It’s clear right from the start that Mary Tyler Moore’s After All (Putnam, $24.95) is not your average celebrity autobiography. The surreal prologue scripts a dialogue between Moore and her TV alter ego, Mary Richards, in which Moore worries that the book will reveal ”all the stuff that will finally show how unlike you I really am.”
How unlike are the two? Maybe not as much as Moore thinks. Sure, the real Mary cusses more and has more troubles than her ’70s sitcom doppelganger. But both are women whose outer insecurities never mask the good humor underneath.
As laid out frankly in After All, Moore’s neuroses have deep roots in her childhood. Raised by an alcoholic mom and a coldhearted dad, Moore claims she was molested by a family friend (whom she names) at age 6: ”I told my mother, groping for words…. (The only word I knew for the entire genital area was ‘wee-wee,’ for God’s sake!). My mother said, ‘No! That’s not true….’ My mother, by her denial, had abused me.”
To escape her unhappy home, Moore married cranberry-products salesman Dick Meeker at 18. They’d had a son, Richie, when Moore got her big break on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Anecdotes about the ’60s sitcom provide some of After All’s most entertaining passages: the Capri-pants controversy (the sponsor allowed Moore to wear the butt huggers in only one scene per week); the tension with Rose Marie (who thought she would be the show’s female lead); and the famous walnut episode (Moore’s revelation about how snacking on them affected her digestion is literally explosive).
After All contains illuminating stories about The Mary Tyler Moore Show as well. What she remembers as ”the most negative reaction to a show” in CBS history became TV’s greatest sitcom ever, as demonstrated by snippets from some of its finest scripts, including ”Chuckles Bites the Dust.” Like Mary Richards, Moore kept cracking up during that episode, but the pro pulled herself together for the taping.
In its showbiz sections, After All avoids one of the major pitfalls of star tell-alls: Most of the names Moore drops are actually worth catching (e.g., Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley). And she shows keen insight into such coworkers as Ordinary People director Robert Redford (like Moore, a relentless perfectionist) and David Letterman, a regular on her 1978 variety show, Mary. ”I wouldn’t dream of calling him ‘Dave,’ ” Moore writes. ”Dave, as opposed to David, gives the connotation of friendly, down-home approachability, qualities that surely elude him…. ‘Dave’ is his secret smirk at the rest of us.” If this acting thing ever goes sour, Moore would make a fine TV critic.
Moore’s life reads like a sweeps week worth of Oprahs: two failed marriages, alcoholism, diabetes, a face-lift, adultery, accidental death (her son), attempted euthanasia (her brother), drug overdose (her sister), stalking (an obsessed fan was arrested in 1980). Moore sobered up after visiting the Betty Ford Center in 1984.
Yet After All rarely lapses into therapy-speak. In fact, Moore’s prose is surprisingly vivid (no cowriter is credited): ”The death knell of our seventeen-year marriage was sounded by ice cubes,” she writes of her booze-besotted union to TV exec Grant Tinker. And Moore displays an impressive vocabulary; on her first date with her current hubby, Dr. Robert Levine, she recalls that ”the information that he was 18 years younger than I came piercing through my dyscalculic brain.” (You look it up — it wasn’t in my dictionary.)
After All ends with another daring flourish, when Moore recalls the birth of an albino horse on her New York farm. In this odd creature, Moore finds a metaphor for her imperfect family and finally forgives them for all their faults. It’s an act of kindness typical of Mary Tyler Moore Meeker Tinker Levine