October 2016

Everything I Need to Know I Am Still Learning from Mary Richards

Eileen Cunniffe

“I’m an experienced woman. I’ve been around….
Well, all right, I might not have been around, but I’ve been…nearby.”
—Mary Richards

I was the last to leave the office that September evening, after putting the final touches on a news release for the next day. Because I had a long commute and it was late, I picked up Chinese takeout on the way home. I let myself into my ground-floor apartment, switched on a lamp, and headed for the kitchen, where I dumped a box-shaped lump of rice and a pint of shrimp chow mein onto a plate. I’d made it home just in time to have dinner with an old friend—Mary Richards, the lead character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was back on the airwaves in the early 1990s thanks to Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite, a line-up of nostalgic reruns aimed squarely at Baby Boomers like me.

Truth be told, my 30-something self had been dining with Mary fairly often since I’d rediscovered her on cable television. I couldn’t resist reliving those episodes from my teenage years. I laughed at the dated clothing and smiled at references to 1970s events and politics, thinking back on all the Saturday nights I’d spent with Mary and her friends. So while it wasn’t at all unusual for me to be eating alone on a weeknight and watching a rerun of my favorite old show in my living room, it was quite a surprise when Nick at Nite served up that particular episode on that particular September evening, considering what I’d just done.

The episode opens with Mary hunched over a typewriter in her apartment, where she’s been working all weekend to update obituary files on famous people for WJM, the Minneapolis television news station where she works, in case someone dies unexpectedly. Her best friend and neighbor Rhoda pops in, hoping to talk Mary into seeing a movie, but Mary insists she’s got to keep working. So Rhoda joins her, and they make steady progress through the alphabet of celebrities, until by 4 a.m. they are so tired and punchy—and still only up to the Ws—they start making things up, collapsing in fits of laughter with each new fake obituary. Silly stuff, like how Raquel Welch would not die by drowning. Finally, just before giving up, Rhoda and Mary craft an obituary for Wee Willie Williams, at 110½ the oldest living citizen of Minneapolis, with a punchline about how when last interviewed, he had “no immediate plans for the future, but hoped to include travelling, gardening and breathing.”

All of which struck me as highly amusing and weirdly coincidental, in view of my own role in crafting the aforementioned news release, which was not real news, but a prank for a co-worker’s 40th birthday. A few of us had stayed late—until after our manager Steve went home—to inflate black balloons and scatter confetti across his desk and around the neat stacks of files that lined the windowsills of his corner office. The news release had been someone else’s idea, but I had to agree it was a stroke of genius: a fake story on real press letterhead.

I kept thinking our fake news release was funny right up until the scene where Mary leaves the unfinished obituaries on her desk, unattended. Of course just before the evening news, word comes that Wee Willie has died, and of course anchorman Ted finds the fake copy and cluelessly reads it on the air. When their boss, Mr. Grant, realizes Mary is to blame, he’s too angry to even talk to her that evening. He tells her to be in his office first thing the next morning.

Uh-oh.

During the commercial break, I started wondering if I should get in my car and make the 50-mile round trip for the second time that day to undo what had seemed a few hours earlier like an innocent joke. Or should I just brace myself for a sleepless night and pray no one would inadvertently issue or take offense at what was obviously a fake news release, even though I’d gone to so much trouble to make it look authentic?

Back on my TV screen, on the morning after the fake obituary was read on the air, Mr. Grant marches into the newsroom looking like he’s dressed for a funeral, in a black pin-striped suit, a white shirt and a black tie. The formality and highly unusual un-rumpledness of his clothes clearly establish the seriousness of the situation.

Mary is dressed mostly in white—a tailored suit, with a knee-length skirt and a jacket cinched at the waist. She’s wearing a caramel-colored turtleneck and matching pumps. She knows Mr. Grant is upset, but still she looks like a million bucks, certainly not like someone who’s been awake all night worrying. The contrast of his black and her white suggests Mr. Grant is the bad guy here and Mary, as always, remains the good girl. Except this time, she isn’t. She’s crossed a line—unwittingly, and through circumstances that make perfect sense in a sitcom—but it’s a line Mr. Grant cannot overlook.

“You can take any other liberty you want in any area. You can kid around all you want. But the news is sacred,” he tells her. Mary has messed with the news. She has violated a code, and worst of all, made Mr. Grant’s unwavering trust in her waver, if only temporarily.

