Sunday, January 31, 1999

There's something about Mary




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[moore]
Mary Tyler Moore at the Aronoff Center Wednesday.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| Thursday's story |
        Mary Tyler Moore was in town last week, and I tried out for the part of Rhoda. I stunk.

        My original role was to write and deliver an introduction for her local lecture. “Not more than two minutes,” said one of Mary's “people.” (As I understand it, you are nobody in Hollywood unless you have “people” of your own.)

        Backstage at the Aronoff Center, where she spoke Wednesday night to a sold-out house, she was having her final dusting of makeup. And I was having stage fright. “Oh, everybody feels that way,” one of Mary's people told me kindly.

        “You mean like they're going to throw up?” I asked. She looked startled. Actually, I wasn't nervous about talking to the 2,700 men and women in the audience for The Cincinnati Enquirer's “Unique Lives and Experiences.” I was jittery about talking to just one tall, slim woman who walked toward me right about then.

Spectacular eruption
        “Hi, I'm Mary.”

        I distinguished myself by gushing, “Geez, you look great.” She offered me one of her chocolate-covered pretzels. My jacket was already so tight that I feared this might result in a spectacular eruption of buttons, putting out the eye of America's sweetheart. So I said no. Actually, I think I shook my head, giggled and pointed to my midriff.

        A few minutes later, I introduced her to the crowd. She walked on stage to huge applause, stopping graciously to thank me. I tried to shake her hand. She was going for an air kiss. We grappled as I tripped on a throw rug.

        My life flashed before my eyes, along with a horrifying image of bringing down the star in a tangle of rug and sprung buttons.

        She escaped to the lectern where she gave an hour-long account of her life, private and professional. She talked about her face-lift, her alcoholism, the death of her son and some professional flops. “I own all these things,” she told me. “They're part of my life, and I think people expect me to be honest.”

        She was honest. And gallant. And I wanted to be her friend Rhoda for a day. I don't mean I wanted to make her laugh. I just wanted to make her feel comfortable here, let her know that she was among friends. Instead I babbled and hyperventilated, completely star-struck.

        At least I'm in good company. When the Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air in 1977, Esquire magazine put her on its cover. It was a great, big, sentimental Valentine from dozens of movie stars and politicians and sports figures and writers, who did some gushing of their own.

        Not one of them, however, said she helped them buy their first house. They should have asked me. My husband and I were married about the time Mary's show started in the early '70s. We didn't have two nickels to rub together, certainly not enough for much nightlife.

A cheap date
        But we didn't mind. We stayed home Saturday nights, happy to hang out with Mary and Rhoda and Murray and Ted and Mr. Grant.

        Mary was a cheap date. We saved enough for a down payment on a house. And when the show was over for the night, it was still early. So, we probably owe her a thank-you note for our daughter, too.

        Of course, after Mary Richards deserted us, Mary Tyler Moore went on to star in the movie Ordinary People. One critic said director Robert Redford discovered the complex and fascinating woman behind Mary Tyler Moore's smile.

        But that is something that most of us knew instinctively, right from the beginning.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8393. She can be heard on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

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