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- October 30, 1995
- Vol. 44
- No. 18
Sunny Side Down
Mary Tyler Moore Switches Off Her Ever-Chipper Tv Persona to Tell the Intimate Story of Her Unhappy Alcoholic Past
At 58, Moore is finally leading a wonderful life too. Married for 11 years to cardiologist Robert Levine, 41, a man she adores, she divides her time between their 122-acre upstate compound and their 10-room Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park. She's starring as tabloid editor Louise Felcott in a new, albeit low-rated CBS series New York News, of which she says, "I'm able to come to the set three days a week, drop killer lines and then go home." And she has roles in two forthcoming films, Keys to Tulsa, with Eric Stoltz, and Flirting with Disaster, starring Ben Stiller. More importantly, she has come to terms with a past marred by alcoholism, divorce and death, which she discusses in her autobiography After All, written without a ghostwriter. "To be able to write about these things now," she says, "opens up chambers that aren't well-lit otherwise."
For decades, Moore's life was shadowed by unhappiness. Her mother, Marge, was an alcoholic; her father, George, a utilities company clerk, was a cold taskmaster to Mary and her younger brother John. The family lived in a big old house in Flushing, N.Y., with Mary's Aunt Bertie and her grandmother Mabel Hackett, who, Moore says, were "life preservers," providing the warmth her parents could not. After World War II the clan moved to L.A., where 18-year-old Mary met and married neighbor Dick Meeker, 27, a food salesman. Within a year the couple had a son, Richie, just three months after Mary's mother gave birth to her third child, Elizabeth.
It was as a young mother that Moore got her big break, playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. But after the first season she split with Meeker and began a 17-year marriage to Grant Tinker (see excerpt on page 100), who produced the fabled Mary Tyler Moore Show. Tinker claims he never understood exactly what killed the marriage. "It sort of ran out of gas," he says. But like Mary Richards, Moore always put on a happy face. Though the couple drank heavily, "I never saw Mary staggering," recalls her friend and costar Valerie Harper. "I just thought she was having a great time."
Moore kept up the facade even as her troubles multiplied. After suffering a miscarriage in 1966, she was diagnosed with diabetes. In 1978 her sister Elizabeth, who was 21, died of an overdose of the narcotic Darvon and alcohol. Two years later, Richie fatally shot himself.
It wasn't until 1982, when her mother became ill in New York City with a bronchial infection, that Moore stumbled on a chance for real happiness. Dr. Robert Levine, who treated Marge Moore, gave Mary his number in case of emergency. "Does extreme loneliness come under the heading of an emergency?-" she asked. They married a year later. "There was a road to travel to gain acceptance; Mary's not being Jewish was less of an issue than our age difference," says Levine of his family's concerns. "But we all have a soulmate, and it's very hard to find that person." The fit proved just right. "There's no such thing as an unresolved fight in our home," says Moore.
Levine's support helped her through the 1991 cancer death of her brother, a recovered alcoholic. Months before his death, John begged Mary to assist his suicide, and, she writes, "I spoon-fed the potion" of painkillers mashed in ice cream while Levine increased the morphine dosage. But after years of illness, John's body was impervious to the drugs and he lived until Christmas. Moore was still grieving when her mother died from a brain hemorrhage three months later, after seven years of sobriety. Moore had faced her own alcoholism in 1984, after a drinking binge triggered by the loss of a beloved golden retriever. "Drinking during the day was my mother's trait," she writes. "I could no longer pretend that I wasn't really an alcoholic. I was my mother." At Levine's urging, she checked into the Betty Ford Center, and the program, writes Moore, "saved my life."
And now she's living it. "I'm determined to keep work in perspective with the rest of my life," she says, surveying her rolling rural estate. "Being up here, riding the horse, talking to the trees, deepening my respect for animals." Suddenly she grins impishly. "Little Mary, happy at last!"
NANCY MATSUMOTO in Dutchess County
- Nancy Matsumoto.
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