Everyone Could Use A Private Secretary

After learning a bit about the career of Ann Sothern last week, today we take a look at two of her shows: Private Secretary and The Ann Sothern Show. Although they were two different shows, the second almost seemed like a continuation of the first. To make things even more complicated, when the shows went into syndication, Private Secretary was renamed Susie and all the episodes of Susie would air, followed by The Ann Sothern Show and then back to Susie.

Photo: allposters.com

As we learned last week, Ann suffered from hepatitis for three years. With her medical bills mounting and less film work coming in, she needed to make a living, so she turned to television to revive her career.

After appearing in series of ten Maisie films earlier in her career, Ann had a solid fan base. Ann was a smart business woman and she had a 42% ownership in her new show, Private Secretary. The show debuted in 1953.

Sothern with Don Porter–Photo: pinterest.com

Ann portrays Susie MacNamara, a former actress and WAC WWII veteran; she is the secretary to Peter Sands (Don Porter), a talent agent. Susie often complicates life for her boss, although she means well.

One of her best friends was Violet (Ann Tyrell), their receptionist. Cagey Calhoun (Jesse White) is always trying to cause trouble for Peter as a rival talent agent.

Sothern with Ann Tyrell and Jesse White–Photo: episodate.com

While the scripts weren’t ground-breaking, they were well written and witty. Some shows reference one of Mr. Sands’ clients, actress Harriet Lake, which was Ann’s real name.

The show was noted for its state-of-the-art set decoration featuring IBM typewriters and Western Electric phone systems, as well as stylish furnishings.

Photo: wikimedia.com

The show was on Sunday nights on CBS and alternated weeks with highly rated Jack Benny Show.  I have never seen this with any other show but Lucky Strikes, the show’s sponsor also financed The Jack Benny Show on CBS and Your Hit Parade on NBC. So, when Your Hit Parade was on hiatus for summer, Private Secretary’s reruns were shown on that network and then new shows would begin in the fall back on CBS.

The show continued to have great ratings but in 1957, even though the show was renewed for the next year, Ann got into an argument with producer Jack Chertok and she left the series which ended. I could never find definitively why they argued, but it had to do with the show’s profits.  

Photo: wikipedia.com

Sothern was nominated for Best Actress Emmy for 1955, 1956 and 1957, losing to Loretta Young, Lucille Ball, and Nanette Fabray.

Instead of a sixth year of Private Secretary on CBS, The Ann Sothern Show debuted in 1958 as a weekly show. Chertok kept the rights to the title, hoping to get another actress to fill the MacNamara role. This show was created by Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf. Desi Arnaz would produce the show which worked out as Ann and Lucille Ball were very close friends. They appeared on each other’s shows.

In The Ann Sothern Show, Ann now plays Katy O’Connor, the assistant manager of an upscale New York hotel, The Bartley House. Her secretary is Olive Smith (Ann Tyrrell), the front desk clerk is Paul Martine (Jacques Scott), and the bell boy is Johnny Wallace (Jack Mullaney). Later Ken Berry replaced Mullaney as Woody Hamilton.

Many of the cast members from the former show appear on the new series. Although Katy has a boss she answers to, she has a lot of authority running the hotel. Katy’s first boss is Jason Macauley (Ernest Truex), a man who is dominated by his nagging wife Florence (Reta Shaw). When ratings were not great, Truex was replaced by Don Porter as James Devery. As in Private Secretary, there are some romantic currents between Katy and James. Olive’s boyfriend, a dentist, Dr. Gray, is played by Louis Nye. In season two, Jesse White showed up as Oscar Pudney an unethical newsstand owner near the hotel.

Sothern with Jacques Scott–Photo: wikipedia.com

The storylines often revolved around the personal life of the staff and stories about guests staying at the hotel. The concept provided the opportunity to attract a variety of guest stars during its run. In addition to Lucille Ball, actors who appeared on the show included Jack Albertson, Frances Bavier, Constance Bennett, Eva Gabor, Joel Grey, Van Johnson, Jayne Meadows, Howard McNear, Janis Page, Cesar Romero, and Connie Stevens.

