Friday, January 27, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore's fictional newsroom had real Montana counterpart

Mary Tyler Moore's show featured an independent, confident, funny woman.


PHOTOS courtesy Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette and CBS

THE DEATH this week of Mary Tyler Moore brought a flood of bittersweet memories of the early 1970s when I was establishing my career as a journalist.
While Moore's fictional Mary Richards was fighting for the modern woman, I was a young reporter in Montana, one of many female journalists all over America doing the same thing.
Moore's friends and colleagues were painted as real humans.
The show, which Moore also produced, featured a single woman forging a career in a male dominated profession.
I was doing that in The Billings Gazette newsroom, where I signed on as a college freshman in 1968. My supervisor, Kathryn Wright, was the Gazette's first female reporter when hired  in 1942, "to cover the cops while the men went off to war," she explained.
Mary Tyler Moore in her associate producer role in a Minneapolis newsroom.
My first job was as "Society Editor,"  a title that itself reflects the times.  Women were largely perceived as housewives. If they worked, it was part-time, out of boredom, for pin money or to augment "the man's" salary. They might volunteer at the symphony or theater, planning fundraisers or galas. But the belief was that women were mostly interested in "society," sipping sherry, playing tennis, lunching with the girls at the country club, maybe venturing to take a secretarial post. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say.)
Click here: more on MTM, favorite performers
I WANTED MORE -- as millions of my peers did worldwide. I lobbied for changing the "society" title to "lifestyle." That happened.
I aced a night police reporter job, so I could finish my degree by day, and covered major beats including education, city hall and county. By the late 1970s, I was writing film and theater reviews, and editing the arts and travel section. Women in the newsroom were increasing.
The show was remarkable -- fine writing, characters who were
interesting, multi-dimensional.  Many of the MTM Show writers were women.
Journalism has always attracted smart, determined women, from photographer Margaret Bourke White and daring reporter Nellie Bly to Helen Thomas, Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Barbara Walters, Molly Ivins, Christiane Amanpour, Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley and Gwen Ifill, who broke both race and gender barriers on PBS. They juggled personal lives, sacrificed, demanded attention and equality.
My beloved mentor cautioned, "You have to work twice as hard, look twice as good, keep trim, behave yourself, watch your language." Men, she believed, could come to work late with grease on their ties, drink like fish, cuss like sailors, turn bald and fat and be told they looked "distinguished."
MARY WAS single, recently out of a failed
Christene Meyers, 1972,
in the hairstyle of the day
Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards character in 1977,
nearing the end of the show's smash hit run.
relationship. I was single the first part of my long career with Lee Newspapers. My byline for nearly three years was Chris Cosgriffe. I liked its Gaelic ring and alliteration. I was beginning to get national attention.  So when I married Bruce Meyers in 1970, we decided I would keep my maiden name and byline. That was fine with Bruce. He was a modern man. I told the newspaper of my decision.
Phyllis, Mary and Rhoda in a studio shot, early 1970s.
The show influenced fashion as well as social attitude.

Christene enroute to
cover the Miss America
pageant in 1968.
But to my dismay, the managing editor changed my byline. When we returned from our honeymoon in the South Pacific, I had become Chris Meyers. I could have taken them on, but that would have been awkward. I picked my battles in those early days of NOW and the Equal Rights Amendment. I had bigger fish to fry.

