Mary Tyler Moore's road to The Dick Van Dyke Show

Find out how the famous actress became famous in the first place!

On Now
Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke sing ’’You Wonderful You’’
Up Next:

"Overnight success" is usually totally inaccurate. That's rarely how anything actually happens. Typically, success is the culmination of years of hard work that was done outside of the public eye. Really, the term should be "overnight awareness," as it has much more to do with perception than it does success. The thing that actually changed overnight is the mass recognition. It was something in the audience that shifted, and not the performer. 

A great example of this phenomenon is the early career of Mary Tyler Moore. When she appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show, her talent was immediately clear. There was such instant clarity and chemistry in her performance. She was the actor for that job, and she popped onscreen right away. It seemed like such sensational star power must have been some sort of overnight miracle. But to attribute such greatness to magic would be to overlook the years of hard work Moore put in to get where she was going.

She began her career in show business as a dancer in chorus lines on shows like The George Gobel Show and The Eddie Fisher Show. While those first moments in the spotlight assured Moore she was on the right path, chorus line dancing was not her end goal. The pay was poor, and she found the work to be "about as dull as modeling," according to a 1964 interview in The Buffalo News. 

Moore knew that to achieve what she wanted in life, she had to diversify her skillset, and that's when she began acting. She took bit parts in "every terrible series you can name," frequently appearing as telephone operators and secretaries. Her highest-profile audition was for the role of Danny Thomas' daughter on his eponymous sitcom. Ultimately, Penny Parker would beat her for the job, with Thomas explaining to Moore that the future Dick Van Dyke star was just too sophisticated for the role of his eldest child. "Besides," Thomas told Moore, "with a nose like yours, nobody would believe you belonged to me." 

Danny Thomas didn't forget about Miss Moore, and two years later recommended her to producer Carl Reiner who was creating a new show about a comedy writer and his home life. She was hesitant, at first, to take a role where she'd become just "another wife, a nice, reliable, little woman," with nothing more to distinguish her from her time playing secretaries and phone operators. Instead, though, Moore found herself surrounded by some of the best writers in Hollywood and the best performers on TV. She specifically praised Dick Van Dyke for what he brought to the table.  

"Dick Van Dyke spoils you for working with other people," Moore told The Buffalo News. "I'm not just throwing Hollywood words around. He is so good, so saint-like, we all have to be sure he is getting his fair share. Every day you have to talk him into believing he's a star." 

Unlike her onscreen husband, though, nobody had to talk Moore into believing she was a star. She worked hard to get there, and a star was born. 

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

4 Comments

justjeff 6 months ago
Let's not forget her "investment" in TV commercials as the dancing pixie "Happy Hotpoint" for Hotpoint Appliances and her role as "Sam", the answering service operator on Richard Diamond, Private Eye [who was photographed from the rear, in shadowed silhouette or (mostly) just showing her legs]...

I've included some screen grabs below, although the source material is not very good.

TRIVIA: The white lettering seen across the PBX (switchboard) of the answering service were made by Mitten's Ceramic Letters of Redlands, California. You could also see them on Perry Mason's door in some early episodes, as well as in early shows of "The Adventures of Superman" saying "Lois Lane", "Clark Kent" or "Perry White, Editor"... I had some of them years back, and used those letters and numbers as a design model for one of my type fonts!
cperrynaples justjeff 6 months ago
Fun Fact: Mary was fired from RDPE for showing her legs AND her face in TV Guide! Obviously their loss but it did make her available for TDVDS!
justjeff cperrynaples 6 months ago
It just goes to show you what jerks some TV producers can be. Better for us, later for them...
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?