‘Behind the Smile’ of Mary Tyler Moore: A Longtime Admirer Looks Back

Mary Tyler Moore
Ron Galella/WireImage

When Mary Tyler Moore passed away in January, so did a bit of my heart and childhood memories. As a TV producer, I immediately went to my computer to start writing a special on Mary and find which colleagues from her storied career we could talk to. Producer Carl Reiner, friend Carol Burnett and costars Gavin MacLeod, Ed Asner and Dick Van Dyke agreed to grant us interviews or say a few words about their beloved Mary. I got the chance to meet and interview Carl, 95, in the comfortable Beverly Hills home that he’s owned since 1961, when he created The Dick Van Dyke Show.

My chat with Carl—who at the time was writing his now published book Too Busy to Die—covered the moment he met Mary while casting Laura Petrie for Dick Van Dyke to when he last saw her several years ago, with her health and vision fading. He recalled how he auditioned more than 20 candidates to play Laura and was beginning to lose hope until Mary walked in and, in his words, lit up the room! As she began to read from the script, he knew she was his Laura. He showed her to the other producers’ offices to say, “We found her!”


Michael D. Kelley with Carl Reiner earlier this year

We talked about how Carl lived in awe of Mary’s creativity and passion, from how she insisted on breaking the mold of the “TV housewife” as Laura Petrie by wearing stylish Capri pants to how she and Grant Tinker created one of the most successful TV production companies in the 1970s. We also reflected on the tough times, such as her diabetes diagnosis, her fight with alcoholism, the loss of her only child at just 24 years old and the painful final few years of her life, when he last saw Mary. Carl’s look was a bit pained as he recalled their last encounter. She didn’t recognize him at first, as her eyesight had all but faded. But when he simply said her name, Mary lit up like the moment he hired her for The Dick Van Dyke Show. She gave him a big hug and a kiss. It was a beautiful few moments, and I was lucky enough to witness Carl’s private tribute to one of the most legendary comedians ever to work in television.

Mary Tyler Moore: Behind the Smile, Thursday, Aug. 17, 9/8c, Reelz