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A Media Path Through the Life of Mary Tyler Moore and the Necessity of Imparting an Honest Narrative

“I love classic TV,” says Herbie J. Pilato. His passion for television history is unmistakable. In writing his book, Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Story, he approached the life and legacy of an icon with deep respect, compassion and attentiveness. When he discusses the book, there’s such a genuine understanding of the significance fans and admirers would attribute to the task of creating the record of a life story as stunning as Mary’s.

Herbie is a historian above everything, therefore he spares no effort when it comes to chronicling the details of Mary’s life and work, his knowledge coming through clearly as he tells us about the development and trajectory of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. He’s an ardent supporter of Mary who is keenly insightful as to her desires, her insecurities, her hopes and disappointments, and when he speaks about these things one gets the sense that he’s extraordinarily well-suited to be her surrogate and her voice.

He tells us he wanted the book to be truth-telling but not salacious. This is the undeniable truth of the biography. Even when the discussion turns to her addictions like surgery and alcohol, her feelings of being a failure as a mother, it never feels indelicate. Instead, there’s an empathy and regard for Mary, a belief that is likely to be widely shared that this is the story SHE would want to be told.

There’s an easy nostalgia to the way Herbie talks about Mary’s life and career, not a commitment to re-living the past but more to comprehending it fully. There’s the anecdotes about the horrified-looking woman in the background of the part of the title sequence where Mary throws her hat, the significance of her deep association with Dick Van Dyke that spilled over into the premise of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then there’s the subtler ways the past is put into perspective, like when Herbie talks about the fact that Valerie Harper and Mary didn’t always get along but that in those days, they could be more discreet about it, thereby being able to successfully pursue an impulse to protect their fans from this harsh reality.

Mary’s imperfection and humanity are important for Herbie to portray because they’re necessary to tell the whole story. “I wanted to make this the best book I ever wrote,” he says when he explains his commitment to objectivity. But beyond that, he has an even larger goal. The disservice of not providing readers with the full story is one that has an impact on every single one of us, because Herbie wants us to know that we all have issues and problems in our lives, and portraying Marry as relatable and real can help us see how we’re all connected.\

For Louise, this episode was very special. Mary was adored by many, but she was also an inspiration. To a generation of women she provided representation in the media of what it would look like to have a career, to have options beyond marriage and motherhood and to be a fully-actualized person. The inspiration she provided made a material impact on the lives of countless American women, so it was truly a pleasure to speak to someone who is as perceptive and thoughtful about Mary and the entirety of her life and personality, as is Herbie J. Pilato. Did Mary affect your life in a meaningful way? What did Mary Tyler Moore represent to you?

Herbie J. Pilato’s book is now available on Amazon, and you can check out his complete author page with all of his work on media and pop culture here.

When you watch Media Path on YouTube, you’ll get to experience curated visuals for every episode, and if you prefer just the audio you can hear us wherever podcasts are available.

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