Once again Ann was nominated for an Emmy is 1959 but lost to Jane Wyatt for Father Knows Best.

Post Cereals and General Foods were sponsors for this show, and the cast would often appear in commercials at the end of the show. Ann would then sign off with “Well, goodnight everybody. Stay happy!”

Photo: pinterest.com

For the second year, the show’s ratings were decent but not great. The show was moved to Thursday nights up against The Untouchables, a top ten show. The ratings declined, so it was cancelled.

The final episode ended in a cliffhanger. Mr. Devery finally realizes that he is in love with Katy and proposes to her. They kiss but the show ends before Katy can answer yes or no.

I remember watching the shows in syndication and I thought they were good. Ann Sothern appeared to be a likable person and a hard-working actress. Both shows were often in the top 25% of the ratings. With all the reboots that have been done, I have never heard of either of these shows as possibilities and they seem to be good options for a contemporary show.

If you want to check out the shows, Private Secretary has several DVD options. The only place I could find The Ann Sothern Show was on etsy, and the site specifically mentions that it is “not a retail set nor is this a commercial studio release.” Maybe with all the classic television networks debuting, we will see Private Secretary back on the air again soon.

What do You Wear to Eat Beans and Franks with Arnold Ziffel?

There is a lot that happens behind the scenes to help make a show a hit. In previous blogs (see the December 2018 blogs about Earl Hagen and Jay Livingston), we learned about composers. This month we’ll take a look at the costumers and the set designers. The wardrobe department has the responsibility to make sure the characters are wearing the appropriate clothing for their character.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, ca. 1952
Photo: quotesgram.com

Green Acres presented a challenge for the wardrobe department. Most of the citizens were farmers, so overalls and house dresses fit the bill. Sam Drucker was the grocer, postman, and newspaperman for Hooterville, among other jobs. He always wore a blue shirt with a tie and had his postman vest or grocery apron on. Lisa and Oliver Douglas played an attorney and his wife who relocated from New York City and the social scene to rural Hooterville to run a farm. Oliver often wore suits on his tractor, looking somewhat silly and questioned by the locals. Lisa also continued to wear her glamorous outfits, but somehow, she was accepted by everyone and fit in wherever she went.

Photo: metv.com

Lisa Douglas could wear anything and look good. She often wore her negligees around the house without being thought a hussy. She could show up in a sequined gown for a local band performance and was just one of the crowd. She wore gowns of boldly colored prints, but she was just as likely to show up in a single-colored sheath dress with a simple strand of pearls.

Photo: imdb.com

With her lavish updo hairstyle and her extensive collection of jewelry, Lisa was fun to outfit. Three designers were responsible for the majority of Lisa’s wardrobe: Jean Louis, Lucie Ann Claire Sandra, and Nolan Miller.

Jean Louis

Born Jean Louis Berthault in 1907 in Paris, France, he was an Academy Award winner for The Solid Gold Cadillac in 1956 starring Judy Holliday. (Jean was nominated for 13 Academy awards.)

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He attended the School of Decorative Arts and then went to work for Agnes Drecoll, courtier. In 1935, he moved to New York city where he worked for Hattie Carnegie before going to Hollywood. While working there he began gathering a large clientele, including Wallis Simpson and Irene Dunne.

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Black gown -1960s Jean Louis Silk Tiered Gown

From 1944-1958, he was head designer for Columbia Pictures. Some of his most creative designs included Rita Hayworth’s black satin dress from Gilda, the beaded gowns worn by Marlene Dietrich, and the sheer, sparkling dress Marilyn Monroe displayed when she sang “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy. He also was the primary designer for Kim Novack.