“If this were anyone else…,” Mr. Grant begins.

“Mr. Grant, I don’t want any special treatment,” Mary interrupts.

“Mary, this is the kind of thing they fire people for,” he says, looking stricken.

“Mr. Grant, I’d appreciate any special treatment.”

All of a sudden, my shrimp chow mein wasn’t sitting so well. An innocent, news-related caper had landed my old friend Mary in hot water. She was going to be punished. Never mind that this was—and would continue to be—The Mary Tyler Moore Show, so of course the unpleasantness would have to be resolved in Mary’s favor, and within the half hour. In real life, I wasn’t so sure what might happen to me the next day.

Because here’s what Mary Richards had not done: she had not papered the halls of her workplace with a news release with this headline: “Steve L. Turns 40, Looks Forward to Digital Rectal Exam.” She had not taken a subject—early detection of prostate cancer—that her employer was in the forefront of promoting and turned it into the punchline for a joke.

In real time, my messing-with-the-news moment of synchronicity with Mary Richards happened during the era of Murphy Brown, the hard-hitting, hard-living, potty-mouthed journalist portrayed so convincingly by Candice Bergen that then-vice president Dan Quayle picked a public fight with Brown about being a single mother, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was a fictional character; and so convincingly that when the show ended after a ten-year run, it was rumored that CBS actually invited Bergen to join 60 Minutes.

When 40-year-old Murphy first hit the airwaves in 1988, I was smitten. I was a 30-year-old career woman who worked on the other side of the news—in the public relations department of a pharmaceutical company. In fact, on the very day in 1992 when Dan Quayle famously misspelled “potatoe” in an elementary school, his wife Marilyn visited my company to promote breast cancer screening. (Guess which story made national news?) I admired Murphy’s intelligence, her confidence, her sense of humor, her willingness to challenge authority and break rules in the service of truthful reporting. I was inclined to agree with her politics—though not too publicly around the office, where Murphy’s left-leaning views were highly unpopular.

I liked Murphy Brown, but I wasn’t like her. And even though occasionally I might have wished I could channel her bravado, I knew I would never become a Murphy kind of a woman. I was, and always had been, far more like Mary Richards, the not-so-hard-hitting, mostly clean-living, well-mannered television news producer portrayed by Mary Tyler Moore.

In more ways than one, I’d grown up with Mary Richards, who landed that job at WJM when she was 30 and I was nearly 12. Mary and the gang at WJM—Lou the soft-hearted curmudgeon; Ted the buffoonish baritone; quick-witted, self-effacing Murray; and self-assured, vampy Sue Ann—kept me entertained throughout my formative years, often on nights when I had babysitting gigs and had to be sure to put the kids to bed before Mary came on.

I loved that Mary lived in her own apartment in a city she’d moved to by herself; back then I lived with my parents, six younger siblings and my grandfather in suburbia. I loved that big “M” sculpture on her wall; up to that point, a glued-together 1,000-piece puzzle was my boldest interior design statement. I loved straight-shooting, hippie-ish Rhoda, especially when she took on their wacky friend and landlord Phyllis. And oh, how I loved Mary’s clothes; her taste informed my fashion decisions, or more accurately, my fashion fantasies. I still recall a plaid pantsuit with a cropped jacket and bell-bottom pants I wore in high school, thinking it was “very Mary.”

At first, The Mary Tyler Moore Show was just good entertainment. It took a few seasons before I began to understand that what was going on went far deeper than stories about producing the evening news or making friends in a new city. Mary Richards offered a distinctly different view of how a “modern” woman might find her way in the world, particularly the world of work. Through Mary, I began to absorb lessons about how things were changing for women, the choices that were available and the consequences of choosing (or being chosen by) a non-traditional path—like that of a single career woman. I was too young to appreciate that this was ground-breaking territory for a television sitcom, but I knew Mary was different from most of the adult women in my world—almost all of whom were married, or widowed. In that world, if a woman wasn’t married, or hadn’t been, she was trying to be. The only other alternatives I could see were to enter the convent or be written off as an “old maid.” So I was interested in watching Mary’s story unfold, even if I didn’t expect my story would end up being like hers.

Mary’s run at WJM lasted into my second semester of college. I watched the final episode in March 1977 with my closest girlfriends. We laughed, we cried, we staged our own little group hug as the cast shuffled out of the newsroom for the last time, incongruously singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” I had just learned in a literature class that comic endings are always contrived, and I felt rather clever for connecting that thought with the series finale.

