Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted”

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, O, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2013.

Armstrong applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic, and reported the following:
As it turns out, I love this exercise as applied to my book. My page 99 is my book in a nutshell, and with a few minor tweaks could be the back-cover copy.

When I first opened my book to page 99, I thought I would give up entirely, as it’s the end of a chapter and mostly blank. It has exactly one paragraph of text. But this is that paragraph:
She and the other new Mary Tyler Moore writers — recruited via friends of friends, lured from off-Broadway, snatched from the male-dominated writing staffs like those Treva Silverman had endured — would make Mary one of the most authentic, and emulated, female characters to ever hit television. Getting to that point, however, wouldn’t be any easier than it had been to get the show on the air to begin with.
With that, I barely know what else to tell you, except that the “she” here is one of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s first female writers, Susan Silver, hired shortly after Treva Silverman, who’s mentioned here. Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted is, as its subtitle says, about the making of a classic sitcom, but a huge part of that success comes from the women behind the scenes, the ones many have never heard of before.

My main mission when I set out to write the book was to find the “real Mary Richards,” that unapologetically single, independent career woman Moore played in this seminal show. That character inspired millions of young women who are now working today, living their lives happily without men or without kids, and often making great comedy. (Hi, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus!) I wanted to know where Mary came from, and what I found was that though she sprung initially from the imaginations of the show’s creators, James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, she got a big assist from the women they hired to help write her.

The show had more female writers than any shows before it (and many shows that came after it) because of Brooks’ and Burns’ commitment to authenticity. They wanted to know what it was like to be a young and/or single woman in the ‘70s, down to the smallest details — makeup routines, clothes-swapping with your best friend, the horrors of being a bridesmaid. This led them to mentor a few dozen young women just entering TV production as the women’s movement took hold, and those women went on to write many sitcoms, run production companies, and mentor other young women.

Those were the real Mary Richardses, and this page is a window into their stories.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

My Book, The Movie: Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted.

--Marshal Zeringue