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Gold and black lame dress

In 1958 he moved over to Universal. There he began a working relationship with Doris Day, with Pillow Talk, their first collaboration. Journalist Tom Vallance described his work:- “He created a sophisticated allure for Doris that launched a new phase of her career.” James Garner, who also starred with Doris in several films said she “exuded sex appeal while still maintaining her All-American Girl next door image.” Jean Louis also worked with Lana Turner during this era, putting together her colorful wardrobe in Imitation of Life. Jean’s daughter said her father “had the most amazing discerning eye for color. It was a sixth sense for him.”

Jean Louis had designed the clothing for The Loretta Young Show from 1953-1961. She was a close friend of Jean and his wife Maggie. After Maggie passed away, he and Young married in 1993. She was considered one of, if not the best, well-dressed stars. He also designed clothing for Ginger Rogers, Vivian Leigh, Julie Andrews, Katherine Hepburn, and Judy Garland.

Jean began to freelance in 1960. He opened a boutique in Beverly Hills and sold his label, “Jean Louis, Inc.” at better department stores all over the country. During this time, he also updated the United Airlines stewardess uniforms.

Photo: metv.com

From 1965-1967 he designed Lisa Douglas’s dresses on Green Acres. He was the perfect designer for her. Gifted with a great sense of humor, he could undoubtedly relate to the humor on the show.

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As he said during a Vogue interview, “You can use marvelous fabrics, have wonderful, impossible embroidery—in fact, be superluxe and superluxe is what the couture is all about.”

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In the 1970s, he opened a boutique in France and launched his first fragrance. His career was still flourishing with clients like Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, and Bianca Jagger.

Jean Louis passed away in 1997. His influence continues to be felt among designers today. Some of the fashion icons who admit being influenced by him include Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Giorgio Armani, and Zac Posen.

Photo: imdb.com

Lucie Ann-Claire Sandra

Lucie Ann vintage nightgowns are among the most glamorous and desirable negligees ever made. Lucie Onderwyzer founded the fashion company in 1947 in Beverly Hills. Known for bold color and exuberant details like pompoms, bows, rosettes, and rhinestones, she designed for many stars including Elizabeth Taylor.

Photo: pinterest.com
A few of Lisa’s gowns in the background

She designed all the peignoir sets worn by Eva Gabor in Green Acres. Her designs were also featured in other television shows and movies. In one episode of Bewitched, Darrin goes to the store to purchase a Lucie Ann for Samantha.

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Darrin shopping for Samantha

Lucie passed away in 1988 and her company was bought by Deena Lingerie Co and later Lady Ester Lingerie Company which is still making them today.

Norman Miller

Norman Miller was a wardrobe consultant for Eva on Green Acres.

At www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/nolan-miller, Miller described his relationship with Eva.

 “I adored Eva. We worked together for many years. Later on, our working relationship became a friendship that I really valued. She wasn’t silly. She was a very smart lady. Not so smart with the men of her life. Her home was incredibly elegant. Anything that she needed I would do.” Miller shares about the time when Eva discovered a store called Loehmann’s; the store would buy designer samples and pack them up in huge boxes for stars to pick from. “Eva was a size 8 and the sample sizes were 2, and she’d simply ask me to do my magic and tailor them to her size. I smile at that as Eva could get anyone to change things around for her. I sometimes wonder whether she did understand fully well what was entailed in changing a size 2 into an 8 just like what was entailed in coming up with an animation idea tailor-made for her. She’d bat her eyelashes and sprinkle in a few ‘darlings’ and you find yourself doing what she wanted.”

Photo: pinterest.com
A pink chiffon sleeveless floor-length Nolan Miller dress with accompanying chiffon and ostrich feather wrap worn by Eva Gabor on the television series Green Acres.

Miscellaneous

These three designers were the major forces behind Lisa Douglas’s beautiful fashion style on Green Acres. Gabor had an amazing fashion sense and was well known for her private wardrobe. She also was a successful business woman, owning a multi-million-dollar wig company.

