Mary Tyler Moore really put herself out there. The actress still was America’s Sweetheart. But the part she desired was so different than any other.
This was back in the late 1970s. Mary Tyler Moore no longer was Mary Richards. She was far from Laura Petrie. She wanted to a movie role that was so against her perky TV stereotype. And that was playing Beth Jarrett.
Now, Beth Jarrett looked like she had it all with her perfect life in an affluent Chicago suburb. But this movie was Ordinary People. And Beth Jarrett was an unsympathetic character. She was a cold, harsh woman who suffered a cruel loss and was incapable of helping her family deal with it.
The movie, directed by Robert Redford, was a dark drama. Beth Jarrett lost one of her sons to an accidental death. It devastated her perfect family. The surviving son attempted suicide.
Yet, that was the part Mary Tyler Moore craved. She recalled all the anxiety she felt waiting for a decision to be made when she talked to Rolling Stone in 1980.
“It was nerve-racking,” Moore said. “But the exhilaration, when I found out I got it – I didn’t think I would experience it again in my life, that feeling that seems to be unique to 20-year-olds. I identify it with when I used to go and interview for a part and come away four feet off the ground when I got it. It had been so long since I felt that sort of triumph.”
Mary Tyler Moore Picked Right Part — Movie Was Huge Success
Moore was in her early 40s when she landed the role on Ordinary People. She hadn’t been in a movie since 1969 when she was a nun and starred with Elvis Presley in Change of Habit. But when she heard about the role, she wanted it, badly.
“I got hold of a script that had been kidnapped – no one was supposed to have one,” Moore said. “And I read it and said to my agent, ‘Yes, very definitely, I want to meet (Robert Redford).’
The movie starred Moore, along with Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton, who was making his movie debut. Redford, one of the most well-known stars in the world, also was making his debut as a director.
The movie, however dark it was, represented box office gold. The film grossed more than $90 million on a budget of $6 million. Ordinary People earned six Academy Award nominations, including best film. Redford won best director. Hutton was named best supporting actor.
Moore earned her first-ever Oscar nomination for best actress. She lost to Sissy Spacek, who won for playing Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter. But Moore won the Golden Globe. It was a career achievement. Taking a chance on cold Beth Jarrett looked to be the right career move.
Rolling Stone devoted its entire cover to Mary Tyler Moore in November, 1980. The pop culture magazine reran it on Jan. 25, 2017, the day Moore died. She was 80.