Now there are a few reasons why this couldn’t possibly work out. For one thing, Laura Petrie is a fictional character. For another thing while I am in love (or lust) with Laura Petrie, I have no particular feelings of either love or lust for the actress who portrayed her, Mary Tyler Moore. I never had a “reaction” to Mary Richards or almost any other character that Mary Tyler Moore has played in her long career. Well maybe the woman she played opposite Robert Wagner in a little known farce called Don’t Just Stand There. But Change of Habit did nothing for me, and she played a hot nun in that, which usually tickles a certain pervy side of me. Certainly I never wanted to sleep with Mary Richards. Finally, even if she were real, Laura Petrie is old enough to be my mother. I know that because her son Little Richie is a year older than I am; well at least Larry Matthews, the actor who played Richie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show is one year older than me, to the day (August 15th; Rose Marie, who also starred on the show was also born on August 15th, but over thirty years before Larry and I). Never the less, had the term MILF existed in 1961 when the Dick Van Dyke Show began airing, Laura Petrie would have been one.
I pretty much discovered The Dick Van Dyke Show while I was an adolescent. Oh sure, I was around when the show was in its first run. In fact it was even shown on the one TV station that we had in Saskatoon in the 1960s. But I didn’t see it at that time. It was on relatively late in the evening, and my family had a rather absurd idea of when a five year old should go to bed. So I saw the show as an adolescent and we all know how adolescent boys are. It might have made a difference if I had seen the show as a child…but probably not.
Now lest you think that I was (and remain) a horndog with the mind of a sex obsessed fifteen year old, I would like to inform you of two things. The first is that I was and remain fully cognizant of the brilliance of this series. While many shows fixate on either the work environment or the home as the center of the action, with the other locale relegated to a secondary position if it’s shown at all (that’s one of my huge complaints about most modern procedurals – the protagonists seem to live entirely at and for work). The Dick Van Dyke Show mixed domestic stories in which the work cast would barely appear, and work based stories in which Laura and maybe (but not always) Richie would show up but you’d never see Jerry and Millie. And then of course there were the “neither fish nor fowl” flashback episodes most of which took place during Rob and Laura’s courtship and first year or so of marriage at Camp Crowder.
The second is that it took me a while to fully realize just how hot Laura Petrie (and Mary Tyler Moore) was. It is a testament to how brilliantly cast this show was that Moore was placed amongst a brilliant and experienced comedy and entertainment ensemble cast and she keeps up with the others as a comedic actor in spite of her age and her lack of experience in doing comedy. In fact she really hadn’t done much acting at all – one movie (X-15), Sam on Richard Diamond, Private Detective, a “role” that was almost entirely dependent on pure sex appeal – we usually only saw her legs and heard her voice. She’d also done a variety of guest appearances on dramatic shows of the period. The Dick Van Dyke Show was her apprenticeship as a comedic actress and she took to it like a duck to water. It is a testament to her abilities that I at least really noticed her as a comedic actress, with a comedic cry second only to Lucille Ball’s (“O-o-o-oh Ro-o-o-ob!” versus “Bwaaaa!”) before I really became aware of how sexy she was.
I think I have to date my realization of how damned sexy Laura Petrie was to the episode “It May Look Like A Walnut” and in particular the scene in which Laura slides – nay surfs – prone on the tidal wave of walnuts that issues from the Petrie closet, not unlike Fibber McGee’s closet…if Fibber had filled his closet with walnuts. I have to confess however that having managed to find the scene on YouTube, it isn’t quite what I remember thanks to the way that they shot the seen. In my memory I was convinced that they shot the scene with the camera facing the door, so that Laura would be seen emerging in profile. Instead they shot it with the camera facing the junction of the interior wall and the exterior wall, so that we saw her emerge in a three quarter view. It’s not quite as sexy – I was sure that we saw her ass in that scene more than we did – but it does get the job done, particularly when she props her head up and starts talking to Rob. The sight of her there is something to behold.
