Mary Richards Has Left the City

I wasn’t alive when the Mary Tyler Moore Show first premiered, back in 1970. I was barely a person when the final episode of the show aired in 1977. And yet, thanks to reruns, and thanks to growing up in the same town where the show took place, the independent and cheerful news producer, Mary Richards, was always a fictional presence in my life. Eventually, I suspect she became something more.

I remember the first time I saw the giant Victorian house used for the exterior shots of Mary’s home in South Minneapolis. It was just off Lake of the Isles, which my late mother and I walked around whenever we wanted a change of pace from Lake Harriet or Lake Calhoun. My mom explained that the exterior was just that…that Mary’s adorable attic studio on the show didn’t actually exist, except on a sound stage. But wasn’t the house pretty?

Later, when I was 18 and attending the University of Minnesota, I moved into the Cedar Riverside apartments — high rises on the West Bank of Minneapolis that, back in the 1970s, developers imagined would be a mecca for cosmopolitan Minnesotans seeking the big city lifestyle. On the MTM Show, Mary Richards was one of those people. Her move into the giant towers mirrored her move up the ranks of WJM-TV. Goodbye, attic studio and entry-level title; hello shiny, sophisticated tomorrow.

In reality, the Cedar Riverside apartments never quite lived up to the dream. Not long after the Mary Tyler Moore Show drew to a close, it became clear that Minnesotans with means weren’t quite on board with high rise living on the West Bank. The development mostly became home to new immigrants and other low income people. By the time I got there, in the 1990s, there were shootings and robberies happening throughout the various buildings. On one occasion, a crack addict broke into my apartment and locked himself in my bathroom.

A year or so after leaving Cedar Riverside, while still in college, I took a job on the Nicollet Mall, the pedestrian mall in downtown Minneapolis where Mary Richards famously throws her hat in the air during the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. There was more than one occasion when I, or someone I knew, threw our hats in the air (ironically…joyously…usually both) at the intersection of Nicollet and South 7th Street, just like her.

Then, in 1999, my time in Minneapolis ended. I graduated from college and moved to New York. I immediately fell in love with the city and the people. I worked a lot of jobs that weren’t quite right, then eventually found work as a producer in a newsroom. I became close friends with my downstairs neighbors and upstairs neighbors. I dated interesting men, threw parties, loved my coworkers, and was happily unmarried through all my twenties and thirties.

I wasn’t actually thinking about Mary Richards through most of this. I hadn’t seen a rerun of MTM in years, and I wasn’t getting regular reminders of her existence on my city streets. And yet, I was somehow doing a lot of things she did in her fictional world.

I made lots of visits back to Minneapolis. I still do. And on one of those visits, I stumbled upon the statue of Mary Richards that had been erected on the Nicollet Mall after I left. It shows her standing on her toes, with that huge smile on her face, just about to toss her hat into the air. There’s so much potential in that frozen moment. The attic apartment is not a soundstage. Cedar Riverside is not a hotbed of crime. Mary is about to take the world on with her smile. Mary is still alive.

I imagine that today, in Minneapolis, people are draping flowers across that statue. Or laying objects of mourning outside the old Victorian. Maybe there are piles of hats on the Nicollet Mall.

And perhaps, there are thousands of women pondering the same thing I am: would I be who I am without Mary Richards? Would I be a happy, independent career woman, if not for role models like her? Would my life choices seem bizarre? Would I have even realized these choices were an option?

How lucky we all were to grow up in a post-Mary Richards world. And how lucky I feel today that, in a sense, I grew up with her as my neighbor.

Rest in peace, Mary.

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A little tribute Mary Richards and the late, great Mary Tyler Moore. I’ll be talking about her legacy on @TheTakeaway on January 26th, 2017.