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Everything King: Wendy pays tribute to a role model

As a 'token' woman learning how to survive and thrive in a male-dominated news business, Wendy King looked to Mary Tyler Moore for inspiration
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Everything King (with Wendy King)

A new year and a television legend gone in the form of Mary Tyler Moore. This one hit me.

She was one of those special actresses who delivered a great performance in everything she did — comedy, drama or musical — you could count on it.  I don’t think I even realized how much of an impact she had until I started to see the retrospectives and the flood of memories started.

I fell in love with her as Laura Petrie in the Dick Van Dyke Show in the 60s.  She was very much the co-star equal to Dick Van Dyke.  She wore capri pants when other sitcom moms were wearing dresses and pearls. Pretty, funny, energetic.  Her exclamations of “Ohhhhhh Rob” still echo in my ears.

Mary Tyler MooreMary Tyler Moore

I had forgotten how much I emulated her until I thought back to being a young girl and running around my house pretending I was a nun.  I did this by wearing an inside-out sweater on my head like a habit.  I wasn’t Catholic but Mary starred with my personal hero Elvis Presley in one of his dramatic roles “Change of Habit” in 1969. 

She played a nun who falls in love with Elvis who played a doctor. The closing scene was incredibly controversial for its day. Mary, as the nun sitting in church was deciding between staying with the church or marrying Elvis. The camera went back and forth between Elvis and statues of Jesus. 

The movie didn’t reveal who she chose.  I always thought I knew the answer – Heaven help me!

Then, later, as Mary Richards in the Mary Tyler Moore show of the 70s she drove her old car into Minneapolis and into our living rooms. Over the last week of hearing that familiar theme song again I found myself feeling happy and hopeful.

“Who can turn the world on with her smile/ who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile/ well, it’s you girl and you should know it/ with each glance and every little movement you show it.”

(I know you’re singing, too)

How many dateless Saturday nights did I spend dreaming about being a single career woman in the news business? She was my role model. She was doing what I wanted to do and she was doing it with grit and charm and spunk. (Remember how Mr. Grant hated spunk}? 

When I started in radio news, I was always the “token” woman learning how to survive and thrive in a male-dominated business. I summoned up Mary in my mind. I heard the message of “do the job but don’t lose yourself in the process”.

When I got my first apartment, the first thing I wanted was a giant “W” like Mary’s “M.” It was symbolic.

If you don’t know the diversity of MTM’s work — Google and enjoy!

As years passed, I remember she championed the cause of animals and Type 1 Diabetes and Juvenile Diabetes when so much less was known about it. I didn’t recall that she had lost a son to an accidental shooting incident nor that she struggled with alcoholism. 

Multiple marriages and ill health followed. 

Yet through it all — there was that smile — that wide, vibrant, warm smile that definitely did turn the world on.

I still want to feel and believe what the song promised “You’re gonna make it after all."

How about a twirl for our Mary and a hat toss all the way up to Heaven?