The temperature was a marrow-chilling 4 degrees below zero, and a ferocious wind flailed the powdery snow into eddies across Red Square. Passing Muscovites stared in astonishment at the Yankee woman, clutching a bouquet of carnations and tossing her uncovered curls. Going hatless is considered a sure sign of lunacy in midwinter Moscow, but Mary Tyler Moore, a zealous defender of animals, refused to put a shapka or any other fur-bearing hat on her gingery coif. Although the cold was cracking her pancake makeup and her teeth were audibly clattering, Mary pulled herself together and turned on the smile that turns the world upside down.
What in the upside-down world was MTM doing in Moscow in the dead of winter? She was there to celebrate the Bicentennial—not the U.S.’s but the 200th birthday of the Bolshoi Theatre. The event which marked the celebration was a taped performance of the Sergei Prokofiev version of Romeo and Juliet. The tape is to be televised in 112 countries to as many as 300 million viewers this year, according to its sponsors. The whole scheme is a multimillion ruble, multinational package put together by a West German company called Teleglob, with the Soviets taking a capitalistic 50 percent piece of the action. For the American rights (airdate: June), CBS paid a reported $400,000—which some cynics figured was so excessive that it could only be earnest money to help salt away the 1980 Moscow summer Olympics.
Mary, CBS’s Saturday-night sweetheart, was the logical contender for the part: she is a thwarted hoofer who was “sidetracked into comedy” and a lifelong balletomane who takes to the barre every day at lunchtime. And, as it happened, the trip enabled her to be out of the country during perhaps the low point of her career, the airing of her latest special, Mary’s Incredible Dream, a self-indulgence which the New York Times critic declared “a landmark in TV vulgarity.”
Mary’s Russian debut similarly began like Bonaparte’s retreat, but she coped without losing her public cool and rarely forgot to smile. Arriving in Moscow bushed after the long haul from California, she was shushed into a tiny, single room at an Intourist hotel. When the management learned that she was a celebrated TV star, they moved her into a slightly larger two-room suite and obligingly hammered some nails into the wall so she could hang up her long evening gowns. Then she learned that her hairdresser and her makeup man had been booked elsewhere. MTM dug in, and reluctantly the authorities moved them in with the rest of her 14-member retinue (including husband-partner Grant Tinker and CBS president Arthur Taylor). “I don’t feel very scintillating tonight,” she sighed at a welcoming party given by CBS correspondent Richard Roth.
When she turned up in the Bolshoi’s mirrored lobby during a performance of Giselle to cut her first tapes, Mary looked scintillating enough in a gold-sequined, brown velvet gown. But it was a near thing: hairdresser Joel Israel blew several fuses with his dryer before he managed to rig his equipment to a transformer and get her properly coiffed. In the midst of the taping, however, Mary and the CBS crew were rudely shoved aside by a squad of beefy Soviet security men. They were convoying Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to an evening at the ballet after a hard day’s negotiation. When he learned about his booboo, Kissinger offered amends by inviting Mary to share his box. But the show had to go on, and Mary turned back to the cameras and the star-crossed lovers of Verona. Between takes, Moore made the mandatory tours of the GUM department store and the Moscow Metro—to the Brooklyn-born Moore, the shopping wasn’t up to Bloomingdale’s, but the subway beat hell out of the BMT.
One night, after the supper dance which U.S. Ambassador Walter Stoessel threw in her honor, Mary took off for Leningrad on the Red Arrow train, with the intention of returning to Moscow by air the next day. The trip was a fiasco. After a breathless morning tour of the Hermitage museum, the party headed for the airport, where they were informed that “the plane is broken. It is not ready.” After a three-hour wait, they boarded in the midst of a blizzard, only to debark again when the flight was canceled after an hour’s aim-less taxiing. Back in Leningrad, the party was assigned accommodations that led an accompanying CBS vice-president to protest that “this would mean an unmarried man sharing a room with an unmarried woman, and what would that mean for socialist morality?” The next morning, MTM and company rose at 6 to ride, without breakfast, to the airport for a 9 a.m. flight. She managed a brief catnap on an airport baggage counter before enplaning for Moscow long past midday, still looking for breakfast.
On the night of the gala performance of Romeo and Juliet, Mary was seated in the front row of the Bolshoi, where one of six TV cameras could zoom in on her radiance. The television arcs poured nine times as much light onto the stage as the theater customarily uses and gave the audience the blind staggers. At the curtain, Mary mounted the stage to present a bouquet to prima ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova, the sweating Juliet, and the mission to Moscow was accomplished.
Would she be visiting Russia again soon? Mary paused, and broke into her détente grin. “Well, you know, we work so hard that when we get a chance to rest, we head straight for the tropical beaches, so I don’t think we’ll find the time…”