Yes, she could turn the world on with her smile.
And, for more than 50 years, Mary Tyler Moore also made audiences think and chuckle in her many incarnations on the small screen.
But there was more to Mary Tyler Moore than her roles on television that redefined the medium, the potential for women and the humanity of situation comedy. On the big screen, too, Mary Tyler Moore made a real impression even though she made relatively few films.
Let’s take a look.
Ordinary People (1980)
She should have won an Oscar.
Even though 1980 was the year Sissy Spacek became a superstar for portraying Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, Moore should have been named Best Actress for daring to challenge our perception of her soul in the year’s Best Picture, Ordinary People.
As Beth, an upper class, suburban wife and mother with a heart of steel and eyes that pierce, Moore immediately makes us forget that, just a few years before, she would defer to Mr. Grant in the WJM newsroom. This Moore can frighten with a smile, or a turn of a phrase, as she turns passive-aggressive behavior into an art form. Under Robert Redford’s sensitive direction, the actress makes it all look so easy, making us wonder if the years playing Laura Petrie and Mary Richards had all been an act. The performance is that good.
Years later, Moore’s portrayal of Beth stands as one of the richest performances captured on film, filled with nuance, brimming with subtlety, exciting with expression. She makes us believe in this woman’s incapacity to care. And she makes us want this coldest of ladies to somehow meet the Mary we love.
Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
She could have been a musical comedy star.
We knew, from her years on The Dick Van Dyke Show, as she sang and danced with Rob, Buddy and Sally, that Moore had the moves to shine on a musical stage.
And, after the series ended, she tried to bring a musical version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Broadway. But it closed out of town.
So Moore went to Universal studios to play second banana to Julie Andrews in this musical parody of women’s liberation in the 1920s. Even though Mary’s musical moments are limited to a delightful dance with Andrews in an elevator, her rich characterization of the ever-so-prissy Miss Dorothy is an entertaining gem. With each glance, she makes us believe in this superficial lady; with each reading, she introduces a new pitch to the voice we thought we knew. And it’s all great fun.
Perhaps, in a different time, Moore might have become a big-time musical star.
All we can do is imagine.
Just Between Friends (1986)
She could make any role work.
Few people saw this little movie when it came out. But those who did were treated with a rare dish of Moore on screen.
The role is tailor-made to her acting strengths. She plays a well-intentioned woman who learns – after the death of her husband – that he led a double life with a long-term relationship with another lady. As Moore processes the realities of this situation, she carefully moves through the stages of grief and anger, ultimately choosing to know the woman rather than dwell on her own emotions.
What could be a soap opera on a big screen becomes, instead, an interesting study of how people can surprise themselves with their reactions.
And Moore hits every right note.
Flirting With Disaster (1996)
She could certainly surprise.
Just when we may have thought we had seen the last of Moore on the big screen, she delivered a smashing supporting performance in this comedy from David O. Russell who later created Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.
In classic Russell style, Mary portrays an outrageous lady named Pearl who tries to express her feelings in every possible way. When her adopted son (played by Ben Stiller) begins to search for his biological parents, she seeks to reassure him of her devotion. The role is small and choice and, in the lead up to that year’s Oscars, Moore was considered “in the hunt” for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
No matter how brief, this rich performance reminds us of the expert timing and authentic humanity that Moore brought to every role. She never tried to make us laugh, but she did. And she always made us smile. And think.
Thank you, Mary Tyler Moore. We’ll keep watching. On any screen.
To read more about actors and actresses who leap from television to movies, check out The Reel Dad online at Arts and Leisure online at arts.hersamacorn.com.
Movie stars from the small screen
As Mary Tyler Moore demonstrated, the leap from television to movies could be a challenge that rewards audiences with rich performances. Over the years, others have made the jump, with success, from the small screen to the big screen. Take a look.
Like Mary Tyler Moore, Sally Field cast a lasting impression on the small screen as the teenager with energy in Gidget and the Sister with enthusiasm in The Flying Nun. But when she began to feel trapped by the memory of these portrayals, she went to The Actor’s Studio to hone her craft. Soon she impressed television audiences with her Emmy-winning performance of multiple personalities in Sybil before winning Oscars for Best Actress in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. She returned to television in Brothers and Sisters in 2006, and won another Emmy, and returned to Broadway this spring in a revival of The Glass Menagerie.
This year’s Oscar nominee for Best Actor for Fences got his start in summer stock – in Wings of the Morning – before making the television movie Wilma in 1977 and joining the television series St. Elsewhere in 1982. His jump to the big screen brought an Oscar nomination for Cry Freedom in 1988 and his first Oscar for Glory in 1989. He earned additional nominations for Malcolm X and The Hurricane before winning his second Oscar for Training Day in 2002 and another nomination for Flight in 2012. And now he could win Oscar number for a role that brought him a Tony in 2010. Way to go.
Few may remember that this year’s nominee for Best Actor – for La La Land –got his start on television’s The Mickey Mouse Club as a child performer in 1993. And from there he went to such series as Goosebumps, Young Hercules and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. He made the leap to the big screen in Remember the Titans in 2000 and soon became a star with The Notebook in 2004 and an Oscar nominee for Half Nelson in 2006. Drive, The Ides of March and The Place Beyond the Pines followed. And now we know he can also sing, dance and play the piano.
This year’s recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award made us laugh in the 1960s for her portrayals of Ernestine and Edith Ann on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. But when Robert Altman cast her as a devoted mother with a streak of romantic curiosity in Nashville, in 1974, we saw what an actress she is. She should have won the Oscar. And, over the years, she has delighted us on the big screen in 9 to 5, All of Me, Short Cuts and, last year, in Grandma, for which she should have been an Oscar nomination. And now her career comes full circle with her fabulous work on Netfilx in Grace and Frankie. What an actress.
We first saw him in a small role on television on The Golden Girls before he became a physician heart throb on E.R. And, when George Clooney turned his attention to the big screen, he never looked back. He has become one of the most respected actor/director/writer combinations in the business, winning Oscars for producing Argo, acting in Syriana (plus nominations for The Descendants, Up in the Air and Michael Clayton) and snagged nominations for writing The Ideas of March and writing and directing Good Night, and Good Luck. The man can do anything. And it all started on television.
He burst onto the small screen with a small role on the series Happy Days that quickly expanded into the hit series Mork and Mindy. After a bumpy beginning on the big screen – in Robert Altman’s Popeye – he quickly found his stride in The World According to Garp. Ultimately he won an Oscar for Good Will Hunting, and nominations for The Fisher King, Dead Poets Society, and Good Morning, Vietnam, before his tragic death in 2014. But, for many, he will always be that delightful alien to dared to question so many conventions we take for granted here on earth.
This three-time Oscar nominee for acting got his start on the small screen with roles in such series as Sex and the City, The $treet and Touching Evil before making a big splash in Alias. But when he made a little comedy called The Hangover for the big screen in 2009, it was clear he was destined to become a movie star. What surprised many is what an actor he is. Who can forget his big screen work in Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle and American Sniper? Oscar remembered with nominations. And, in 2014, he found time to star on Broadway in an acclaimed revival of The Elephant Man for which he was a nominated for a Tony.
Yes, some talent is so big it can shine on any screen.
See you at the movies.