See her autobiography, After All (1995).
Moore is arguably best known for The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977), in which she starred as Mary Richards, a 30-something single woman who worked as a news producer at WJM-TV in Minneapolis, and for her early role as Laura Petrie, wife of television comedy writer Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke) on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966). Moore played leading roles in two of the most fondly remembered classic comedy series, making a tremendous impact on television over two decades.
She has also appeared in various films over the years. Her best-remembered performance came in 1980's Ordinary People, which garnered her an Oscar nomination for a role that was the polar opposite of the characters viewers had become accustomed to seeing her portray on television. She has also been active in charity work and various political causes, particularly animal rights and diabetes.
She later appeared in several bit parts in movies and on TV shows, including Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, Surfside Six, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Steve Canyon, Hawaiian Eye and Lock Up in 1961 where a woman named Laura helped save her from prison. Moore anonymously modelled on the covers of a number of record albums and auditioned for the role of the older daughter of Danny Thomas for his long-running hit TV show, but was turned down. Much later, Thomas explained that "no daughter of mine could have that [little] nose." Moore's first regular television role was as a telephone receptionist on the show Richard Diamond, Private Detective; in that series, only her legs were shown and voice heard.
In 1961, Carl Reiner cast her in The Dick Van Dyke Show, an acclaimed weekly series based on Reiner's own life and career as a writer for Sid Caesar's television variety show, telling the cast from the outset that it would run no more than five years. The show was produced by Danny Thomas's company, and Thomas himself recommended her. He remembered Mary as "the girl with three names" whom he had turned down earlier. Moore's energetic comic performances as Van Dyke's character's wife, begun at age 24 (hence she was 11 years Van Dyke's junior), made both the actress and her signature tight capri pants extremely popular, and she became nationally famous. When she won an Emmy award for her portrayal of Laura Petrie, she said, through her tears, quite incorrectly, "I know this will never happen again!"
In 1970, after having appeared earlier in a pivotal one-hour musical special called "Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman", Moore and husband Grant Tinker successfully pitched a sitcom centered around Moore to CBS. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a half-hour newsroom sitcom featuring Ed Asner as her gruff boss Lou Grant, a character that would later be spun off into an hour-long dramatic series. The premise of the single working woman's life, alternating during the program between work and home, became a television staple that would often be used in the future. After six years of high ratings in the top 20, the show slipped to number #39 during its seventh season. Producers argued for its cancellation due to its falling ratings, afraid that the show's legacy might be damaged if it were renewed for another season. This was to the surprise of the entire cast including Mary Tyler Moore herself when they were all told they would soon be filming their final episode. After the announcement, the series finished strongly and the final show was by far the most watched show during the week it aired. The series had become a touchpoint of the Women's Movement because it was one of the first to show, in a serious way, an independent working woman.
After a brief respite, Moore threw herself into a completely different genre. She attempted two failed variety series in a row: Mary, which featured David Letterman and Michael Keaton in the supporting cast and lasted three episodes, and The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, which was canceled within three months. About this time, she also made a one-off musical/variety special for CBS, titled "Mary's Incredible Dream", which featured John Ritter, among others. It did poorly in the ratings and, according to Moore, was never repeated and will likely never see the light of day again because of legal problems surrounding the show.
In the 1985-86 season, she returned to CBS in "Mary", which suffered from poor reviews, sagging ratings, and internal strife within the production crew. According to Moore, she asked CBS to pull the show, as she was unhappy with the direction of the program and the producers.
She also starred in the unsuccessful "dramedy", Annie McGuire, in 1988.
In 2004, Moore reunited with her Dick Van Dyke Show castmates for a reunion "episode" called The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. In August 2005, Moore guest-starred as Christine St. George, a high-strung host of a fictional TV show on three episodes of Fox sitcom That '70s Show. Moore's scenes were shot on the same soundstage where The Mary Tyler Moore Show was filmed in the 1970s.
Moore has appeared in a number of telefilms, such as Like Mother, Like Son: The Strange Story of Sante and Kenny Kimes, Mary's Incredible Dream, Run a Crooked Mile, Heartsounds, The Gin Game (based on the Broadway play), Mary and Rhoda, Lincoln (as Mary Todd Lincoln), Finnegan Begin Again, The Best Year, Miss Lettie and Me, Stolen Babies and Payback.
Moore married Grant Tinker, an NBC executive in 1962, and in 1970 they formed the television production company MTM Enterprises, which created and produced the company's first television series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. MTM Enterprises would later produce popular American sitcoms and drama television series such as Rhoda and Phyllis (both spin-offs from The Mary Tyler Moore Show), The Bob Newhart Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, Hill Street Blues, and Newhart. It was later sold to Television South, an ITV Franchise holder during the 1980's. Moore and Tinker divorced in 1979.
Since 1983, she has been married to Dr. Robert Levine.
In addition to her acting work, Moore is the International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International. In this role, she has used her fame to help raise funds and raise awareness of diabetes mellitus type 1, which she has, almost losing her vision and at least one limb to the disease.
In 2007, in honor of Moore's dedication to the Foundation, JDRF created the "Forever Moore" research initiative which will support JDRF's Academic Research and Development and JDRF's Clinical Development Program. The program works on translating basic research advances into new treatments and technologies for those living with type 1 diabetes.
Mary also adopted a Golden Retriever puppy from Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue in Hudson, Massachusetts. She also was a lobster rights activist and promoted her cause on the sitcom "Ellen."
Moore is a pesco-vegetarian (pescetarian) and has worked for animal rights for many years. On the subject of fur, she has said, "Behind every beautiful fur, there is a story. It is a bloody, barbaric story."
She is also a co-founder of Broadway Barks, an annual animal adopt-a-thon held in New York City. Moore and friend Bernadette Peters work tirelessly to make New York City a no-kill city and to promote adopting animals from shelters.
In honor of her father, George Tyler Moore, who was a life-long Civil War enthusiast, Mary donated funds to acquire an historic structure in Shepherdstown, West Virginia for Shepherd College (now Shepherd University) to be used as a center for Civil War studies. This center, named the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War resides in the historic Conrad Shindler house (ca. 1795) - named in honor of Mary's ancestor who owned the structure between 1815 and 1852.
Moore is a supporter of embryonic stem cell research and said of President George W. Bush's announcement to veto the Senate's bill supporting the research, "This is an intelligent human being with a heart, and I don't see how much longer he can deny those aspects of himself.
In early May 2002, Moore was present as cable TV network TV Land dedicated a statue in downtown Minneapolis to the television character she made famous on Mary Tyler Moore. The statue is in front of the Dayton's (now Macy's) department store, near the corner of 7th Street and Nicollet Mall. It depicts the well-known moment in the show's opening credits where Mary joyfully throws her tam o'shanter cap in the air, in a freeze-frame at the end of the montage.
Fans have noted that the statue takes liberties with that opening scene, for both practical and artistic reasons. One is that where Mary actually tossed the cap was in the crosswalk in the middle of the street-- clearly not the best location for a statue. The other is that the actual release point of the cap was around her waist, whereas the statue has her hand high overhead, barely touching the cap, as if she were catching it instead of tossing it.
The table where she dined during the opening credits at the Basil's Restaurant, located in the Marquette Hotel, looks out over the IDS Center crystal court, and has a plaque designating it as "the Mary Tyler Moore Table." She is featured in the Weezer song "Buddy Holly" To show her gratitude for being mentioned in the song, she signed a copy of the song's single release and sent it to Weezer.