Poor Mary Tyler Moore has passed at age 80. Nine people out of ten will fondly recall her 16-year run (with a three-year gap) in two hugely popular TV sitcoms, first as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show (’61 through ’66) and then Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (’70 through ’77). She was especially perfect in the latter series, doing that sunny, wholesome and vulnerable thing to full perfection and winning three Lead Actress Emmy awards in the bargain.
But to me Moore will always be Beth Jarrett, the emotionally frigid mom of Timothy Hutton and wife of Donald Sutherland in Robert Redford‘s Ordinary People (’80) — one of the greatest screen villains in history and surely Moore’s finest role. If she had never done anything before or since, her portrayal of Beth the bitch (which resulted in a Best Actress nomination) would entitle her to a place of eternal honor in the annals of American cinema.
But Ordinary People was pretty much Moore’s career peak. She costarred in the not-so-hot Six Weeks (’82) and then Just Between Friends (’86). But then she rebounded as another high-strung bitchy type in David O. Russell‘s Flirting With Disaster (’96). Moore also costarred in Elvis Presley‘s last scripted film, Change of Habit, in which she played a work-clothes-wearing nun who allowed herself to develop romantic stirrings for The King.