thing that changed from the finished product. All in the Family was initially known as Justice for All when it was first picked up by ABC. The network then shot a second pilot entitled Those Were the Days.

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12. A flop comedy caused ABC to pass on the show

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Back in 1969, Turn-On became one of those notorious shows to be withdrawn from schedules after just one episode due to numerous viewer complaints. The negative publicity caused ABC to think twice about screening All in the Family, another potentially controversial show. Instead, the chauvinistic and foul-mouthed lead character known as Archie Bunker eventually found a home on CBS.

11. The show’s piano song intro was a money-saving measure

One of the most memorable things about All in the Family was its musical intro. Here, O’Carroll and Jean Stapleton sat around a piano singing “Those Were the Days” in front of camera. But Lear admits the show only started that way because the budget couldn’t stretch to something more elaborate.

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10. O’Connor received royalties for the closing theme

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O’Connor also played a part in All in the Family’s closing theme tune, and one which proved to be surprisingly lucrative. The actor received royalties and a co-writer credit for the song “Remembering You.” This was despite the fact the lyrics he penned never ended up being used on the show!

9. Nixon mentioned the show in the Watergate tapes

All in the Family inadvertently became part of U.S. political history when it was referenced in a major scandal. Then-POTUS Richard Nixon was heard discussing the comedy in one of the Watergate tapes that sparked his downfall. He specifically mentioned the 1971 episodes “Judging Books by Covers” and “Writing the President.”

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8. It aired because of the Rural Purge

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Archie Bunker only made it to air when the new CBS President decided he wanted more socially-relevant programming. Attempting to attract younger viewers, Robert Wood axed several comedies including Petticoat Junction and Green Acres to make way for shows like All in the Family. This became known as the Rural Purge.

7. The famous attempted rape scene was intended for another show

One of the show’s biggest controversies occurred when Edith was forced to fight off a potential rapist just before her 50th birthday party. But, in fact, the scene was originally written for One Day at a Time‘s Ann Romano (played by Bonnie Franklin). It was later used by the New York City Police Department to show rape from the perspective of the victim.

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6. Rob Reiner wore a hairpiece

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Although he was only in his 20s at the time, Rob Reiner wore a hairpiece from his first season on the show. In fact, the actor/director, who played Michael Stivic, had started balding from a young age. He was also asked by producers to grow a mustache to make his character look older.

5. CBS expected a huge viewer backlash that never came

CBS initially expected that All in the Family’s provocative subject matter and politically-incorrect lead character would spark a huge viewer backlash. It even recruited dozens more phone operators to deal with the anticipated complaints. However, instead of getting offended, the majority of the audience instantly took the show to their hearts.

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4. But it did receive complaints about the theme tune

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In fact, the only thing that viewers did appear to get riled about was the show’s theme. CBS received numerous calls asking what the unintelligible penultimate line of the song was. The network subsequently re-recorded the tune in which the offending line, “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great,” was enunciated clearer.

3. It was hated by two comedy icons

Of course, not everyone was so enamored with All in the Family. Lucille Ball reportedly hated the fact she was forced to share a network with such an “un-American show.” Another celebrity detractor came in the shape of Bill Cosby, who believed it trivialized racism and promoted bigotry.

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2. O’Connor wanted a ’90s revival

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O’Connor wanted to extend All in the Family’s legacy in the early ’90s with a brand new series. The show would focus on Archie’s full-time cab driver job and his topical conversations with passengers. However, Lear was left unconvinced and instead decided to focus on developing 1994’s 704 Hauser.

1. One of its actors quit the show due to boredom

The Bunkers’ far more liberal next-door neighbors Frank and Irene Lorenzo were intended to be long-running characters. But while Betty Garrett played the latter until 1975, Vincent Gardenia only appeared as the former for one season. The actor quit the show in its infancy due to finding his character boring.

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If you were around a decade earlier, however, you may well remember one of the most popular TV shows to come before All in the Family. Indeed, in the ’60s, it was The Beverly Hillbillies that dominated the ratings. And people seemed to love the rags to riches tale of a ramshackle family who became multi-millionaires after striking oil on their land. Despite its recognition, though, there’s a lot you may not know about this classic sitcom.

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