The idea of Mary Richards stayed with me long after the final credits rolled. I can’t say I consciously invoked her memory during my early years as a working girl. If I thought of her at all, it was fondly. But if I thought about my future, I was certain it would include a husband and children. I never expected to be an independent career woman like Mary. I never tried to model my life on hers.

Yet by the early 1990s, while I alternated between new episodes of Murphy Brown and old reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, my life was looking more like Mary’s all the time. I had my own apartment, a genuine career, friendly neighbors and occasional blind dates that were at least as bad as any of Mary’s (okay, worse, because they were real). I even had a big metal “E” on my wall—a gift from a friend who had no way of knowing my history with Mary.

In fact, although I didn’t figure this out until much later, on that September evening when I messed with the news and then watched episode 20 from season 4—“Better Late…That’s a Pun…Than Never”—I had caught up to Mary Richards in age. I was on the brink of turning 34, the age she would forever be in reruns from that season. And like Mary, I was unaccustomed to getting myself into disciplinary trouble at work.

In college, I briefly flirted with trouble at my part-time job at the information desk at Philadelphia International Airport. Without cell phones, the Internet, or monitors with flight times, our staff provided vital services, looking up flight schedules, giving out phone numbers for hotels and shuttles, and calling the airport operator to have people paged. On evenings and weekends, the desk was left in the hands of students like me and my friend Tina. If the phone wasn’t ringing and we’d finished our homework, we had to find other ways to pass the time.

Maybe it was my idea, but I’m sure it was Tina who phoned in the page, at least the first time. Soon, the guys at the airline counter across from our desk were onto us, but the switchboard operators never caught on. Time after time, all through the halls of the airport, they’d broadcast our request: “Mr. Right, please come to the information desk in Terminal C. Mr. Right, to the information desk in Terminal C.” We wanted to ask them to page “the (W)Right Brothers,” so there’d be one for each of us, but as funny as that would have been in an airport, we knew it would end our little game—which we played sparingly, but to our own great amusement, for months.

That is, until the night when a middle-aged man, weighted down by a garment bag slung over one shoulder and a suitcase in the other hand, huffed and puffed his way to our desk, introducing himself as “Mr. Right” and apologizing for how long it had taken to reach us, but he’d been two terminals away when he heard the page.

Uh-oh. Tina and I looked at each other nervously, and her wide brown eyes made it clear it was up to me, being two years older, to find a way out of this situation.

“What’s your first name?” I politely stammered.

“Thomas,” he replied, still catching his breath.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we were looking for Mr. William Right,” I said, disappointedly.

“That’s OK, thanks anyway,” he replied, hoisting his luggage and staggering back in the direction from which he’d come. Once he was out of earshot, we collapsed into laughter, tinged with leftover panic.

After that, Tina and I were done with fake pages. We would have gotten a good talking-to from our boss if we’d been found out, but since we were college kids (and two of his favorites), I doubt there would have been serious disciplinary action. Still, up until the night of the fake news release, paging Mr. Right was the riskiest thing I’d ever done at work.

In the fake obituary episode, Mary leaves Mr. Grant’s office with a two-week suspension without pay. With Murray’s encouragement, she marches back in and says she’d rather be fired than suspended. Lou lets her decide, and since she has backed herself into a principled corner, Mary gathers her sparse personal effects—box of tissues, spare pantyhose, hairspray, umbrella and her signature bud vase—and leaves WJM in a daze.

In my 1990s living room, I paced and wrung my hands, trying to decide which was worse: calling attention to the fake news release if a security guard found me at work so late; or leaving the evidence in plain sight until the next morning. I reminded myself I didn’t even write the worst bits of the release—a co-worker had written most of it, including that tasteless headline. Still, I was the one to finish it, the one who made copies, left fingerprints all over the crime scene. Crime scene? Was it that bad? Could they actually trace the document to me? Were my fingerprints at the copy machine, on the stapler? How clever my co-worker had been, inventing a reason to leave earlier, forwarding the draft to me so it would be saved on my computer. He’d probably already deleted it from his.

In the end, of course, Mary goes back to work at WJM. After half-heartedly looking for employment elsewhere, she begs Mr. Grant to give her back her old job: “I wanna come back,” she says through sobs. “I don’t like it out there.” He happily rehires her, confident she has learned her lesson.

