Monday, September 14, 2015

CHASING MARY--Hangin' with the Girls

It’s a stereotype that the gays love their groups of TV women. I suppose the current ones to watch on the tube are the Real Housewives of Orange County/New York City/Atlanta/New Jersey/Washington, D.C./Beverly Hills/Miami. Egad. I haven’t seen a single episode of any of these. And I’m glad. I might never leave the house.

Long before the Real Housewives, we had Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie. It was entirely normal for gay men to sit around asking each other who they were most like. (FYI, friends said I was Charlotte, yet I liked to think of myself as Miranda.) And before “Sex and the City” there was “The Golden Girls”. (I was more Rose than I wanted to admit. West Hollywood made me feel a long, long way from St. Olaf.) I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my personal favorites, "Designing Women".

But the original girl gang debuted on CBS on September 19, 1970 as Phyllis Lindstrom ushered Mary Richards into a studio apartment that Rhoda Morgenstern had called dibs on. There were iconic male characters on the show as well—Lou Grant, Ted Baxter, Murray Slaughter—but the show was groundbreaking for its women. It is a testament to these strong characters (and the spinoff nature of the ‘70s) that Rhoda and Phyllis drifted to their own shows. Sue Ann Nivens and Georgette Franklin kept the estrogen levels high. (One might make the argument that Sue Ann inspired Blanche Devereaux who evolved into Samantha Jones and Georgette was the model for Rose Nylund who evolved into Charlotte York. Mary Richards herself may have been the forerunner to Dorothy Zbornak and Carrie Bradshaw.)  

Mary was thirty and single. Thirty! Single! Shocking for the time. It’s not that she was anti-marriage. Quite the contrary. As we hear from Phyllis, Mary had just ended a relationship with a guy after “two long years”. No proposal in sight.

Mary’s status never changed over the course of the show. Here was a beautiful, personable, fashionable, successful woman going it alone, not out of some overt feminist stance, but due to the fact she had no other choice. She was the ultimate single lady. And so how fitting that the first song I heard—I swear!—as I crossed over from North Dakota to Minnesota should be “Single Ladies” by Beyonce. For three minutes, it made my four-day journey to Minneapolis seem entirely logical.

Assuming, of course, you buy into that notion that gays align with their single gal pals. Fictional ones, no less. Many times I questioned myself as I drove through Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Montana and North Dakota. Why travel so far to the fruitless dating grounds of TV’s original Single Lady? I can envision Mary Richards in a turtleneck sweater and bell-bottomed slacks shrugging her shoulders and saying, “Why not?”

Yes, why not.

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