When TV director Garry Marshall helped Susan Silver land a writing gig on a sitcom called “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1971, she thought nothing about bringing the leading lady to life.
“I thought I wasn’t allowed to make anything up,” Silver told Fox News. “That’s how naive I was. So I went in with stories from my own life. And they thought I was so brilliant! I wasn’t.”
Silver, one of the original writers behind the hit show about a news producer living in Minneapolis, relied on her own personal misadventures, which inspired new episodes. Silver insisted it worked because other women could easily identity with them. She described her tales in her new memoir, titled “Hot Pants in Hollywood.”
“Every woman I know loves their best friend more than anything, but you don’t necessarily want to have them in your workplace, too,” said Silver. “When Rhoda [Valerie Harper] lost her job and there was a position available at the station, Mary kind of hesitated… I think we all have those feelings. I just pitched stories from my own life.”
The one idea Silver did not come up with was the concept of having a character who was single.
“It started out that she was supposed to be divorced,” said Silver. “And the network said, ‘No, no, we can’t have a divorced woman because they’ll think she divorced [former co-star] Dick Van Dyke, because she had been the wife on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’”
And not all of Silver’s past experiences made it on the screen. Before she took on the role, the comedy writer from Wisconsin attended UCLA where she befriend a poet who would go on to become a rock star.
“[Jim Morrison], he was my pal,” she described. “Jim Morrison was not the guy that we know from The Doors in college. He was very preppy… He had that little bowl haircut. He was very shy. He was a poet. And we used to hang out in the theater department of UCLA. He always had these poems.”
Silver recalled how Morrison befriended a biker name Max Schwartz, who ultimately became a prominent beatnik poet in San Francisco. She claimed it was Schwartz who inspired Morrison to take on a new look.
“[Schwartz] wore a lot of leather and had long hair,” she recalled. “I believe Jim took his persona, I really do. Because that’s the kind of persona he developed. He was so shy, quiet, and clean cut. But years later when I saw Jim at the Troubadour, it was like who’s that? It was another person.”
Silver also told us about an unwanted encounter with another future star. In 1963, a family friend, who was managing a new comedian named Bill Cosby, suggested he could drive her home after attending a party for “Hootenanny,” a musical variety show on ABC. It was one of Cosby’s first TV appearances. She revealed how Cosby seemed interested in giving her a chance to collaborate with him.
“He said, ‘I’ve just done my first album. Would you like to work on my second?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? Of course I would,’” she said. “I was so excited. We got to my apartment and he lunged at me and I did the Lucille Ball, falling out of the car with my legs up in the air.
“And he just reached over, slammed the door, and drove away. So I escaped. I was very fortunate, knowing what we now know. [But] at the time, I thought, ‘Oh, he just tried to kiss me, so I got away…’ I was extraordinarily lucky.”
It was also during her time at UCLA that Silver decided to get a job as an extra in the 1964 film “Viva Las Vegas” starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret. Silver appeared as a showgirl and it apparently impressed The King.
“Elvis always had these six guys hanging around him,” she said. “They came up to me the day after I was working there and they said, ‘Elvis is having a party tonight and he wants you to come.’ Oh my gosh, I was so excited.
“I think the party was at six so at 6:30 I drove up. I didn’t want to be the first one. The electric gate opened in Bel Air and there was only one car there, which was Elvis’ big Cadillac… I was so terrified I backed out of the driveway and went home. I was this little virgin from Wisconsin!”
Silver had better luck in 1965 when she was set up to go on a date with Lenny Bruce — by his own mother Sally Marr.
“It was a New Year’s Eve party and his mother, a stripper, this cute little woman, said, ‘Are you single? I want to fix you up with my son… I’ll call him, he’ll come to the party,'” she described.
Bruce did arrive and they instantly hit it off. She was even invited to see the controversial comedian perform, but was forced to be chaperoned by her uncle, a Hollywood writer.
“The three of us had a date,” said Silver. “He and my uncle got along beautifully… I only went on one date with him, but he was so brilliant and so amusing. He had beautiful eyes. He was very soulful. He was really good looking! I have a T-shirt [now] with his face on it… I didn’t go to bed with him then, but now I sleep with him occasionally at night. And it’s safer that way!”
Bruce passed away in 1966 at age 40 from a drug overdose.
Silver would go to carve out her own identity in Hollywood, writing for hit shows, such as “Square Pegs,” “Maude,” and “The Partridge Family,” among others. Still, her fondest memories come from getting to know the very private Moore, who later lived two doors down from her in New York City.
“She went out to dance every lunch hour,” said Silver. “She was such a perfectionist and so disciplined. She started as a dancer, so she did that all the time. She could have been a diva, but she never was. She really was the Mary you wanted her to be.”
Moore died earlier this year at age 80.