Sunday, January 10, 2016

Never Assume

Things aren't always what they seem to be — or don't seem to be. I don't know about you, but I learned that the hard way — and, on this night 40 years ago, so did Mary Tyler Moore. Well, I guess she did. That point was uncertain when the episode ended. But the audience sure did learn it.

In the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show that premiered on this night in 1976, Mary and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner) were going to a seminar in Washington, D.C., that was devoted to politics and the press.

It was going to be like a homecoming for Mr. Grant. He had covered Washington for the Detroit Free Press in his younger days, and he boasted to Mary about the connections he had made; they were the kind of people, he told her, who would show her the Washington that tourists seldom, if ever, saw.

But first Lou had to deal with Ted (Ted Knight) who reminded Lou that he had promised Ted could go on the next free trip that came up. Ted rationalized the decision out loud, suggesting that Mr. Grant had opted to leave Ted in charge of the newsroom because he needed a steady hand at the wheel. Mr. Grant went along with that, apparently figuring it was the easiest way to get Ted off his back. But it was not smooth sailing. Ted insisted that Mr. Grant tell Murray (Gavin MacLeod) that Ted would be in charge while he was away.

Murray didn't take that news well and refused to wish Mary and Lou a good trip when they departed.

Once they arrived in Washington, Lou put out some feelers and waited for the calls from his connections. Mary wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner, but Lou assured her that there were probably five really good parties in progress in D.C. that evening. He said they should wait at the hotel for some calls to come in.

"I've never been to Washington before," Mary protested. "It's my first night in the capitol. I want to see some of it."

Lou told her she shouldn't worry. She was going to see the whole city. At that moment, the phone rang. Lou was sure it was one of his connections, but it turned out to be for Mary. It was someone she had met earlier who invited her to a party at the French embassy.

But Lou nixed the embassy party. "We're gonna do a lot better than that," he assured Mary. So Mary turned it down.

A minute later, the phone rang again — but, once again, it was for Mary.

"What did you do, write your number on a wall?" Lou asked testily.

Actually, it was a congressman Mary had met earlier at the seminar, and Lou tried to get reservations for the two of them to have dinner at the best place in town. But it turned out that his connection there, the head waiter, had died 10 years earlier.

"I guess he died without mentioning how close we were," Lou told the person on the other end of the line.

The congressman called up and got a reservation there with no trouble, and he and Mary left Lou in his hotel room.

The next day, Mary and Lou compared notes on their evenings. Lou, as it turned out, hadn't talked to anyone after Mary left. He dozed off and thus may have missed calls — if any came in. But he was determined to wait it out again that night. "Sometimes you have to wait around like that if you want a really good time," he told Mary.

He insisted that he wasn't losing his faith in his buddies, but Mary was, and she went out on the town again that night, leaving Lou alone in his hotel room.

When she got back to the hotel later, she went to Lou's room and told him she was sorry he hadn't joined them. They had gone to a party in Georgetown where she met the assistant secretary of Defense.

Lou said he was sorry that Mary hadn't stayed with him that evening. A couple of old friends came by, he said.

Mary was pleased to hear that. She said she was sure he had had a wonderful time seeing old friends again, and Lou said he did.

"John Glenn told the funniest story," Lou said.

"John Glenn the astronaut?" Mary asked. Lou said yes.

"John Glenn is an old friend of yours?" Mary asked.

"No, I never met him before," Lou replied. "He came with Hubert."

"Hubert?" Mary asked.

"Humphrey," Lou replied. "Anyway, it was the funniest story. I thought Eric Sevareid was gonna bust a gut!"

The conversation went on like that. Sevareid wasn't able to stay long, he said, because he was giving Ethel Kennedy a lift. "How did she get home?" Mary asked.

"The Fords gave her a ride," Lou said, referring to then–President and Mrs. Ford. It certainly would have made sense that Lou, as an employee of the Detroit newspaper, would have had dealings with Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford in the years before he became Richard Nixon's vice president and, eventually, his successor. Ford, after all, represented his district in Michigan for a quarter of a century. Nevertheless, Mary made a face.

Lou leaned forward. "Mary," he said, "you don't believe the president was here tonight, do you?"

"Well, of course, I believe the president was here," Mary replied. "Was Lincoln here, too?"

It was at that moment that the phone rang. On the other end of the line was Betty Ford, the first lady. She was looking for the president's pipe. It was his favorite pipe, and he thought it might have fallen from his pocket. Mary looked and found it under a sofa cushion. She held it out and said, in a mocking tone, "What do you know? The president's pipe."

Mrs. Ford asked Lou if she could speak to Mary so he handed her the phone.

"Hello, Mary?" and the screen showed the first lady speaking on the phone, presumably from the White House. "This is Betty Ford."

"Hello, Betty," the still disbelieving Mary replied. "This is Mary ... Queen of Scots."

A couple of interesting trivia points:

First, I have heard that the people behind the Mary Tyler Moore Show wanted President Ford to make the cameo appearance. But it was the start of an election year, and President Ford was seeking the Republican nomination. It was decided that an appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which ranked #19 at the end of the 1975–76 season, might be considered an advertisement for — if not an endorsement of — his re–election. So Mrs. Ford was selected instead.

Second, Mary Tyler Moore wrote in her autobiography that Betty Ford was drunk when she filmed her scene. I don't know if that was true. I have seen that episode a number of times, and I can't tell if she is drunk in it — but I do know that a few years later she went through recovery and established the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for the treatment of chemical dependency.