Mary Richards walked so Carrie Bradshaw could run.
Before Sex and the City empowered viewers with its cast of independent, city-living single women, The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s eponymous protagonist stormed a fictional Minneapolis TV station in search of secretarial work, and got a gig even better: Mary Richards became the associate producer of WJM-TV’s 6:00 news, and over seven seasons — from 1970 to 1977 — stole fans’ hearts, got a promotion, and set the bar for what working women of the ’70s could be.
Not to mention, amidst all of her success, Moore’s Richards was hilariously entertaining—her character is known as one of the great funny women of TV. And her cohort of news station peers—her begrudging boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), her newswriter Gavin MacLeod (Murray Slaughter), anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), and more—were the charming and complementary peanut gallery to her center stage.
After 168 episodes, the series became a launchpad for not one, not two, but three spin-offs that centered different characters: Rhoda, Phyllis, and Lou Grant. Even then, in our humble opinion, there wasn’t enough of their worlds to go around. So, the best we can do now is revisit the legacies of the cast, all of whom are, unfortunately, no longer with us. Thankfully, though, their star-studded footprints continue to thrive well beyond their Mary Tyler curtain calls. Here’s a look at their lives, including interesting trivia about them.
Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards
After garnering mainstream success with her role as Laura Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as multiple movie wins, Moore and her husband, advertising executive Grant Tinker, established MTM Enterprises and produced The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore was a beloved star of the ‘60s and ‘70s, having gotten her start as a dancer, and Mary Tyler cemented her role as America’s favorite strong, resilient, and witty lady. Her fame earned her work well into the late 1990s, and in 2017, at age 80, she died of pneumonia-related cardiac arrest.
Moore was a vegetarian and passionate animal rights activist. She also had type 1 diabetes and helped raise awareness and funds to support related research.
Edward Asner as Lou Grant
Before becoming Mary Tyler’s grouchy news editor Lou, Asner had an esteemed career in supporting acting, appearing in programs like Route 66, The Untouchables, and The Fugitive. But it was certainly Lou who he became not only known for, but loved enough to be given his own (very successful) dramatic spin-off, Lou Grant. He passed away at age 90 in 2021.
He voiced Carl Fredricksen, the lead character in Pixar’s Up.
Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter
Prior to embodying his signature class clown persona as news writer Murray, Macleod was known for darker roles in crime shows and dramas of the ‘50s and ‘60s. That all changed with Murray, whose cheery personality followed him into his second most well known role as The Love Boat’s Captain Sutbing. He died in 2021 at age 90.
Macleod and his Mary Tyler co-star Ted Knight were close friends long before they appeared on the sitcom together.
Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morganstern
Like her co-star Moore, Harper began her career as a dancer—she worked with the corps de ballet at Radio City Hall, then moved into comedy, theatre, and eventually, screen acting. She played Richards’ upstairs neighbor and best friend in Mary Tyler, and fans loved her so much that her character got its own spinoff, Rhoda.
Harper received two separate cancer diagnoses in her lifetime—she had a lung tumor removed in 2009, and in 2013, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and told she had three months to live. She thrived for another six years, until the disease ultimately took her life.
Ted Knight as Ted Baxter
Knight’s booming, narrator-esque voice carried him through the majority of his career. He voiced animated characters, hosted radio shows, and did commercial voice overs (even jingles!) until landing the role of Baxter—the hilarious, equally arrogant and insecure anchorman at WJM-TV. Later, he starred in his own series, Too Close for Comfort, and also had a well-known role as a judge in the 1980 golf film Caddyshack. He died of cancer in 1986 at age 62.
After dropping out of high school, Knight enlisted in the military and served in World War II. He served as a combat engineer and helped build bridges, roads, and temporary living structures following the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France.
Georgette Franklin as Georgia Engel
You may remember her as the coiffed-haired, ditzy girlfriend-turned-wife of anchorman Knight, but in real life, Engel was a woman who contained multitudes. After Mary Tyler, she appeared in Rhoda, and then went on to work with co-star Betty White on The Betty White Show. Sitcoms and comedies continued to carry her throughout her career, and she was particularly beloved as Pat MacDougall in the ’90s sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. She died in 2019.
Engel was a devout Christian scientist whose beliefs prohibited her from seeing doctors.
Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens
Last, but certainly not least: Before she was your favorite flighty Golden Girl, Betty White was WJM-TV’s resident cooking and hospitality expert, Nivens. She had her own segment, The Happy Homemaker, on which she delivered homemaking and decorating advice to audiences in her signature silly manner. As you probably know, White went on to be one of TV’s favorite comediennes. She was married three times, and was well known for her staunch animal rights advocacy until she died in 2021 shortly before her 100th birthday. (Click through for 5 Life Lessons We Can Learn From Betty White on Her 100th Birthday and These Rare Photos of Young Betty White Prove the Golden Girl Was Always a Star).
According to IMDb, producers wanted “someone like Betty White” to play Nivens. Eventually, someone asked, “Why not cast Betty White?” The role was supposed to only last for one episode, but White fit in so well that she was recast as a recurring character.
For more throwback tv, click through the links below: