Like most men of a certain age, I had an enormous crush on Mary Tyler Moore.
When I heard that she had passed away Wednesday at the age of 80, I got tremendously sad. As 2016 showed us, celebrities – just like real human beings! – die. But some deaths outside of your immediate circle of family and friends hit you harder than others.
She’s my first vivid female memory, if you don’t count my mother and sisters, and certainly my first vivid female pop culture memory, watching her play Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was five years old, and my writing hero has always been Laura’s husband Rob. It was because he seemed to have that unique mixture of a great-paying job and a healthy home life. A writer with a great-paying job and a healthy home life?
I’ve always had a dual personality. I’m constantly in a battle with myself (hey, I’m a Gemini). Part of me wants to be the world-weary freelance writer, aloof, always on the go, swinging in on a chandelier to save the day with my typewriter. No bosses, no time clocks, no time for staff meetings or Dilbert-like politics. The other part of me desperately wants to be Ward Cleaver, with a solid home, a wife, the two kids, the wacky neighbors, a lawn, and health benefits. All writers know that those two worlds can never exist together, right?
Then I met Rob Petrie. Well, if you define “met” as in “watched every single episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show approximately 75 times.” He had it all! He had style and was quick-witted and funny and wrote for a hit TV show with friends Sally and Buddy in this big city called New York, a world of advertising and martinis and skyscrapers. But after work, he had a house. In the suburbs! New Rochelle, to be exact. 148 Bonnie Meadow Road (the same street show creator Carl Reiner once lived on). He had the beautiful wife, the cute son, the milkman, the neighbors who were also best friends. Jerry Helper borrowed power tools from Rob and his wife Millie swapped recipes with Laura.
My God, I thought to myself. That’s what I want. How do I get that?
I think the 30-plus years I’ve been a writer has been a search for that life. I want that balance. I write full-time now but I haven’t found the wife or the kids or the home yet, but I will. I used to say that Rob Petrie was the big reason why I became a writer in the first place, and while that’s certainly true, I’m also a writer because of one of the most powerful goals in the world. I wanted to be married to Mary Tyler Moore.
Thanks Mary, for unknowingly pushing this Massachusetts kid to the life he wanted to lead. You not only turned the world on with your smile you turned my world on too.