Dick Van Dyke (as Rob Petrie) and actress Mary Tyler Moore (as Laura Petrie) in ‘”The Dick Van Dyke Show” circa 1964. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images) Credit: CBS/Getty Images
Even their costumes were the same, creating a monochrome sea of demure dresses, aprons and heels. With the character of Laura Petrie, Moore said, they wanted to break the sitcom wife mold.
“The way she was written, Laura actually had opinions of her own,” Moore told NPR. “And while she was asserting herself, she also didn’t make Dick Van Dyke look like a dummy. It was a matter of two people. I mean, society’s expectations at that point still said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, lady, you only go so far here.’ But I think we broke new ground.
“And that was helped,” Moore went on, “by my insistence on wearing pants.”
How Mary Tyler Moore’s capri pants broke the sitcom mold
So what was the big deal? Apparently there was concern about “cupping” — that is, how defined Moore’s pants were in the rear. (A still stunned Dick Van Dyke asks in “History of the Sitcom,” “Can you believe that? That things were ever that way?”)
Moore stood by her choice, arguing that television’s portrayal of the housewife was light years away from reality.
American actors Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore appear in a scene from the ‘It May Look Like a Walnut’ episode of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ January 15, 1963. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images) Credit: CBS/Getty Images
“I said, I’ve seen all the other actresses, and they’re always running the vacuum in these little flowered frocks with high heels on, and I don’t do that,” she recalled to NPR. “And I don’t know any of my friends who do that. So why don’t we try to make this real? And I’ll dress on the show the way I do in real life. … Within a few weeks, we were sneaking (pants) into a few other scenes in every episode, and they were definitely cupping under and everyone thought it was great.”
Ever the trailblazer, that time Moore didn’t play a housewife: Instead, she showed just how well single women can make it after all, unmarried and successfully climbing the career ladder — and yes, wearing the pants.