Mary Tyler Moore
and Susan Silver
The following is excerpted from Susan Silver
’s “Hot Pants in Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms,” which will be released May 2.
(Author’s Note: Iris Rainer Dart
, my then writing partner who later went on to write “Beaches
,” had gotten pregnant and we had stopped working together. It was 1971. We were managed by comedy legend Garry Marshall
and had written one script for “Love, American Style.”)
After Iris and I split up as a writing team, I was starting all over again, trying to “make it on my own” as those famous “Mary Tyler Moore
Show” lyrics said. I told Garry that I’d seen her new show and knew I could write it. How did I know? It’s called “chutzpah,” French for “balls.” And I had some, it seems. Actually, she was situated in the Midwest, worked in a small local TV station, and so had I, both those things. It seemed like fate.
Because Garry knew the guys there, they were willing to take his recommendation about me, though I had nothing to show them written alone. I rehearsed over and over in the car as I drove to the studio. I’m sure passersby thought I was a crazy person as I animatedly “delivered my material” checking my expressions in the rear view mirror. I was nervous but determined. I had wanted this so long and now was my big chance.
I pitched three stories to Jim Brooks
and Allan Burns
, the creators of the show, a little intimidating though nice, and David Davis
and Lorenzo Music
, the story editors. Lorenzo doubled as the voice of the marvelous droll Carlton the Doorman on “Rhoda
,” as well a lot of other voice over work. He and David were in my corner from the beginning, realizing how hard this was for a new writer. They laughed whole heartedly, and I kept eye contact with them as I “performed.” They were so supportive and sweet, and I am forever grateful.
I left the office with the promise of an assignment if they got picked up for a full season. Which, fortunately they did. Surprisingly enough, CBS was not sure about the show and initially stuck it on a Tuesday. Believe it or not, the reviews were not good. Remember the times: It was not common for a woman in the early seventies to not want to be married first and foremost. This character’s fiance had dumped her! To be a career woman with stirrings of feminism, sticking up for one’s self, was not expected in a TV heroine. Here was an actress who had been the beloved wife of Dick Van Dyke
! Now she was at work, forming a family with colleagues, and starting friendships with women who were not always that friendly! Radical thinking, particularly about Mary, America’s sweetheart, who every man loved and wanted to protect and every woman wanted to be. This could be dangerous to women viewers and their roles in society.
Fortunately, for me and the show, Fred Silverman
, the whip smart exec who came in, moved it to Saturday where it became part of the must-see lineup, later with “Mash,” “Bob Newhart
,” “All the In the Family
,” and “Carol Burnett
That lineup — along with the growing Women’s Movement, which latched on to the show as important — got the Mary Tyler Moore
franchise a lot of attention. In comedy as in life, “timing was everything.” I should have been terrified, writing this script alone. But ignorance is bliss.
I always say, “I started on the top and it was downhill after that.” That wasn’t really true, but the Mtm experience was so far superior to any other. Other shows would give you a twenty-minute story meeting and send you home to write. Then sometimes they’d wonder why the script was “not what they had in mind.” At Mtm, once I got my assignment, we had an all day story meeting while we fleshed out the story together. This gave a detailed blueprint from which to begin.
Frankly, if I’d had a struggle to get an assignment, I don’t know if I would have been able to hang, make it at all. I may have been gutsy, but I was not resilient, or so I thought back then.Susan Silver
wrote for some of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, creating laughs for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show
,” “The Bob Newhart Show
,” “Partridge Family,” and more. She was one of the first females in an industry dominated by men. Now she dishes about the highs and lows of her comedy career and life in her memoir, “Hot Pants in Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms.”
Book Excerpt: “Hot Pants in Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms” was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.