Mary Tyler Moore quit her first recurring TV role when they didn't give her a raise
The studio claimed she got "too much publicity" for her secretive character.
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Mary Tyler Moore got her first television gig right out of high school. At 17, she was cast as Happy Hotpoint, a dancing elf who pitched Hotpoint appliances to audiences of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Moore filmed 39 commercials which aired over several years in the mid-1950s. But the spots were so short it only amounted to about five day's work. Plus, she was paid more than $6,000 for her trouble — that's about $50,000 in today's money.
But the feast-or-famine reality of show business soon set in. She only won a few small parts in the years after her days with Hotpoint, unnamed roles like "Dance Hall Girl" and "Student #1." Then came an opportunity that many actors dream of. Moore was cast as a recurring character in the mystery series Richard Diamond, Private Detective. The show starred David Janssen (before he became The Fugitive) and was produced by Dick Powell's Four Star Productions. Powell voiced Diamond on the radio in the early Fifties but cast Janssen in the role on TV.
After two seasons set in New York City, Richard Diamond overhauled its premise in 1959. The suave detective swapped his cramped, East Coast office for a house in the Hollywood Hills, complete with a pool in the back and a convertible in the driveway. Along with a new lifestyle, Diamond also had a mysterious new assistant named Sam.
Viewers mostly knew Sam as the voice giving Diamond tips over the phone. Only the back of her head was shown on camera, along with the occasional shot of her hands holding a cigarette or her feet resting on the switchboard. It was sort of a reverse Charlie’s Angels arrangement — and it gave Mary Tyler Moore her first recurring television role.
Moore brought a sultry mischievousness to Sam, even if she couldn't show her face. She filmed the season's first 13 episodes for the scale minimum of $80 per installment, thinking she would get a raise after that.
She told TV Guide in 1959, "I was promised more money after the first 13 episodes, but after we filmed 13, the producer was replaced and I didn't get the money. So, I left." Not many young actors would say goodbye to a continuous paycheck, not matter how low the amount.
But Moore knew her worth and was soon proved right.
She told TV Guide, "I played Sam for scale, but since then I've got way over that — $500 for three days at Warner Bros. for Bourbon Street Beat." She even got to play the same part on a different show after quitting Richard Diamond.
"A call came in from 77 Sunset Strip for the casting department to call Four-Star and get them the girl who played Sam on Richard Diamond. So, I wound up playing Sam on 'The Kookie Caper.'" IMDb lists her role as "Girl on Telephone" but fans of both shows can still delight in this unofficial cross-over.
As for the official reasoning for Moore's departure from Richard Diamond, Private Detective? Producer Dick Powell told TV Guide, "She got too much publicity and spoiled the gimmick."
Little did he know she would become a household name just two years later as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.