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We’re Gonna Make it After All

The Mary Tyler Moore Show  was an American TV sitcom created by James L. Brooks and Allan Burns that aired on CBS from 1970 to 1977. It finished with 168 episodes. The show was revolutionary for its time because it was the first show to focus on a single woman who did not rely or seek to rely on a man in order to support her. Mary Richards was young, not widowed or divorced. She is a thirty something who chose to break off a two-year engagement and live a life for herself in Minneapolis. My friend Andrew Springer who works for ABC News’ Good Morning America and who also convinced me to write this post, explains, “Mary Tyler Moore was the first sitcom to chronicle the life of the modern, independent woman. Up until Mary, TV’s leading lady was  the raucous Lucy–goofy, physical, and always reliant on her husband. Moore was the opposite: intelligent, witty and single.”  Springer also explained to me that through the 1970’s network censors wouldn’t allow death on sitcoms until an episode of Mary Tyler Moore entitled “Chuckles Bites the Dust”. Chuckles, WJM’s in-house clown, was the first person to die in a primetime sitcom (the unfortunate victim of a hungry circus elephant when the clown was dressed as a peanut). This episode also garnered MTM an Emmy win.

(Images from Hooked on Houses and Wikipedia Commons)

Map of Mary’s Apartment and Set Description via MTMShow.com

Mary’s apartment is a veritable cornucopia of 1970’s ephemera. The apartment was not stagnant, and like a “real human being’s” changed as Mary grew, evolved, and styles shifted. During the treatment of the original script, writers knew that they wanted a “large sunny window”. In fact, for the time, the set description for MTM was one of the most stringent and complex for a sitcom. The writers believed that the apartment needed to represent a specific style of woman. Mary was as much the objects in her apartment as she was her witticisms and joke delivery.  The team that made Mary’s apartment a soundstage reality were MTM art director Lewis E. Hurst, Jr, set decorator Raymond Boltz, and coordinator of set construction Lloyd Apperson. It was important to the set designers to create a space that a “real life single woman” could afford. The room was designed to look like a studio apartment (including a small kitchenette), and was not to be filled with excess like Lucy’s fancy house that could not have been purchased on a bank clerk’s wages. According to Sandy McLendon, Senior Editor of Modernism Magazine and freelance writer for  Old House Interiors, “The real genius of the set was in the way it was dressed: Raymond Boltz’s choices for furnishings and accessories defined Mary Richards nearly as much as Mary Tyler Moore’s acting did. The room was anchored by two items meant to establish Mary as a solid person: an expensive new hide-a-bed in brown velvet, and a French provincial armoire that was the sort of thing a young career woman would buy as a lifetime investment.”

A behind the scenes photo of how the apartment was set up on the soundstage. It was actually quite small, like a real studio. (Here.)

Because of Mary’s character’s budget restraints, much of the apartment was meant to be curated via thrift shop finds: victorian chairs, an industrial sign “M” letter, a country French lavabo plaque,  wall mounted jewelry racks, empty glass bottles, second-hand plates, wicker chairs, pumpkin-shaped cookie jars, space age lamps. The amalgam of accessories and various accoutrements were meant to represent Mary’s personality, taking inspiration from Provincial France, Modernism, Futuristic styles, Victorian cabinetry, and other “academic” era. Mary was smart, she had a good eye, and the decor was meant to complete her character’s whimsical, kind, and multifaceted personality. This attention to set and the dedicated to character realism was seminal.

Where to Buy After the Jump:

  1. Royalite ’64, Continental Elite Font, Vintage Typewriter – $150.00 – CLICK
  2. Wedgwood, 1960 GOLDEN ROSES THREE PIECE TEA SET, ROYAL ALBERT – £40.00 – CLICK
  3. Villeroy & Boch French Garden Valence Salad Plate, Lemon – $31.13 – CLICK
  4. COURBE OTTOMAN by Ballard Designs – $149.00 – CLICK
  5. Office Star Products Sofa Chair Contemporary Style in Coffee Corduroy – $326.15 – CLICK
  6. Distressed 3 Foot Tall Wooden Letter M School Book Style 36 inch Painted Large Wood Letters Wedding,Nursery, Photo Props Vintage Style – $55.00 – CLICK
  7. Vintage 70s Typography ETC. Sign – Handmade on Etsy – $14.00 to $16.00 – CLICK and CLICK and CLICK
  8. VINTAGE TELEPHONE Retro Phone – $35.00 – CLICK
  9. Classic Ginger Vase – $78.00 – CLICK
  10. 24.5 Inch High Metal Bike Wall Art Old Fashioned  – $99.95 – CLICK
  11. Rattan Coil Base Swivel Rocker Chair with Cushion – $251.99 – CLICK

As a foil, Mary’s best friend and upstairs neighbor, Rhoda Morgenstern. Rhoda was a super artsy, wise cracking, window dresser from New York City. She was raunchy, sardonic, and dated often. Valerier Harper won four Primetime Emmy Awards for her portrayal of Rhoda, with three of these awards for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and one for Rhoda. Please not the amazing “etc.” sign in the upper right hand corner. In a way, Rhoda’s personality and apartment were complete opposites from Mary’s. Bright, bold, slightly ethnic, and hippy-dippy. I am personally more of a Rhoda! (Here).

(Flickr.)

Who’s apartment would you live in? Are you a Mary or a Rhoda?

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Keren Veisblatt Toledano is a Senior Strategist at Brooklyn United, a digital agency for bold brands. In her spare time, Keren can usually be found taking photos of old doors, visiting museum, soaking in Epsom salts, admiring copper pots, reading dystopian science fiction or sneaking a slice of lemon into her drinks. Her motto is, “A morning without coffee is sleep.” She lives in a brownstone with her cat, Cagney, husband, Michael, and son, Josiah, in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY.