You're gonna make it after all, Mary Tyler Moore

(Wikimedia Commons) 

Most of us know these lyrics better than those of the national anthem. The melody is certainly more singable.

Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day,
and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it’s you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all.

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For six seasons, 1971-77, these were the lyrics of the opening theme for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But the sitcom ran seven seasons, not six. It may take a little effort — fortunately the web is there to help — but the first season of the show began with different lyrics.

How will you make it on your own?
This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone
But it’s time you started living
It’s time you let someone else do some giving.

And originally, the prediction proffered was "you might just make it after all," not "you’re gonna make it." As Jennifer Armstrong explains in Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic(2013), the change of words couldn’t be more telling.

The show was ground breaking in so many ways. It was the first sitcom to feature a woman as something other than a wife and mother, a fact reflected in its two well-known sets: Mary’s studio apartment and the news room of WJM-TV in Minneapolis. To give her independence, the writers and producers originally proposed a divorced Mary Richards, but, as the seventies began, this was still considered too radical for network TV. Instead, Mary would leave small town Minnesota for Minneapolis, after a break-up with a long-term boyfriend. Hence the worrisome words of the original lyrics, "How will you make it on your own? This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone." The song was sung by the man who wrote it, Sonny Curtis. At the time, he voiced a nearly universal sentiment: how can a woman leave a man and make it on her own?

In the visuals of the original opening, sent off from her small town with flowers and a "Good Luck" banner, Mary navigates interstate highways on her way to Minneapolis. Of course, as we know, Mary did make it on her own. She found a career, though, as a woman, she would have to fight for it. And she found love, even though she never walked down a bride’s aisle.

Oprah Winfrey, who watched every episode as a teenager "as if my life depended on it," spoke for an entire generation of women when she reunited the cast on her talk-show in 1997. "The show was a light in my life, and Mary was trailblazer for my generation. She’s the reason I wanted my own production company." In other words, we're gonna make it after all, when we’re given a vision of what the world can be. Change the world’s meaning, and you change the world.

That’s the message of the Church, this Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, as her scriptures juxtapose a Christological challenge and a comeback. Don’t let familiarity lessen the impact of the promise Isaiah makes, a challenge for the Christ.

Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort (Is 66: 12-13).

It’s a claim that any early Christian would have been forced to confront. If the Messiah has come in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, why hasn’t the world changed? Why is it still filled with the hungry, the sick, the downtrodden and the broken hearted? Where is the prosperity that God’s Messiah should make to flow like a river?

The Church responds to Isaiah with a scene from Luke’s Gospel.

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest" (10:1-2).

Note the slight-of-hand. We’re promised prosperity; what we get is preaching. Jesus does transform the world a bit, but only a bit. He heals and he feeds, but what he does, more than anything else, is to preach. He sends out the disciples to do the same. Ultimately, as the Church sees it, everything changes, not because the world around us has been entirely transformed, but because we’re given a new vision of what can be. Change the world’s meaning and you change the world. Instead of prosperity, we’re proffered a meaningful world. "You gonna make it after all."

We’re asked to trust the preaching of Christ, and of the Church in his wake. The happy irony is that the more the promise is believed the truer it becomes. The more we act as though Christ’s resurrection has changed the world’s meaning, the more the world changes. We are gonna make it after all.

In its seven year run, the visual shots for the opening of The Mary Tyler Moore Show would also change. The send-off and highway scenes gave way to those of career and friends in Minneapolis, but an iconic shot still closed the sequence: Mary stands in downtown Minneapolis. She takes off her knitted, black and turquoise beret and throws it into the air. An older woman frowns at the sight. But the camera closes in on the joy and confidence of Mary’s face, and we’re asked to choose between joy and judgment. It’s a translation of the gospel. Change the world’s meaning, and you change the world. We’re gonna make it after all.

Isaiah 66: 10-14c Galatians 6: 14-18 Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Peter Connor
1 year 4 months ago

...And as a lasting reminder, one can see the bronze statue of MTM tossing her cap in the air, in downtown Minneapolis.

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