Stir-crazy during the wintry months of the pandemic, I found myself gobbling up two or three episodes of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show every night. When the series originally ran in the 1970s, I was too wrapped up in my own teenage travails to really care. The lead character, Mary Richards, was a “career girl” in her thirties. She belonged to my older sister’s generation, with her perfectly styled hair and matchy-matchy coordinates, her perky smile and good-girl politeness. Mary had been a cheerleader in her Minnesota high school; I had been the nerdy class brain who wore no makeup, rarely washed her hair, and couldn’t get a date.
Yet Mary’s cultural importance as one of the first single working-women portrayed on TV must have seeped into my consciousness. In 1980, driving from Chicago to New Hampshire to start my first job as a reporter, I took Mary as my model. “Love is all around, no need to waste it,” I belted out in my off-key rendition of the series’ theme song. “You can have the town, why don’t you take it. You’re gonna make it after all.”
Though Mary had been hired as an associate producer for a TV news show rather than a reporter for a small-city newspaper, each of us could count a gruff Army veteran as our boss; each of us found ourselves surrounded by a cast of good-hearted, eccentric colleagues; and each of us was looking not only for professional success but also romance. (Technically, I had a boyfriend — a rising star at The Wall Street Journal — but I discovered he was cheating on me, so I soon was on my own, as was true of Mary, who had supported her boyfriend through medical school and then found out he didn’t want to marry her.)
Like Mary, I had much to learn. I got up early, trudged through the snow and cold to research stories, then spent most of the night writing in the newsroom, after which I would return to my bare apartment, where my roommate and I would sit on the floor (we couldn’t afford a sofa) and compare our experiences with Mary’s, even though, as short, dark Jewish women, we looked more like Mary’s best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern.