Mary Tyler Moore Statue Stirs Debate
By Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
March 30, 2001
For better or worse, the Mary Tyler Moore show put Minneapolis on the pop culture map, and cable reruns keep the show's 1970s career woman, Mary Richards, alive and well and living in Minneapolis. Perhaps the most widely-recognized image from the show is that of the character, Mary Richards, tossing up her hat in downtown Minneapolis in a triumphant gesture of independence. That image could soon be immortalized in bronze and placed on Nicollet Mall. Cable TV network TV Land wants to give the statue to the city of Minneapolis. But critics wonder about the value of the city erecting a public monument of a fictional television character.
MPR reporter Marisa Helms on Nicollet Mall, trying to find the exact spot where Mary Richards tossed her hat. Here, she's standing between 7th and 8th Streets.
Read about her search. (Photo by Christine Rosholt)
FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO MINNEAPOLIS USUALLY LOOK FOR MARY RICHARDS.
They want to know where she lives, where she works. You dutifully point to that multicolored high-rise that's seen in the opening sequence of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and her TV house in Kenwood - rumored to be on more than one city tour.
For a lot of people, Mary Richards IS Minneapolis. There are some who are pretty proud of that, including the mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton.
"There are quite a few women out there who watched the Mary Tyler Moore show and thought her character helped to affirm the fact that women can be in major leadership roles, and can break through that glass ceiling," says Sayles Belton.
Talks over the gift from TV Land began last summer. The cable company is offering to pay for all costs of commissioning and erecting a statue of Mary Richards. They aren't saying how much they're spending on the statue, which would be the second in a series TV Land hopes to put up around the country. The first was of Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners show, which was put up at the Port Authority in New York City.
Where to put the Mary Richards statue in Minneapolis has created some debate. Nobody seems to remember exactly where Mary tossed her hat. Some say 7th and Nicollet. Others say 8th and Nicollet, or inside the IDS Crystal Court.
WHEREVER THE STATUE GOES, NOT EVERYONE IS ENTHUSED
Outside city hall, Minneapolis resident Tim Connolly ponders the aesthetic and cultural values of the statue of Hubert Humphrey. Connolly suggests if the city's going to put up a statue, it should be more like the Humphrey one - honoring someone who did something of political or social significance.
"Why is TV Land putting up this statue? Is it marketing? If it's marketing and the mayor is buying into it, then we are complicit in marketing the TV Land network," says Connolly.
"It's like honoring a unicorn. It's honoring something that doesn't exist," says Clay Steinman, a communication studies professor at Macalester College in St. Paul.
"The world which is shown by that statue is not one that anyone lives in. It's a fictional world that was constructed by MTM, to sell to CBS, who used it to sell audiences to advertisers. That's a very different kind of phenomenon than honoring someone from the past, like Eleanor Roosevelt, who might give us a clue on how to live well and be a better person in the world," says Steinman.
MARY RICHARDS AS TV ICON?
But can a make-believe character provide real-life inspiration? Yes, says TV Land executive Larry Jones.
"Those fictionalized characters are very real to millions and millions of people," Jones says. "It'll be something generations to come can enjoy. I see that as a benefit in the long term that's not part of a corporate agenda. It's about an agenda that supports a great American television icon."
The Minneapolis Office of Cultural Affairs says by this fall, there will be a statue of Mary Richards tossing her hat into the air - somewhere on Nicollet Mall. Artists from across the country have submitted their proposals in time for the Friday deadline. Public art administrator Mary Altman says the criteria for choosing the final design will be how the artist achieves an appropriate likeness, and how the artist handles the "challenge of the hat." She says one solution could be to include a lamppost with the tam suspended from it. Another would be to depict the moment just before the hat leaves Mary's fingertips.