In real life, I didn’t go back to work on that September night, but I sure didn’t get much sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, Mr. Grant appeared, sternly telling Mary (and me), “You have to be punished.” As it turned out, the fake news release was a big hit. In fact, my good-girl reputation slipped half a notch when word got around that I was one of the perpetrators.

Still, like Mary, I had learned my lesson. I never messed with the news again.

I kept watching those reruns in the 1990s until Mary and the gang came full circle, back to their now-famous group hug. With Monday-through-Friday episodes, they sped through the 1970s in a time-warping way, even as they stayed stuck in the past. When the reruns stopped, I appreciated the show far more than I had as a teenager. I knew by then how hard a woman still had to work to be taken seriously, more than twenty years after Mary had proven herself. I understood just how elusive Mr. Right could be, especially when a woman spent so much of her time in the office, or in airports, crisscrossing the country and even the Atlantic Ocean on business trips. And maybe I read a little too much into one small gesture from the opening credits, where Mary shrugs as she tosses a package of meat into her shopping cart; but by the 1990s every time that image flashed on my television screen, I felt certain I could describe the full range of emotions Mary was feeling in that moment: “Yes, dinner for one, again.” “What the heck, I deserve a nice steak once in a while.” “Who cares what the cashier thinks?” Sometimes I caught myself making that same gesture and thinking those same thoughts while wandering through a grocery store.

Mostly, I think, at the end of my second go-round with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, what I loved best was Mary’s resilience, her unflappable optimism: how week after week, regardless of how things had gone at work or with her latest romance, she still tossed her tasseled hat high into the chilly Minneapolis air and started all over again. Sometimes I found myself consciously channeling that feeling, on good days as well as bad.

I knew I would always have that moment—my very-Mary moment—of nearly losing my job (well, not really) over a prank that backfired on precisely the same night when episode 20 from season 4 just happened to air on Nick at Nite. Now when I thought about Mary—and over the next years I still did from time to time—I would feel a little closer to her. I could see how my story was beginning to look more and more like hers, as I reached my late 30s, still single, still a hard-working career girl who’d somehow gone off script from the life she’d expected. Mary’s story provided a point of reference as I navigated through that stage of my life.

The year I turned 40, Entertainment Weekly named The Mary Tyler Moore Show the best TV show of all time, which made me quite happy. Two years later, ABC (not CBS, the show’s old network) aired a two-hour telemovie that reunited Mary and Rhoda in New York City, a quarter-century after they’d parted in Minneapolis. The original idea had been a series featuring middle-aged Mary and Rhoda, but the network decided to test it with a movie pilot. I couldn’t wait. Finally, I would know how life had turned out for Mary. (Of course, I understood Mary was a fictional character. I wasn’t Dan Quayle, after all, I could tell the difference. But still…)

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t watched that movie. Ten minutes in, I knew it was a mistake—watching it, definitely, and making it, probably. Perhaps because the movie had flashed forward all those years, and we didn’t see Mary finally meeting and marrying Mr. Right (a congressman, recently deceased when the movie begins) and becoming a wife and a mother, for me it just didn’t ring true. Maybe she seemed out of place in New York, or as a widow. Or maybe—just maybe—it was because watching that movie made me realize that part of the appeal of the way The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended was that I could always imagine—but never know—how Mary’s life had turned out. And as long as I didn’t know, I suppose I always imagined—or wanted to—that she was still out there somewhere, making it on her own, making it after all, as an independent, unmarried woman. Like me.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like Mary and Rhoda. The series was cancelled before it ever began, and critics panned the movie. One review in the San Francisco Chronicle said: “Mary and Rhoda is to be savored, ever so briefly, for its reunion of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern. And then it should be spat out like sour milk, in hopes of preserving the happier memory of Mary and Rhoda in their 1970s sitcom heaven.”

I did my best to forget the movie. I preferred to remember the 37-year-old Mary who lost her job when a new station manager took over at WJM, leaving her story unfinished. When faced with a challenging workplace or relationship situation, I sometimes found myself wondering, “What would Mary do?” When at the age of 42 I bought my first house, then had to carry myself across the threshold—on crutches, with a broken ankle and a knee-high cast—it occurred to me that my first day as a homeowner would have made a great episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. (Mary, of course, would have been surrounded by friends in that episode, whereas I was lucky enough to have an army of family members to help me move in, while I waved my crutches around to show them what went where.)

