Rhoda and Mary -Love and Laughs

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show was closed for vacation early this month. But one lonely figure could not stay away from the darkened set. "I sneaked back," she recalls, "to the place where I had spent four years of my life. I walked around, rubbed the couch where I had sat dozens of times and spotted that cookie jar shaped like a pumpkin. The stagehands keep it filled with real junk food — Oreos, Lorna Doones, the kind of crap that Wasp mothers keep on hand for kiddie snacks. Mary with her dia betes and me with my weight problems, we used to love to open that jar and just sniff the sugary smell. We'd say, 'Oh, wow!' then put the lid back on. So that's what I did. I took a sniff, put the lid back on and had a good nostalgic cry."

It was only Valerie Harper, over turning another bromide. If you are TV comedy's heiress apparent, you can go home again. Especially when home is three sets away from your own show. At 33, Mary's former confidante, the fat girl who grew too big for her bitches, now has her own show, Rhoda. It just may be the best thing to happen to Mon day night since pro football. On Rhoda's good evenings, she can produce more laughter than Edith Bunker put together. Even in the lady's off moments she is more credible than Maude and almost as pulchritudinous as Mary Tyler Moore.

Valerie and Mary both work for Mary Tyler Moore Enterprises, Inc., and between them they constitute a neatly balanced show business cartel. One of these leading ladies is sweet, the other spicy. One is conservative, the other radlib. One is tranquil, the other seems to have been born with sand under her skin. Doublehanded, they are bringing a new sophistication back to television entertainment.

The epoch of Hollywood's great, and great looking film comediennes—a group that extended from Carole Lombard and Constance Bennett to Jean Arthur and Lucille Ball—is as extinct as the Movietone newsreel. Robert Redford and Paul Newman, Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould, these are the happy couples who now hit it big at the box office. Audiences in search of funny girls have learned to forsake the theater for Valerie and Mary on the smaller screen. Mary opts for the soft approach. Every week, as Mary Richards, the effervescent assistant TV producer, she manages to discover fresh comic possibilities in herself and her supporting cast. It includes the crusty chief (Edward Asner), the acidulous news writer (Gavin MacLeod), the feline landlady (Cloris Leach-man), the anchor man with the pear-shaped tones and the pea-shaped brain (Ted Knight), plus a gaggle of hilarious performers who have all developed followings of their own. On Mary's shows, nothing is sacred and few things are profane: sex, inflation, urban miseries and small-time office politics are alive and laughing on prime time.

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