Before The Dick Van Dyke Show made Mary Tyler Moore a sitcom star, she was a pretty young dancer, best known for her legs and voice — viewers never saw her face — on the 1950s crime drama Richard Diamond, Private Detective. On May 11, Moore reprises her career-making role as Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited (9 pm/ET on CBS). Here, she reminisces about landing the big gig — for which she beat out 40 other actresses — and her favorite memories from the landmark series.
TV Guide Online: Winning the role of Laura Petrie was a great step up for you.
Mary Tyler Moore:
I almost didn't go to the audition. When my agent called, I said, "I'm tired. I've had too many disappointments all week." He said, "You just get in your car and go over there." I walked in, and there was Carl Reiner, on whom I had a tremendous crush from The Sid Caesar Show. We sat down to read this scene — and about a third of the way [in], he put his hand on the top of my head, and he guided me down the hallway into [executive producer] Sheldon Leonard's office, where he sat with Danny Thomas. This time, we did the whole scene. It was clear just from reading body language that they were happy with what I had done.
TVGO: What was your first impression of Dick Van Dyke?
Well, I also had a crush on him, too, from [his Broadway show] Bye Bye Birdie. I was in love all over the place. Everyone was so selfless and supportive. I had not done any comedy and Dick encouraged me all the way. Carl and Dick helped build me into the world's first funny straight man. It was just the most nourishing ground a flower ever found herself in.
TVGO: You broke a lot of '50s-era rules.
I had Laura wear pants, because I said, "Women don't wear full-skirted dresses to vacuum in." CBS said, "'You know, we're afraid that housewives are going to be a little annoyed because she looks so good in pants." So they made Carl promise not to let me wear pants in more than one scene. We went along with that for about three episodes, and then finally, I was just wearing the pants. We got the absolution of men everywhere and women kind of breathed a sigh of relief, too, and said, "Hey, that's right. That's what we wear."
TVGO: Rob and Laura also were groundbreaking because...
We brought romance to TV comedy, and yes, Rob and Laura had sex! Dick and I just felt really comfortable flirting with each other. Not personally, because I was married — to two husbands, actually — during the show.
TVGO: What's a favorite episode of yours?
"The Blonde-Haired Brunette." I bleach my hair blonde, and I don't get it dyed back in time before a bemused Rob walks in and makes me feel majorly silly. And I got to do my first crying scene in that show.
TVGO: Your comic crying jags were famous.
It's amazing that it had my imprimatur on it at all — because I just watched a lot of Your Show of Shows and copied as much as I could from Nanette Fabray. I just out and out stole from her! She knows it, and I've made my apologies.
TVGO: There was one episode you weren't happy about...
When Laura gets her toe caught in the bathtub faucet in the Plaza Hotel in New York. Carl said he wrote a show for me that I was going to love. I was ready to win an Emmy. It turned out that I was off-camera for 70 percent of the time, so I went home in a huff. I apologized to Carl for being so ridiculous. Later, I found a huge brass spigot, had it mounted and gave it to him.
TVGO: Do you remember how shooting the last Van Dyke episode felt?
"I can't believe I'm going to have to say goodbye to these people. I can't believe that they're going to be working with other people. And that I won't sit on that couch again. And that Dick's arms won't be around me." It was so tough. Those emotions are still quite rawly present in me today.
TVGO: Making the reunion show must have been emotional.
It was one of the most special occasions of my working life. It not only involved the remembering of fine work of which we were all very proud, but there was also the emotional commitment that we all felt to each other. Everyone said it was probably the finest five years that we had ever spent working, and that's true for me. I followed that with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which followed the values that Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner taught me to hold very dear. Never let your ego get in the way of somebody else's good idea, and always surround yourself with the best, because the stronger the others around you are, the better you look. Just so many truths about life in general, and they came from Carl.
For more Dick Van Dyke Show memories, read the current issue of TV Guide magazine, on sale now.