In 2005, I bumped into Mary once more, in reruns on some random cable station. I’d just left that pharmaceutical company where I’d worked for nearly two decades and I was spending a lot of time thinking about what the next phase of my career might look like. So I tuned in again, looking for whatever wisdom Mary might have to offer. I started paying closer attention to the episodes. I noticed little things, like the wicker trunk in Mary’s first apartment that she used as a coffee table; I’d had one just like it in my first apartment, but I could no longer recall if I’d consciously copied Mary’s décor or if that had been a coincidence. I noticed that the suit Lou wore when he punished Mary in season 4—the one that made him look like he was dressed for a funeral—was the very suit he did wear in season 5 to the funeral for Chuckles the Clown, an episode that still is considered an all-time sitcom classic, four decades later.

The third time around, I noticed bigger things, too—like how Mary’s singleness sometimes set her apart from the people around her, but also how she never let it define her, at least not completely. Also, I liked that she was a quiet kind of a feminist—compared with, say, Phyllis, who looked for slights and fights everywhere; Mary earned respect as a woman in a mostly male world, but she never demanded respect just because she was a woman.

I started searching online for information about the show. I ordered season 4 on DVDs, so I could watch episode 20 again. I watched other episodes, too. I had forgotten that Mary had taken a creative writing class, something I’d just done myself, after a quarter-century of writing words for other people, but never my own. I squirmed through the episode where Mary and Rhoda have a falling out (“Best of Enemies”), although I loved this bit of dialogue:

Rhoda: “Boy, Mary, you know something? You’ve got a real Ms. job.”

Mary: “What do you mean?

Rhoda: “This is the kind of job Gloria Steinem wants you to have.”

I recalled times during my own career when female friends had made similar comments to me. Not that they would have mentioned Gloria Steinem or Ms. Magazine, just that they seemed to think my jobs were more glamorous or more prestigious than they’d felt to me, mostly because I did so much traveling. Once my old airport friend Tina—whom I’d lost track of years earlier—saw my name in the newspaper when I got a promotion and phoned to say hello; turns out she’d actually met her Mr. Right while still working at the airport, now they were married and had a young family. Tina asked about my work, and I suppose I made it sound exciting—that seemed to be what she was hoping for. But really, like Mary, at that point I’d spent much of my career making men around me look good, while I only advanced a rung or two up the ladder. I’d been a medical writer and editor, a public relations and communications professional, I’d cranked out more academic papers, news releases, newsletters and speeches for doctors and executives than I could count. A couple of times I’d turned down opportunities to move a rung or two further up the ladder, into jobs I didn’t want, even if they had bigger titles. I’m pretty sure Gloria Steinem wouldn’t have been impressed.

In 2006, between jobs, I finally started writing about me and Mary—the earliest draft of an essay about the night of the fake news release—but I didn’t get far. Other stories I wanted to tell seemed more pressing. Always, though, I knew Mary was there—in my notes, in my mind, in those DVDs collecting dust on a bookshelf. I always knew I’d find my way back to her, and thank her for all she’d taught me over the years about being a single career woman.

Then a few years ago, I ran into Steve—he of the 40th birthday and the fake news release—and he mentioned he still had a copy of that old relic somewhere, and it still makes him laugh every time he happens upon it. Which got me thinking about me and Mary all over again.

I went back to season 4, and mined those episodes for all they were worth. I still wanted more, so I ordered up season 7, the final season, which is loaded with emotional truths about being a single working woman—some triumphant, some disappointing, some both at the same time. Like Mary having—at last—the authority to select a new sportscaster for WJM and making the bold choice to hire a woman, then having to fire her because she did such a lousy job. And I discovered yet another episode about Mary trying to find her voice as a writer. I looked up the lyrics to “Love Is All Around,” and I realized the question that’s posed is “How will you make it on your own?” Not “will you make it,” but “how will you make it.”