There are a lot of things at the root of Laura Petrie’s sexual attractiveness. At the time she started the show Mary Tyler Moore was 23 though she lied about her age to get the part. She’s playing a slightly older woman of about 27 or 28 when she started in the role. (In preparing for this I tried to figure out Laura’s age using Larry Matthew's’s actual birth year of 1955 as the year of Richie’s birth; by my calculations 17 year-old Laura – claiming to be 19 – met and married Rob in 1952 or ‘53 making her about 27 in 1961 though claiming to be 29. It’s not really exact though.) She was a professional dancer as was Laura. Here I have to admit my fondness for dancers; my two big Star Trek crushes are Gates McFadden and Nana Visitor, both dancers who became actresses. Dancers generally have lithe taut bodies. Much of Laura’s wardrobe accentuates these features. The famous Capri Pants, which were supposedly used because Mary Tyler Moore insisted that the women that she knew didn’t wear dresses or skirts around the house, accentuated her body shape, particularly her butt. No wonder an adolescent Rob Reiner found it impossible to resist the desire to grab her ass (a deplorable act of course, but at least a little bit understandable). Laura’s wardrobe has a certain elegance to it. The Capri Pants were usually matched to a plain white blouse or a pull-over sweater. When she was out of the house and wearing a skirt or a dress it was usually simple and unadorned; the simple black dress or something not particularly flashy. (Mary Richards didn’t have that but then she was a creature of the 1970s when no one could manage elegance; Mary was a victim or fashion, fashion and polyester.) And then there are those rare occasions when she wears a dancers tights. Wow! As for her hair, there is something irresistible about that short but feminine cut that Laura has. It’s eminently practical for a young housewife of course, but it works with her face in a way that Mary Richards’s “big hair” really doesn’t.
Of course once you start thinking of Laura Petrie as sexy, you can’t help but see it everywhere, and a lot of questions emerge. Why the twin beds? If I were married to a woman like Laura there is no way that I’d want to sleep separated by a nightstand. In fact I’m pretty sure that I’d be like Reverend Brooks in Dick Van Dyke’s 1971 film Cold Turkey (and if you’ve seen that movie you know exactly what I mean!). And then of course there’s the question of why Richie was an only child, given the nature of 1961 birth control technology.
Well, I think we all know the answers to these questions. The TV industry was busy pretending the sex didn’t exist in 1961. The only onscreen married couple with a double bed were Ozzie and Harriet and that’s because they were married in real life too. It wasn’t until Dick York bedded down with Elizabeth Montgomery in the same double bed on Bewitched that an actor and an actress who weren’t married to each other were seen in a double bed. That was the 1965-66 season, the year after The Dick Van Dyke Show ended. And adding a baby to the cast – the natural consequence of married life and double beds, was pretty much unthinkable too. I’m pretty much convinced that shows in this period only added babies when forced to by the actress getting pregnant. After all, Tabitha and Adam Stevens coincided with Elizabeth Montgomery’s two real life pregnancies. Of course, given the lack of continuity on the show – and indeed most shows of period – had Laura gotten pregnant the baby would most likely have been born and then all evidence of his or her existence would have vanished from the show like Rob’s political career (he beat Wally Cox in an election for city council in New Rochelle), Richie’s dog, the family goldfish (who actually had a speaking part in one episode) the rock in the basement that kept Rob from having a pool table until they needed a basement pool table for an episode, or Jerry and Millie’s kid… or was it kids.
I think that it may be in the first season of Mad Men that one of the characters says that women are either Marilyn or Jackie, referring to Marilyn Monroe or Jacqueline Kennedy. Set in 1960, the first season of Mad Men is almost contemporary with The Dick Van Dyke Show in terms of period although of course Mad Men is a modern recreation and the attitudes expressed may be a reflection of modern attitudes with modern knowledge of John F. Kennedy’s relationships. Nevertheless there’s a nugget of truth there. Laura Petrie is clearly modelled on Jackie Kennedy in terms of her hair and clothing sense (but done on a comedy writer’s budget). I think that there’s an extra element to Laura Petrie that I can’t really put my finger on that appeals to me.
And in truth it isn’t just her ass.