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How 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' Found Inspiration In Cannabis

The world of television is in mourning as small-screen legend Mary Tyler Moore - star of the groundbreaking 70's sitcom bearing her name - has died at the age of 80. Moore had the charm and drive of a star, but she might not have become a household name if it hadn't been for cannabis.

Before the 70s, Moore was a regular cast member of The Dick Van Dyke Show. And she appeared on the big screen alongside Julie Andrews in 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' and Elvis in 'Change of Habit'. But she wasn't a star in her own right yet. That happened with the debut of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show', which became a critical success thanks to the writing staff's secret weapon: marijuana.

Last summer, Moore's co-star Ed Asner told High Times that the writers kept the show going by smoking marijuana. “I’m sure they did [smoke pot]. We got the best work out of them,” he said, adding that having a puff on the job didn't diminish the quality or the quantity of their output one bit. "[T]he scripts were so strict - exact - which was an excellent thing for us (actors). We never needed any [script] changes.”

His comments essentially verified author Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's account of the show's office culture in the 70s. In the chapter "Pot and the Pill" from the 1994 book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, Armstrong claimed that smoking sessions were a regular part of the work day for MTM writers.

"[Writer] Treva Silverman used to hang out in the Mary Tyler Moore offices on the lot, smoking grass with the boys after a day of sitting at her desk, writing and revising," Armstrong wrote. "Amid the occasional clacks of typewriters working overtime and gales of laughter over shared joke ideas, she would puff on a pungent joint or eat one of her home-baked brownies."

Marijuana was never addressed explicitly on the show. But the writers may have given America's cannabis culture a subtle shoutout in the theme song. Which included the line, "Who can turn the world on with her smile?" Maybe they didn't mean anything by that lyric. But people who grew up understanding "turn on" in the sense of hippie culture might have understood the line as a sly wink to pot smokers.

And that's about as far as writers could go at the time since cannabis was too taboo to feature on the show. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show could only push so far, so fast," Armstrong wrote. "There would be no Mary Smokes Grass with the Guys after Work episode." 

That's a shame since a joint might've loosened things up a bit in that fictional Minneapolis TV station.


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