Then I discovered Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted (And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic), a 2013 book by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. I’d already come to appreciate what a ground-breaking move it had been to present a 30-year-old, unmarried woman as the lead character in a television sitcom back in 1970. What I hadn’t appreciated until I read the book was how many women—in addition to the actors who played Mary and Rhoda, Sue Ann and Georgette, Phyllis and her daughter Beth—had contributed to that trail-blazing production, which lasted for 168 episodes. Women writers, in particular, who’d had trouble finding steady television or movie work, for the first time were sought after and valued for their abilities to tell true—or seemingly so—stories about themselves, their friends, their mothers, their daughters, their work, their changing world; and all through Mary Richards. Trail-blazing women who made it possible for a female reporter like Murphy Brown to hit the airwaves a generation later. It seems likely that if Mary hadn’t paved the way, Murphy might never have seen the light of day.

Mary Tyler Moore, according to Armstrong, “tried—but failed—to play down talk of being a ‘symbol’ to women.” I’ll vouch for how thoroughly she failed; and not just for myself, because every 50- or 60-something woman I mention Mary Richards to agrees that her story mattered, that it resonated, that she seemed so real (except for those oh-so-fake 1970s eyelashes) that it’s hard to think of her as a fictional character. Armstrong also says of Moore, “She just wanted to be remembered as someone who always looked for the truth. Even, as she once said, if it wasn’t funny.”

And sometimes it wasn’t: Mary Richards struggled mightily to be taken seriously, to trust her own instincts, to stand up for her beliefs. She wrestled with diversity in the workplace and glass ceilings, long before anyone used those terms. She had to learn to work with difficult people, and sometimes she had to live with other people getting—or taking—credit for her efforts. And no matter how hard she tried to downplay her chronic state of singleness, someone always seemed to be asking, often out loud, why a nice girl like Mary couldn’t find a man.

Which brings me back to the final season, and that concept of comic endings always being contrived. In drama, a “comic” (or happy) story generally ends with a celebration, often a wedding banquet. The cast and producers of The Mary Tyler Moore Show knew before season 7 began that it would be their last. They teased their audience with Mary’s story ending on a happily-ever-after romantic note. In one episode, she dates a charming 60-something man. In another, we see through imagined scenes what her life might have been like if she’d married Murray, Ted or Lou. And in the penultimate episode, Mary asks Lou for a date, a date that’s a comically wonderful failure. It becomes obvious to all that Mary Richards will end as she began—as a single working woman, albeit older and wiser, with far more confidence than she had in season 1. No Mr. Right, no wedding banquet, still making it on her own, but not unhappily so.

Still—and again, I do know Mary Richards was a fictional character, not a real person—I sometimes wish I could see her now. Not as she was in that telemovie, but as she might be if she had stayed single and kept working. I want to meet her for a drink, or better yet take her out for shrimp chow mein, and catch up on all the years since 1977—hers and mine. We’d hit it off, I just know we would. I’d want to hear how she reinvented herself after she left WJM—did she stay in journalism or try something new? I’d want to tell her about the bumps in my own career, and the big shift I made in my 40s, away from the corporate world (happily) and into the nonprofit sector. I’d ask if she ever did find her voice as a writer. I hope she did, because I’d love to compare notes on what that was like for each of us. I’d want to know if she ever worked for a woman boss, if she too sometimes found that surprisingly harder than working for a man. I’ll bet we could have fun comparing Mr. Grant with—just as one example—a demanding and self-aggrandizing boss who didn’t grasp how a shared online calendar worked and had to be told everyone in the company could see she was scheduled for a Brazilian wax. I’d want to know if, like me, Mary found a few trusty single women friends to travel with, to have adventures with, to cook for, to see movies with, to talk with about our chronic state of singlehood—and its flip side, our chronic state of independence. I’d have to ask how she got by with no brothers or sisters, no in-laws or nieces or nephews; I can’t imagine being single and being an only child.

I have a funny feeling that like me, Mary would eventually have stopped going on blind dates—maybe because people stopped offering to fix her up, or maybe because the offers just kept getting worse. I’m pretty sure she, like me, would have steered clear entirely of online dating sites, concluding that there are worse ways to live than being single. And, I might add, far worse ways to see yourself than as someone whose life—at least some of the time—might lend itself to a situation comedy.

I know the curtain had to be brought down on Mary Richards—no sitcom lasts forever. And so it was, way back in 1977, with Mary, Lou, Murray and Sue Ann all being fired in the final episode, while Ted miraculously, comically, keeps his job at WJM. The cast leaves the newsroom for the final time. Mary leans back in, alone, and flicks off the light, then she disappears into an unscripted future. Which, at least for me, is where she’ll always remain. It is, as they say, a long way to Tipperary.