Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted”

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, O, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2013.

Here Armstrong shares some ideas for a big-screen adaptation of her new book, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic:
Turning a nonfiction book about a TV show into a movie certainly comes off as a bit … meta, at first glance. But the people connected to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, particularly those behind the scenes, could make for some pretty juicy roles: There’s Treva Silverman, the first woman hired to write for the show and a take-no-prisoners trailblazer who also happened be a former beauty contest winner and piano prodigy. There are James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, the polar opposites who ran the show: Jim all manic creativity and hippie beads and beard, Allan all Clark Kent hair and affability. There’s Mary Tyler Moore’s TV executive husband, Grant Tinker, a great businessman, champion of creativity, and Captain America Type. There’s Pat Nardo, Jim and Allan’s too-smart-for-shorthand secretary from the Bronx, and Susan Silver, the bombshell writer who rocked hotpants and could write a killer joke.

I could go on, but we’ll stick with these for now, and then do a little dream-casting of the famous folks who played the characters in my title, too, just for the heck of it. I never did that thing that fiction writers do, where they inevitably cast the book in their heads as they write it, if only to help them flesh out their characters. I had talked to the real people, after all, during my research. But I’m intrigued by the idea of a modern-day Mary or Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda.

But first, the behind-the-scenes folks. I want to see Julia Stiles more in general — I realized I’d missed her when I saw Silver Linings Playbook — and she has the gravitas to pull off the role of Treva, the show’s most experienced female writer. She needs to seem like she could be funny and fiercely intelligent, hang with the boys and take no bullshit. Julia’s been doing that since 10 Things I Hate About You. I can imagine Ashton Kutcher as a young Jim Brooks if he grew his hair out and got himself a nice ‘70s beard. He’d have to tap into that “genius” feeling, but, hey, let’s give the kid a challenge. I see Bradley Cooper, with some slicked-back hair and Buddy Holly glasses, playing Brooks’ partner, Allan Burns. Maybe Ben Affleck with his hair grayed could be the chiseled executive Grant Tinker. I like Tina Majorino (from Napoleon Dynamite and Veronica Mars) for the role of Pat Nardo, the street-smart secretary from New York, and Kaley Cuoco as the sexy Susan Silver.

As for the famous folks, that’s always tougher since they have to live up to the real-life stars everyone knows and loves. For Moore — ugh, this is so hard! — what about Rebecca Hall, who was in The Prestige and Vicky Cristina Barcelona? I can imagine that working because she’s not super-famous. Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant: Gosh, that’s even harder. Jack Black, playing low-key? Or Phillip Seymour Hoffman? For Valerie Harper, I was considering Selma Blair, but I think Sarah Silverman would be even better if she could modulate her distinctive voice a bit. Ted Knight might be the easiest one to cast here, strangely enough. I’d go with Rob Lowe, playing a sort-of variation on his Parks and Recreation character, with gray hair.

But I’m open to suggestions on Mary, Lou, Rhoda, and Ted if you’ve got them.
Learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Keishin Armstrong's website.

--Marshal Zeringue