Photo: newyorksocialdiary.com

Eddie Albert tells a great story about Gabor and her fashion. At her funeral, he said he probably saw more of Gabor than any of her five real-life husbands did. And, like any couple, married or not, they had their differences. She, for example, never quite understood his passion for wildlife conservation. “Every time you hear about a sick fish, you make a speech. Vy?,” Albert recalled his co-star saying. “And I would tell her, ‘I think we ought to preserve nature, save wild animals,’ and so on. Well, one day she showed up in a gown made of feathers, and I asked her not to wear it. ‘But so chic!’ she said. And I said, ‘Yes, and ladies will see it and want one, and thousands of birds will die.’ And she said, ‘But, Eddie, feathers don’t come from birds.’ ‘Well,’ I asked, ‘where do they come from?’ And she said, ‘Dahlink. Pillows! Feathers come from pee-lowz!’ ”

Perhaps there was more of Eva Gabor in Lisa Douglas than we realized.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com

Did I Tell You The One About The Farmer’s Daughter: The Chemistry of Inger Stevens and William Windom

Photo: abebooks.coom

This blog takes a look at a show that is beginning to fade from viewers’ memories. The Farmer’s Daughter debuted in the fall of 1963, starring Inger Stevens as Katy Holstrum and William Windom as Glen Morley.

The show was based on the 1947 movie of the same name starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten in the lead roles.

Katy was a student who needed to earn some money and became a governess/housekeeper for Morley’s boys, Steve (Mickey Sholdar), age 14 and Danny (Rory O’Brien), age 8. Morley is a congressman. While Morley is sophisticated and refined, Katy is a no-nonsense type of girl from Minnesota. Morley’s mother Agatha (Cathleen Nesbitt) also lives with the family. The cast is rounded out by Philip Coolidge as Cooper, the family’s butler. In the early seasons, it is obvious that Glen and Katy are falling for each other, and many of the plots are one of them being jealous of the other. In the movie, Katy runs for Congress, but she is not as involved in politics in the television show.

Photo: worthpoint.com

Screen Gems produced the show which aired on ABC. The show was sponsored by Lark Cigarettes and Clairol. The two stars often promoted the products at the end of the episode. In season one, the show was on Friday nights against Burke’s Law on CBS and The Fight of the Week on NBC. Season two found the show opposite The Flintstones and The Addams Family. The show moved to Tuesday nights for season three against A Man Called Shenandoah and Ben Casey. The show was never in the top 25 but, it had respectable ratings. The critics liked the show, and it was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding comedy in 1964 but lost to Mary Tyler Moore for The Dick Van Dyke Show. It was also nominated for Emmys for writing, directing, and best actress. Stevens won the Golden Globe for best female tv star. TV Guide conducted a popularity poll, and she won the female performer of the year with David Janssen of The Fugitive, winning male performer.

At the end of season two, Katy and Glen become engaged. The third season brought full-color episodes. Early in the third season, they marry. After that ratings fell significantly, and the show was not renewed for a fourth season. In the finale, Katy adopts Danny and Steve. The chemistry between Glen and Katie and waiting to see if they got together or not kept viewers tuning in.  Once they married, viewers were not as invested.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

In 1957, Inger was signed to a seven-picture contract with Paramount. In 1959, she survived after swallowing an overdose of pills and she seemed to recover with a renewed zeal to work on her career and life situation.

Stevens became a favorite actress of many viewers after The Farmer’s Daughter. The cast and crew liked her very much and she was easy to work with. She never got upset when filming ran long or had complications. She and Windom often played practical jokes on each other to bring fun to the workplace. She recalled eating an onion sandwich one day right before they filmed a kissing scene.

