The Reason They Kept Dick Van Dyke Far Away From ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’

America was convinced TV’s Petries were married in real life
The Reason They Kept Dick Van Dyke Far Away From ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’

If John and Jackie Kennedy were the dream couple who represented the early 1960s’ American ideal, their television doppelgangers were The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Rob and Laura Petrie.  “Everyone loved Mary (Tyler Moore). What wasn’t to love?” wondered Van Dyke in his memoir, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business. “I adored her from the moment we were introduced. I think both of us had each other at hello.”

“You two are perfectly suited,” Carl Reiner told Van Dyke in his book, Why and When the Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born. Even though there was an 11-year age gap between the real-life actors, Reiner was confident that “the audience will accept you as a couple.”

Boy, did they. Not only did America love the Petries, but its TV junkie citizens were convinced that the two must be a perfect match outside of television as well. Van Dyke and Moore joked about the problem on a 1969 TV special called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman. “Normally that phrase, ‘the other woman,’ implies a relationship between two people which might be considered unsavory,” Van Dyke said on the show. “But of course, the relationship between Mary and myself is completely savory.”

“Completely,” Moore agreed. “Actually, when we were doing (The Dick Van Dyke Show) series, people thought we were married.”

“Oh boy,” said Van Dyke. “So much so that I often had trouble checking into a hotel with my real wife, Margie.”

The special was such a huge hit that CBS offered Moore her own sitcom the following season. You’d think that the network would have insisted on having Van Dyke turn up on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for a surefire ratings bonanza. Instead, the show stayed as far away from the comic actor as possible — even in its premise. In an early conception of the sitcom, Moore would have played a divorced woman starting over as a television producer in Minneapolis. CBS was more than reluctant to go there. 

“We had the idea that we would do the first divorcee on television,” the show’s co-creator Allan Burns told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s hard to believe, but in 1970 that was a controversial idea. Mary loved the idea, (television executive) Grant (Tinker) loved the idea. Both of them were divorced and understood it, but the network had a sort of cardiac episode.” 

One of the biggest problems, according to MeTV, was a CBS executive’s fear that viewers would believe the Mary Richards character (despite not being named Laura Petrie) had divorced Dick Van Dyke. Seriously? Apparently so. Moore nixed the notion that Van Dyke would pop up on her sitcom, saying, “That might destroy the credibility of the new show.”

And that’s why there isn’t even a hint of Rob Petrie in Mary Richards’ divorce-free life. 


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