Igrew up watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” reruns after school and wishing I could have an apartment like hers. And of course I’d have to have a best friend/neighbor like Rhoda Morganstern (Valerie Harper) to go with it. Mary Richards lived on the third floor of an old Queen Anne Victorian in Minneapolis, Minnesota, behind those signature Palladian windows with the iron balcony. We get a glimpse of the house here as she drives her white Ford Mustang up to it during the first season:
In real life, those Palladian windows at the top of the house led to nothing but an unfinished attic space at the time. Later owners reportedly finished it and turned it into a media room.
The owners of the house got so tired of drive-by gawkers when the show was in its heyday that they hung an “IMPEACH NIXON” sign across the front of the house so the show couldn’t shoot new exterior shots to use in later seasons. That’s why producers had Mary move to a high-rise apartment in 1975.
In this shot when Mary steps outside you can see the ugly fence that surrounded the old house. It has since been removed, as you can see in my post about how the house looks today.
In the first script, there was a description of what the writers had in mind for Mary’s apartment, including “ten-foot ceilings” and “a wood-burning fireplace,” which the set designers brought to life:
In the first episode of the series, Mary Richards has just arrived in Minneapolis and her friend Phyllis shows her the apartment she’s going to rent to her on the third floor:
It was fun to see it as an empty space, before Mary moves in. Note that they even put ugly drapes up for the scene, which are never seen again:
When they open the drapes, it reveals Rhoda Morganstern, who is washing the windows of her new apartment (so she thinks):
After Mary moves in, we see where she plans to sleep in this one-room apartment–on a sleeper sofa in the middle of the room. This always made the idea of sleeper sofas seem so glamorous to me as a girl.
This shot shows the wall next to the door, with her famous “M” on the wall.
I love this shot because you can see that the ceilings are vaulted and beamed:
In this shot you can see that there are hardwood floors in the apartment, and that the shag carpeting is an area rug, not wall-to-wall as it sometimes appeared (at least on the “lower level” of the room). The furniture moves around a lot from scene to scene. Sometimes the sofa has its back to the window. Other times it is off to the right, like it is in this scene with Phyllis (the hilarious Cloris Leachman):
It could be open to the main room, or Mary could pull down this window to close it off:
Here’s a look inside the teeny kitchen, with the window closed. Mary and Rhoda are looking in the mini fridge, hoping to find something to feed their guests who came expecting dinner. They find a carrot.
Here’s another view into the kitchen from the dining area, with the window up. There’s a pot rack that wasn’t there during the earlier kitchen scenes (the little girl is Bess, Phyllis’s daughter):
Test audiences reportedly hated the show. Rhoda was deemed “too New York.” Mary was “a loser.” And Phyllis was “too abrasive.”
The writers originally intended for Mary Richards to be divorced and leaving a bad marriage behind, but the network was afraid it would be too controversial–also, that they might think she was “divorcing Dick Van Dyke” since he was her former TV husband. CBS insisted that she arrive in Minneapolis after her boyfriend of 2 years refused to marry her.
Can someone explain to me how Rhoda managed to live upstairs from Mary, even though Mary’s on the third floor? Never figured that one out. Another head-scratcher: where is that octagonal window, which you can see in this shot, on the front of the house?
Here’s a cast photo from a later season that shows bookshelves on another wall (the door to the hall is to the left of Gavin MacLeod and Betty White):
P.S. Want to see how the house looks today?
Inside the Real Victorian from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”