Mary Tyler Moore: "I was never as happy as I was on the Van Dyke show"

Mary Tyler Moore had such a full, contagious laugh. There was something so human in the way her head tilted back with her mouth wide open. She was a beautiful person who allowed herself to lose composure in rapturous laughter. This was one of her many, many gifts that made her such an endearing performer. Mary Tyler Moore recognized that this was her greatest asset — she had a remarkable talent in reacting to things in a funny way.

From 1961 to 1966, Moore starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Laura Petrie. She beat out more than 60 other actresses for the part, and her chemistry with leading man Dick Van Dyke is charming. However, despite the show's success, its principal actors sought to capitalize further by leaving television for the movies. "Let's face it," Moore told the Sun-Telegram in 1970, "we quit because we all had motion picture offers and we had to give that a try."

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The movies, for all their glitz and glamour, weren't suited, at that time, for Mary Tyler Moore's sensibilities. "I was better in television. I was a couple of years late going into the movies. They weren't doing light, sophisticated comedy anymore and I didn't have a well-thought-out career buildup."

Despite giving it her all, Moore was left feeling cold by these moviemaking efforts. "I was never as happy as I was on the Van Dyke show." This interview came on the tail of Mary Tyler Moore's appearance in Thoroughly Modern Millie, in which she starred alongside Julie Andrews and Carol Channing. 

"Millie was the first time I had to really create a character. Julie was Julie, Carol was Carol, but I am not shy and retiring and demure."

Luckily, Moore was able to return home to television when she starred in her own Mary Tyler Moore Show. In it, she played a single, 30-something career woman who she partly based on herself. "The character is going to be essentially me. Laura Petrie before she got married maybe."

Headlining her own show, though, was a radical departure from her days as a supporting character on The Dick Van Dyke Show. With her name in the title and at the top of the call sheet, it was all up to Mary.

"I was scared. I had to go out and do the warm-up. Dick used to do that. Now I realized there was nobody else but me. So I just went out there and I told them I hoped they enjoyed themselves and to laugh when they wanted to, but not to force it."