After the show was cancelled, she was cast in the movie, A Guide for the Married Man in1967. She then starred in films with Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin, and Clint Eastwood. She appeared in the made-for-tv film, Run Simon Run with Burt Reynolds in 1970. After seeing the film, Aaron Spelling cast her in an upcoming series, Zig Zag to air in the fall. The show was about a trio who work on hard-to-solve murders. When the show went on the air in 1970, Yvette Mimieux had to take over Inger’s role.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Unfortunately, the sunny disposition Stevens portrayed to the world hid a sad and tragic life and she committed suicide before the show aired. Her housekeeper found her in April; she was semi-conscious and died on the way to the hospital. The cause of death was determined to be acute barbiturate intoxication. The public was saddened and surprised to learn how unhappy she was.

In 2000, William Patterson published the book, The Farmer’s Daughter Remembered. He dove into her life and tried to determine whether she meant to commit suicide or not.

Photo: pinterest.com

Windom also starred in the series, My World and Welcome to It as cartoonist John Monroe and as Dr. Seth Hazzlett on Murder She Wrote in 1985. His first movie role was in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962. In addition to other films and Broadway, he traveled performing one-man shows of both James Thurber and Ernie Pyle. He passed away of congestive heart failure in 2012 at 88.

Cathleen Nesbitt would continue appearing in television series until 1982 when she passed away at age 93. Although she had appeared in many films, The Farmer’s Daughter was the only series she was featured in regularly.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org
Cathleen Nesbitt

Mickey Sholdar only appeared in five other shows after The Farmer’s Daughter. His last acting appearance was in the movie Babe. I could not verify how he spent his life up to now.

Photo: sitcomsonline.com
Mickey Sholdar and Rory O’Brien

Rory O’Brien, like Sholdar, only appeared in a few shows after the series ended. He was also in one film afterward, Little Big Man. O’Brien left the acting profession in the early 1970s. I could not find any other information on him either.

Photo: famousfix.com
Phillip Coolidge

Philip Coolidge was in many acclaimed movies before he took the role on The Farmer’s Daughter. Like most of his cast mates, he only appeared in a few shows in the mid-1960s, and he passed away in 1967.

Photo: pinterest.com

The show was aired in syndication on CBN, but I cannot find any other channels that carried it, and I cannot find any evidence that it was ever released on DVD. It’s too bad because the show featured a couple with great chemistry and the quick pace of the story and well-written dialogue that made the show memorable will be lost if no one is able to see the show in the future.

Celebrating the Single Life: From Ann Sothern to Mary Tyler Moore

Today marks the beginning of National Singles Week. So, we’re taking a closer look at two women who were single and okay with it.

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In the 1950s, Ann Sothern starred in two sitcoms that were almost one and the same. From 1953-57, we watched her in Private Secretary. Susie McNamara was the assistant to Peter Sands at his theatrical agency. When it went off the air due to contract disputes, Susie moved to a New York hotel, and in 1958, she morphed into Katy O’Connor. The show ran until 1961, and Sothern brought three of her former cast members to the hotel with her with new identities.

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In 1970, we met Mary Richards. Mary is an independent career woman. She’d like to meet the right guy, but till he shows up, she’d rather be alone than in an unfulfilling relationship. Like Susie and Katy, Mary’s workmates become part of her extended family.

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Ann Sothern was one of the first, if not the first, single working woman to appear on a sitcom. Susie previously worked as an actress and was a WAC in World War II. Her best friend Vi (Ann Tyrrell) is the receptionist at the agency. Susie often meddled in her boss’s private affairs, especially his female relationships. She could be described as a bit ditzy, but she also ran the office and was very bright.

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Sothern was praised for her acting ability. She was nominated for Emmys three years in a row, but lost to Loretta Young in 1955, Lucille Ball in 1956, and Nanette Fabray in 1957. Lucille Ball, one of her closest friends, called Ann “the best comedian in this business, bar none.”

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To ensure she came across as a serious career woman, great care was taken with the set. It was a state-of-the-art office with the most up-to-date equipment. Connie Brooks, on Our Miss Brooks, was praised by teachers for her realistic portrayal of an educator. Similarly, Ann Sothern was a heroine to secretaries throughout the country. In real life, Sothern was a smart business woman. She invested her money well, owned a variety of companies and a large ranch. She produced Private Secretary and insisted it be preserved on film. As a result, it went into syndication where it was titled “Susie.” From 1987-1990, it aired on Nick at Nite, creating a new fan base for the show.

