MTM Style: Dish Towels

I would like to know who at the Hallmark Channel decided to pull the plug on the Mary Tyler Moore Show after just two glorious weeks? And right when I was in the middle of an important study of Mary Richards’ dish towels. I’m sorry that this is going to have to go forward with only a minimal amount of photographic support, but go forward it must.

We only get brief glimpses of Mary’s kitchen as her at-home dialog moves the plot line forward. I record the episodes overnight and then watch them in the early morning, just me and my coffee cup.  After I watch them through, I fast forward looking for something that supports my latest research focus. The pattern of 90% of the episodes is this: office-home-office. Occasionally, we see and all-office episode or an all-home episode, but most times you can count on the OHO formula. That’s how I knew it would be easy to locate and study the dish towels hanging in the kitchen.

I ran across an interesting article that describes the design philosophy behind Mary’s apartment layout and design. Read the whole article – it’s quite interesting and complete with shopping links to recreate the look  – but the gist is this: the apartment had to look like it was a reasonable rent and decor for a low-level office girl of the times, and the furniture and accessories evolved according to Mary’s taste as she became more confident and prosperous.

Now Mary Richards was a French Provincial girl at heart. As the years went on, more and more FP-influenced design could be found in her decor choices – the off-white chairs on the upper landing in front of that famous window, the shift in the wall art to French Impressionists and finally the abandonment of the funky country-style dining set in favor of an mid/upper level cherry FP dining suite in her later high rise apartment.

But who knew that the dish towels held the key to the style future of MTM?

I noticed in the early episodes (the few that I studied) that the dish towels were plain and utilitarian. Plain white flour sack with a  yellow or green sets of off-center stipes. Soon, the simple graphics of the times made an appearance.

Dare I call these Vera? They look very Vera - she was a fan of nautical things done in a minimal number of colors. The background isn't quite right though.

This shot of the kitchen is rare for two reasons -1.  it’s shot from inside the kitchen instead of outside in the dining area looking in and 2. even more rare is the orange and yellow shakers (candles?) set on the counter instead of up on the towel rack.

By the time the famous Veal Prince Orloff episode rolled around, Mary was rocking some misguided CAT DISH TOWELS of a vibrant hue.

Sorry for the crappy photo quality. I'm using a stopped DVD recording and a crappy Blackberry camera. Like most fleeting dish towel glimpses, they make only a very brief appearance on the screen. But rest assured, those are a pair of vibrantly colored cats.

[Can you name the dessert that followed the Veal Prince Orloff without looking on Google? I know it by heart.]

This piece started out as a study of Mary’s evloution in terms of wall art. I was heartbroken when she removed the original print by a famous Lithuanian-American artist that shared a wall with the famous M and replaced it with a Lautrec  but I suppose it was in keeping with Mary’s evolution towards FP. Then in one taped episode, I noticed a fleeting glimpse of something almost familiar handing on that towel rack.


This/these towels appear in most epsidoes of this season – 2 side by side , or one janutnily slung over the rod. At first, I thought it might be a louche dangling purple shoe, but when an unobstructed shot  of both side by side was filmed, well….

... aaaaand there it is. The black stocking.

It’s one of the the Lautrec posters called  Jane Avril. I wondered if such a glorious thing as a French Impressionist dish towel was still available. Nothing came up until I searched for “tea towel”.  Of course. Mary Richards would be in possession of a tea towel. Say hello to my little friend:

Etsy, you magnificent bastard.

And there we have it – a limited but still revealing look at the dish towels of the Mary Tyler Moore show.

17 thoughts on “MTM Style: Dish Towels”

  1. And the orange and yellow canisters are in every shot.

    Are they happenin’ salt and peppar shakers? I really don’t think they’re candles; in the first picture the tops look like screw-on.

  2. You bought the tea towel….didn’t you?! Because, dang, I searched for it and it was sold! That’s like telling a crack addict that there’s free crack on the next street over, only when the crack addict gets there, it’s all gone because you already got it. Double dang!!

  3. I’m happy to live in the world where you care enough about Mary richards tea towels to do this level of research. I did remember the giant M. Are there points for that? Was there a poster of a very french black cat?

  4. The rather obscure Me Network was rationing a single MTM episode every week night (just before episodes of the Dick Van Dyke and That Girl shows) but our cableers, The People with Cox, moved it out of the cheapskate level a while back.

    She never had calendar towels? My mother usually did.

    1. I haven’t yet seen a calendar towel but I think the image is that Mary is not an ordinary girl, so I doubt she’d have ordinary calendar tea towels. Even the Veras were/are a step up from calendars.

  5. Do you know why I read this page?

    Because Mary’s not the only one who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.

    1. Baked Pears Alicia.

      It’s a made-up recipe, just like Veal Prince Orloff. For years, you could search for the VPO recipe and come up dry. All of a sudden, somebody who couldn’t stand it anymore made up a recipe and it’s been copied in many places, as if it was a real thing. BPA should show up sooner or later.

  6. The canisters Mary had in her kitchen (in the left corner of the counter as you look through the pass-through) caught my eye the other day, so I went hunting. I think these are them: My orange-and-yellow-loving heart loses to my vintage Millionaire Tupperware collection, but I thought some other MTM fan might enjoy seeing them if not nabbing them!

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