Mary’s Incredible Dream, aka The Mary Tyler Moore Spectacular (1976)

My memories of Ben Vereen decked-out in a green sequence suit and Bowler hat like an LSD-induced Frank Gorshin from Batman . . . was, in fact, real.

And my obsession for this MTM project, is real.

Courtesy of ReelGood.

There’s nothing quite like watching an actor or musician reaching the top of their profession to relish the schadenfreude of their ego crash, burning down their career — regardless of the fact this received three Primetime Emmys (in technical fields). Such a project is this early ’70s Christian Cinema oddball inspired by The Holy Bible tales of Adam and Eve and the parable of Noah and the Flood.

Yes, step right up!

Menahem Golan’s rock ‘n’ roll take on Eve and that damned apple with The Apple has nothing on this hour-long prime time special written by Jack Good (the Monkees’ equally off-the-hut 33-1/3 Revolutions Per Minute and Patrick McGoohan’s rock ‘n’ roll inversion of Othello with 1974’s Catch My Soul) and co-directed by TV’s Jamie Rogers and Gene McAvoy (Sonny & Cher).

Does The Devil singing the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” — in full cabaret regalia — interest you? Does Ben Vereen (Gas-s-s-s in 1970, later Will Smith’s deadbeat dad in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) in a skin-tight red jump suit, his chest exposed, as he jumps around like David Lee Roth during his Van Halen-prime to the tune of “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations do it for you? No? Perhaps Ms. Moore taking a crack at Cat Stevens’s “Morning Has Broken” — during the Noah’s Flood sequence, while she floats on God’s plaster of Paris hand — floats your boat?

Yeah, didn’t think so. But I implore you, it should.

For watching Moore decimate the carte blanche gained from The Dick Van Dyke Show in the 1960s and The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s, with this disco-ballet-musical knockoff of The Wizard of Oz — with Ms. Moore as an angelic, Eve-Dorothy amalgamate — is a whole lot of fun. More fun that should be humanly allowed. As fun as Jesus returning during the disco-era to take on the Mafia in White Pop Jesus (1980)? Hey, it’s your thirty pieces of silver to spend however you want.

For a wee lad, a leggy Mary was a heartbreak/courtesy of Moviefone.

In her 1995 memoir, After All, Mary Tyler Moore explained that this special was originally going to be titled Mary Tyler Moore Explains the History of the World (Mel Brooks, of course, would do it so much better in 1981 with History of the World: Part I). Mary’s “version of the world” went down in history on Mary’s home channel, CBS-TV — and bombed — on January 22, 1976, taking Ben Vereen (who doubles as Noah and the Devil, in his TV acting debut) and lauded cajun-county fiddler Doug Kershaw (he appeared on Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Rock and Roll Restaurant” and records by Grand Funk Railroad; in the stoner western, Zachariah, and concert doc Medicine Ball Caravan; here, he doubles as Adam and the Devil), acclaimed Boston Pops maestro Arthur Fiedler (as God), and the Manhattan Transfer (angles, devils, and everything else) (who were always annoying, yet very hot before this, and not so much after this), down with the Ark.

Oh, the vanity of Ms. Moore tapping, dancing, and singing her way across the stage to a mixture of rock, pop, and classical tunes (even a good ol’ country Hair-inspired “washboard” number) in a tale about man’s creation, fall, and rebirth. Oh, but it’s not really happening . . . for it is all Mary Tyler Moore’s “dream.”

The “dream” is Mary drifting off to sleep . . . then being whisked away to the Pearly Gates — where Heaven is a giant, Westinghouse Radio (the kind Grandma kept on top of the refrigerator) to meet God (Arthur Fiedler conducting an angelic choir), the Manhattan Transfer show up with several (awful) numbers of musical wisdom, and Ben Vereen in that green tuxedo with a “666” on it, well, not since Jim Carrey in that awful Batman movie.

Does Mary become a cave girl to pull out a Flintstone-sytled bone microphone? Does a giant, plaster-cast “hand of God” save Vereen and Mary’s Mr. and Mrs. Noah from the flood, set to the backing of a Planet of the Apes-styled, waist-deep Statue of Liberty? Does Mary and a cast of Nazi dancers sport some green-glilter, Nazisplotation SS-uniforms for a softshoe? Is that stock film footage of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger making a timely political statement?

Yes to all! Yes. Yes. And, oh, my God. YES! This is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on acid with a speedball chaser. No, it’s not a dream. Mary Tyler Moore in this ersatz collision of Hair tangled with Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar really happened . . . just like those musical variety nightmares of the late ’70s starring the washed-up cast of The Brady Bunch that left our parents snickering and us wee lads and lassies scratching our heads.

Courtesy of Mod Cinema.

Courtesy of the folks at Mod Cinema, we learn the “why” of this ungodly musical: Moore decided that the next season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which morphed into the dramatic Lou Grant with Ed Asner) would be the last, as she was developing a variety show as her next project. And this “incredible dream” served as the (failed) pilot.

Yeah, uh, no more weekly variety show for Ms. Moore.

Well, not, not really.

During 1978 – 1979 TV season, Moore, once again, attempted the musical-variety genre by starring in two more, unsuccessful CBS variety series. The first was Mary*, which featured a pre-stardom David Letterman, Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn in the supporting cast. Making its debut on September 24, 1978, it ran for a total of three, low-rated episodes (its highest ranking was 64th out of 114 shows), until its cancellation on October 8, 1978.

Then, in March 1979, a mere five months after the cancellation of Mary, the network brought Moore back in a new, retooled version called The Mary Tyler Moore Hour**. Described as a groundbreaking “sit-var” (part situation comedy/part variety series), Moore portrayed a TV star putting on a variety show. The show-within-a-show format, which starred the likable and dependable Joyce Van Patten (Bad News Bears, 1976), Ron Rifkin (Silent Running), and a returning Micheal Keaton was cancelled in June 1979 after eleven episodes. Not even guest appearances by Lucille Ball, Dick Van Dyke, and Gene Kelly — starring as themselves and appearing on the “show” within the show — could save it.

Yes, dear reader, Mary’s Incredible Dream is incredibly, epically delicious. If there’s ever a time where you NEED to waste 51-minutes of your life — at least you’re not losing 9-minutes on commercials — this is it. Watch it on You Tube . . . but I have a feeling this two minute opening of Mary adorned in a flowing, pink chiffon nightie fly upward into the heavens just may be all you need to decide if you want to spend another 51-minutes with this, well, train wreck that gives the teachings of Jesus a bad name.

Oh, by the way . . . if you need to know more (we know you don’t, but anyway) about Mary Tyler Moore, there’s an hour-long Reelz-exclusive documentary (well, 44-minutes, since the TV commercials are cut) Behind the Smile on Tubi.

* Mary Tyler Moore has rabid fans, so yes, you can find episodes and clips of Mary on You Tube.

** Yeah, The Mary Tyler Moore Hour is on You Tube, so take your pick of the clips or episodes.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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