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The show holds up well. The scripts are a bit predictable and stereotyped, but it reflected the time. Susie McNamara gave young women hope that there was more to life than getting married and raising a family, although that was still an important role for women.

When Sothern was helping to run a posh hotel, Laura Petrie was at home, running her household. She gave up her dancing career to do so, but she was much more than a wife and mom. She and her husband were co-parenting at that time, and they were friends. She and Rob entertained a lot. Laura supported Rob’s friendship with Sally Rogers, one of his co-writers on this television show. She was a career woman who was very funny and smart, albeit lonely.

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Nine years later, The Mary Tyler Moore Show debuted. Laura Petrie had become Mary Richards, a single career woman making her way to Minneapolis. Mary lived alone, dated infrequently, and spent a lot of her time at work or with her new best friend who lived in the apartment above her.

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While we got to know Susie at work, we just got to know Mary. We saw her at her best and her worst. We saw her joyful, depressed, frustrated, angry, and saw her uncertainty as she navigated life alone.

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Mary’s coworkers became her family. Mary wasn’t ditzy, although she occasionally did a ditzy thing or two. She didn’t try to fix her boss’s problems; she had problems of her own, but she was always there for her WJM family.

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Mary would have liked to find the right guy, but until he came along she was satisfied with her life the way it was. She spent her money any way she wanted. She could wear her pajamas all day on Saturday. She had a fun, modern wardrobe. Work gave her great delight, and it also could be extremely stressful.

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Murray was her best friend at work. He and Mary shared a lot of life. We knew part of Murray was in love with Mary, but we also knew neither of them would ever act on any of those possible feelings since he was married.

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Mary was smart and funny. She was an assistant producer for the daily news. Her office space was not as elaborate as Susie’s. There was never enough money at work or at home.

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The times had allowed Mary to move to the city by herself and set up a home. However, even Mary Richards was not allowed to be a divorcé. The network vetoed the original script and converted Mary to a formerly engaged girl whose relationship fell apart. During the run of the show, her boss’s wife asked for a divorce, so the show still ended up featuring a divorced character.

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the best-written shows in television history. Like M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show, the ensemble of characters drove the show and they were realistic and likeable. The show received 29 Emmys, including three years in a row for Best Comedy (1975-1977). The series tackled a lot of social issues during its run, including equal pay for women, marital infidelity, ethical behavior when Mary goes to jail to protect a news source,  dealing with death of a friend, and Mary’s sleeping pill addiction–real issues facing women at that time.

This was a sophisticated show. It was not predictable. Mary was nice, sometimes too nice for her own good. When everyone else called Mr. Grant Lou, Mary couldn’t bring herself to do it. We were always rooting for her. She had hopes, dreams, and ambitions, and a realistic attitude about life.

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It seems like a big leap between Susie McNamara and Mary Richards, but there were a lot of smaller steps in between. Marlo Thomas’s That Girl provided another smart, funny woman who chose to give up her teaching job to pursue an acting career in New York. Ann Marie was another link in the chain that helped move women forward. While she did have a boyfriend and became engaged during the run of the show, Marlo Thomas ended the show with their marriage up in the air.

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Mary’s life was more realistic than Susie’s. When the Ann Sothern Show ended, Katy and her boss (still played by Don Porter) kiss, and you know that they will end up married, and Katy will no longer be running the office.

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When Mary Tyler Moore’s show ended, everyone on the WJM staff was fired except the totally incompetent Ted Baxter. We don’t know what Mary will be doing, but she has choices. Perhaps she found another news job in a new city. I like to think she found a position in management at a local corporation. Maybe she fell in love with one of the employees she was supervising. I think when she retired and turned on the television, she was watching Murphy Brown’s FYI program, celebrating the leaps women were taking in the workforce.