Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is a 1976 syndicated soap opera parody produced by Norman Lear, directed by Joan Darling and starring Louise Lasser. The series writers were Gail Parent and Ann Marcus.
The show's title was the eponymous character's name stated twice, because Lear and the writers believed that everything that was said on a soap opera was said twice. Lear conceived Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman as satire, but it was viewed as so controversial that many stations aired it well after their 11 P.M. newscasts. The irony was that while Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman dealt with many of the same topics found in episodes of daytime soap operas, the topics were called by their names (impotence, sexual perversion) instead of being referred to in the hushed tones and euphemisms typically favored by "straight" soaps, although the cast had a tongue-in-cheek performance style. For this reason, the series was even more controversial than it might otherwise have been.
The storyline followed Mary Hartman, played by Louise Lasser, her husband Tom (Greg Mullavey), her mother Mrs. Martha Shumway (Dody Goodman), and Mary’s best friend and next-door neighbor, Loretta Haggers, (Mary Kay Place) and Loretta's much older husband Charlie ("Baby Boy") Haggers, played by Graham Jarvis.
Other cast members included Debralee Scott (who played Cathy Shumway, Mary's maneater sister), Martin Mull (as both wife-beater Garth Gimble and talk show host, Barth Gimble), Sparky Marcus (who played Jimmy Joe Jeeter, child evangelist), Dabney Coleman (who played Merle Jeeter, Fernwood's slightly devious mayor), Marian Mercer (who played Wanda, a former sanitarium mate of Mary's and Jeeter's second wife) and Doris Roberts (who played Dorelda Doremus, a faith healer).
The series took place in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio. Although there is a real Fernwood, Ohio in the United States (located in Jefferson County, Ohio), the town in the series was not based on it, but was instead named for Fernwood Avenue which runs behind the KTLA/Sunset-Bronson Studios where the show taped.
In its first episode, MH2 addressed a family that had been mass-murdered (including the goats and chickens) and the "Fernwood Flasher," who turned out to be Mary's grandfather. Characters on the show died in several bizarre ways, including bathtub electrocution, drowning in chicken soup, and impalement on an aluminum Christmas tree.
Mary Hartman had a nationally televised nervous breakdown on The David Susskind Show at the end of the first season. Mary then found herself in a psychiatric ward, and she was delighted to be part of their selected Nielsen Ratings "family".
When Lasser left the show in 1977, it was re-branded Forever Fernwood and followed the trials and tribulations of Mary's family and friends after she ran away with a policeman. The series finally ended in 1978, after only 26 weeks on the air, along with the talk show parody spin-off Fernwood 2-Night. A total of 130 half-hour episodes were produced.
Mary Kay Place was nominated for a Grammy Award for the album "Tonite! At the Capri Lounge, Loretta Haggers" on which she sang as her MH2 character, Loretta Haggers. The album featured appearances by Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, and one of its songs, "Baby Boy", climbed to the Top 60 on Billboard's Pop Charts, and #3 on the country charts, in 1976. Place also won an Emmy Award for her performance on the show. The show's writers realized Loretta Haggers' newfound fame made it harder to keep her character in Fernwood, so they devised a storyline wherein the country and western star makes an anti-semitic, career-shattering remark on the Dinah Shore talk show.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was syndicated on local stations briefly in 1982, and enjoyed some short-lived air time on the Lifetime Television in 1994 and TV Land in 2002. Aside from the two-volume videocassette issued in the 1980s and bootlegged videos, the show has been difficult to find on any format. With the exception of the first 25 episodes available on DVD, many fans have been unable to watch most of the episodes from this series.
During the run of the series and its various spin-offs and sequels, KTTV, which broadcast the series in the Los Angeles market, also broadcast a tongue-in-cheek version of its nightly "Metronews" newscast, titled "Metronews, Metronews."
Daniel Gregory Browne
Mary Kay Place
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 25
Running time 23 minutes
Original channel Syndicated
Original run 6 January 1976 – 10 May 1977