Mary Tyler Moore got her break as Laura Petrie on
"The Dick Van Dyke Show." It laid the groundwork
for MTM's character, Mary Richards.   
MOORE'S CHARACTER, dress and attitude were way ahead of her times.  She called "Mr. Grant" on his chauvinism and challenged him for a raise when she discovered her salary was less than her predecessor's. "Why is that, Mr. Grant?" she asked. "Because he was a man," the Ed Asner character replied. 'It has nothing to do with your work."
My "Mr. Grant" was Doc Bowler, a genial, sharp, old-school newsman who patrolled the newsroom like a general inspecting his troops.  Bowler's second in command was George, in charge of evaluations and pay raises. I approached him after discovering two of my male colleagues earned more than I did -- yet I'd been in the newsroom longer and received stellar evaluations. George took a puff of his pipe (everyone smoked in those days) and asked: "Your husband makes a good salary, doesn't he?" I was dismayed. What did that have to do with anything. "He's an assistant professor," George continued, "and you don't have children." he said. "So you're doing just fine."
Mary Tyler Moore found true love in her
third marriage to Dr. Robert Levine.
Christene with her late husband,
Bruce Meyers. He passed in 1992.
Christene with Bruce Keller,
her partner since 2007.
I eventually got the raise. I had to appeal to Doc Bowler and write a letter outlining my reasons for the request.  When I speak to female college students today, they are amazed at the pay discrepancy and byline change. "That's outrageous," said one young 20-something recently. "What did you do?"
I WORKED for change, as Mary's fictional character and millions of other real live women did.
Her character gave us courage, confirming that we were on the right track. Moore's show was among the first to address birth control, homosexuality, sexuality.  When Bruce and I decided to marry, we merged households.  That was highly frowned upon by my bosses, whom I reassured that we were planning to marry. "Good," said one, "but make it soon. People are talking." So much is acceptable now that was verboten then: not taking the man's name, equal pay for equal work, living together before marriage -- or even if marriage isn't planned. We were light years from same-sex acceptance and the notion of pregnancy outside of marriage.
Christene, 2015
Mary Tyler Moore, 
MY COLLEAGUES at the Montana newspaper were a western version of the colorful denizens of Mary's newsroom -- the photographer whose specialty was provocative pretty-women shots, the eccentric columnist who liked a nip on his rounds, the union printer who asked me after three years of marriage why "there's no bun in the oven." Again, dismay. "You need one kid, to take care of you when you're old," offered Chuck.
Our sports editor, Norm, a fine writer and now a famous Las Vegas columnist, was my pal, my Murray. Later, after Norm left, Roger, another brilliant writer, became my newsroom buddy. We were all rebels, hard-working and irreverent. We didn't have anyone as blatantly sexy as Sue Ann Niven but there was plenty of suggestion and innuendo. I dealt with inappropriate touching (my rear was pinched dozens of times), boob squeezers, and sources who offered information in return for sex. Now, they'd be sued, fired or at the very least reprimanded.
Mary Tyler Moore's signature hat in the air.
WE'RE WISER for having known sassy Mary Richards and her savvy creator, Mary Tyler Moore. When I interviewed Moore in 1980, for "Ordinary People," she said her two hit TV shows ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and MTM) paralleled her life. "I am those women," she laughed. "If those characters felt real to others, it's because they are so very real to me." She also confessed to wanting to be a professional dancer (she was wonderful.) "Behind that successful actor is a failed dancer," she told me.
MY PERSONAL life paralleled MTM's. She had three relationships, her last with a much loved younger man. She suffered great personal loss and forged onward. She kept her humor and grace, though she didn't become what she originally thought she'd be. (As a kid, I wanted to be a conductor.) She kept her head high, integrity intact. She never stopped laughing or giving, producing more TV shows, inspiring others. Hat's high in the air for you, Mary. You made it, after all.

Bruce Keller (and Cookie, at the camera this time) packed up recently
for a week in Malaga. They'll tell why it's become a favorite city. 
UP NEXT: We've returned to a favorite port of southern Europe, lovely Malaga, an inviting city on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol. Instead of a glamorous high-rise resorts, we chose a splendid parador, high above the yellow-sand beaches and next to a Moorish citadel which gave our delightful Parador Gibralfaro its name. Come with us to the Alcazaba -- and more, remembering to explore, learn and live and follow us Fridays when we post for the weekend.


  1. Nostalgic, delightful.

  2. I adored Mary Tyler Moore and remember wanting to be just like Mary Richards. Loved hearing your Mary Richards-esque story. You go girl!

    I also remember a boss mansplaining why Mr. X got paid more. I was told that Doug had 3 children to support. I asked if I would get a raise if I had twins or adopted children. well, that was a conversation stopper.

  3. I was there! Love this.

  4. I loved Mary Tyler Moore growing up and thought Mary Richards was the best role model ever. And I love that you were a Mary Richards yourself. What a grand story.

  5. Arizona rebel rouserFebruary 1, 2017 at 6:49 AM

    Wonderful details about those days of yesteryear.

  6. Fun fun fun. All good reporting.