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Television: How to Succeed Though Married

4 minute read

If the TV screen is any reflection of the household it sits in, marriage is a fading institution. Bonanza’s Ben Cartwright is a confirmed old widower and likely to remain so. The Fugitive’s Richard Kimble is a wrongly convicted wife-murderer. Combat’s Sergeant Chip Saunders is a single sort, and ail-American rubes like Marine Private Gomer Pyle and Small-Town Sheriff Andy Taylor ain’t hitched either. Lucy is now a widow, and Constance MacKenzie’s single status is the talk of Peyton Place, what with her having a teen-age daughter and all.

In fact, on the top 15 shows there are only two continuing marriages between central characters: Bewitched’s Darrin and about-to-be-pregnant Samantha Stephens, and The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Rob and Laura Petrie. Since Bewitched’s Samantha cheats, by cleaning the house, keeping her husband and generally managing the drudgery of life through her powers of witchcraft, that leaves the title of TV’s favorite average housewife to Laura Petrie by default, and it’s a shame. As played by Actress Mary Tyler Moore, she could beat the pants off any dozen TV actresses.

Pert and brunette, Mary sends a grin across her face in waves, and her 120 Ibs. are settled into a luscious 36-24-36 configuration that has male viewers sitting upright in their reclining chairs. Yet hardly a real-life wife objects. Instead, they take notes. And when she began delighting TV Hubby Dick Van Dyke by wearing Capri slacks, it helped make Capri slacks the biggest trend in U.S. casual attire.

Never Above the Thigh. Of course, 27-year-old Mary is more than just a looker. She is toothily, totally wholesome, with an unexpected comedy accent on the ho, can convincingly range from point-winning wit to pratfalling clown. For her labors on the Van Dyke show she recently collected the Foreign Press Golden Globe Award as the best female television personality of this year. She got an Emmy last year for the same thing. The program has consistently been in the top 15 since 1962, ranks seventh so far this year. And Mary has just recently signed a seven-year, ten-movie contract with Universal Pictures.

Nine years ago Mary Tyler Moore was nothing, or more precisely, she was a two-inch pixy dancing in a Hotpoint stove ad. Then she got a job answering the phone for Richard Diamond, private eye. No one who saw her in the part will ever forget her, though he could not possibly remember her face. As sultry-voiced Sam, she was never seen above the thigh. And that shortskirted gam bit got her an audition for the part of Danny Thomas’ daughter. She missed, but when Producer Thomas was looking for a wife for Van Dyke the next year, he remembered her. How come he hadn’t chosen her the first time? “Because, my darling,” explained Thomas, “with a nose like yours, nobody would believe you were my daughter.”

Itsy-Poo. In private life, Mary is a quite believable housewife who can’t stand housework at all, except for scrubbing floors (“You forget all your troubles and everything except getting that floor clean”),’hates most cooking (beyond fried eggs and melted-cheese sandwiches). And while she is an NBC executive’s wife with an eight-year-old son, she says without qualification: “I am a career girl. I couldn’t be happy living Laura’s life. If I wasn’t an actress, I’d have to be doing something else—I’d go to school or I’d be a nurse, but I’d do something.”

She also tends to say studiedly saccharine things like “itsy-poo,” but she is sophisticated enough to know just where she wants to go. After next year it’s bye-bye Dick Van Dyke. “I would like to be the next Doris Day,” she reveals intensely. That may sound like the itsy-pooiest, but it’s an understandable yearn for America’s favorite TV housewife.

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