The story behind Mary Tyler Moore's iconic hat toss
The legendary actress, who died Wednesday at age 80, became known as the small screen’s beloved original bachelorette playing Mary Richards, a single woman living in Minneapolis, on the hit CBS sitcom.
Throughout the series’ seven-season run, which spanned from 1970–77, the show’s opening sequence — set to the tune of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” — were regularly tweaked to feature new and varied shots of Moore touring the city sporting her famous smile, but one thing remained consistent: the hat toss.
At the very end of each opening sequence, Moore gleefully spins around and throws her blue knit beret into the air, with a freeze-fame capturing her beaming face and the hat mid-air.
No matter what edits were made in the sequence over the years, the final hat toss shot — which was filmed along Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis — was retained in every iteration.
The iconic shot also starred an unknowing extra: In the background of the famed sequence, an apparently puzzled woman can be seen reacting to the sight of Moore tossing her hat. As it turns out, her stardom was a fluke — Minneapolis resident Hazel Frederick had been shopping in the city on that particular day in 1969 when the sequence was filmed, and her reaction just so happened to be caught on camera.
Frederick’s identity remained largely unknown to the public until 1996, when she met Moore at a book signing of her autobiography, After All. Moore invited Frederick to join her on stage and introduced her to the 5,000 person crowd as “my costar.”
And Nicollet Mall has also carried on Moore’s legacy: According to the New York Times, it’s not unusual for people walking the sidewalks of the shopping center to fling their hats in the air, and in 2002, TV Land dedicated an 8-foot tall bronze statue of Moore tossing her hat near the intersection where the scene was filmed. Moore herself unveiled the statue, leading the crowd in one giant hat toss, with 3,000 berets distributed for the purpose.
Over the years, Moore’s hat toss has been referenced and parodied in popular culture. Most notably, Oprah Winfrey — a longtime fan of Moore’s — previously recreated the opening sequence of the show, but set in Chicago and with Winfrey, 62, playing the role of Mary.
The show’s spinoff, Rhoda, also gave a nod to the hat toss: In the early seasons, the closing credits of the series featured Rhoda (played by Valerie Harper) trying to imitate Moore’s signature hat toss, only to have the hat slip from her hand before she can throw it.
The opening sequence has also been referenced in shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Scrubs.
According to Moore herself, the idea to throw her hat in the air actually came about rather organically.
“It really was a spur of the moment idea,” she said during a 1997 Archive of American Television interview. “We were out there in the middle of February in Minneapolis, freezing. They just wanted shots of me in action.”
“I was in front of a department and they said: ‘Oh! Look, here, run out into that intersection and take your hat — which I had in my hand — and throw it in the air, as if this is the happiest moment of your life,’ ” she recalled. “And I did, and that was it.”