Oscar Justice: Mary Tyler Moore

Welcome to Season 2 of Oscar Justice, a weekly feature at IceCream4Freaks.  It’s a simple concept: I give an Oscar to someone who rightfully deserved it, then I follow the repercussions down the line until I am satisfied.

This week on Oscar Justice: Mary Tyler Moore in Ordinary People


1980 Best Actress, Ordinary People – Lost to Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner’s Daughter


Mary Tyler Moore started her career in the 1950s with bit parts on television as well as a string of commercials. Despite a steady string of film and television shows, her big break wouldn’t come until 1961 when she was cast as the wife to the title character in The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Her five-year run on the show garnered her fame and a pair of Emmy Awards. Four years after The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Moore earned her own starring vehicle with The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. Running through 1977, the show is considered one of the great sitcoms in television history and earned Moore another three Emmys.

Three years after The Mary Tyler Moore Show came to an end, Robert Redford cast Moore in the pivotal role as the mother to a struggling teen in 1980’s Ordinary People. The film was a critical smash, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Timothy Hutton. Moore won a host of awards, including the Golden Globe, but the Oscars wouldn’t follow suit.

The same year as Ordinary People, Moore won her first Tony for Whose Life Is It Anyway? Five years later, she won another for the Best Reproduction of a Play or Musical for Joe Egg. She added the sixth Emmy to her name with a Supporting Actress in a Limited Series statue in 1993 for Stolen Babies.

Moore continued to work in television and film along with her philanthropic endeavors until she passed away in 2017 at the age of 80.


Mary Tyler Moore defeats Sissy Spacek at the 1980 Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role.


I would argue Robert Redford’s Ordinary People is the true underseen great Best Picture winner. The film is lost in obscurity due to it not being Raging Bull. But, if you watch the film, you’ll understand completely why Mary Tyler Moore deserves an Oscar.

Moore’s Beth is the most complex and difficult of roles. Not only does she have to hide the pain of the loss of her son, but she also has to put on this facade of composure and refined resolve in the face of this unspeakable tragedy. On top of all that, she can’t come to the terms with the realization that she believes the wrong son died. Her own shielding is such that instead of facing her own feelings, she avoids it completely and presents only coldness to her flailing son.

In the process of her coldness, Beth alienates her loving husband. His recognition of her coldness drives her away because it isn’t something she can deal with. At the film’s climax, when Donald Sutherland’s Calvin realizes their marriage is over, she is composed and calm and returns to her room to pack. Alone and in the dark, she finally can break down and show emotion. It is a masterful scene of silent misery.

Moore’s film career never reached the heights of her television career, but no one unlocked her greatness quite like Redford did in this film.


Often with this feature, I take away Oscars for subpar or unmemorable performances. In this case, every Oscar that is moved around are completely justified in their victories. Giving the Oscar to Moore in 1980 takes it away from a well-deserving Sissy Spacek. It’s not that Spacek is bad; she’s actually quite good, but it’s that Moore’s performance is transformative and complex in her lone nomination. Spacek has a multitude of nominations to turn to, and you can look back only four year prior to Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie.

Just like 1980, giving the award to Spacek in 1976 doesn’t take anything away from another complex and dark performance in Faye Dunaway in Network. It’s a spectacular performances, but I like the genre resonance of Spacek in this particular case. Dunaway still gets her Oscar for her breakthrough performance as Bonnie Parker in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

That still means there is an Oscar to be taken, but if anyone has an Oscar to spare, it’s Katharine Hepburn. All four other nominees in 1967 would have been a great winner, but the Academy went for safety and gave Hepburn her third statue. She still has Best Actress wins in 1933, 1968 and 1981 to fall back on.


Mary Tyler Moore wins Best Actress in 1980 over Sissy Spacek
Sissy Spacek wins Best Actress in 1976 over Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway wins Best Actress in 1967 over Katharine Hepburn

Next time on Oscar Justice, one of the all-time Best Actress performances gets her due

All Oscar Justice category fixes

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