A Feminist Script: Ann Marcus and the Politics of Writing for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 2:10 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Kate Flach, University of California, San Diego
Soap-opera satire Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-1977) intended to represent the “average American family” to viewers—it featured an unhappy and sexually frustrated housewife who suffers a mental breakdown. In marked contrast to the malcontent wives of 1950s television, Mary Hartman’s unhappiness is portrayed in feminist terms as stemming from an oppressive consumer culture. Although the show is often acclaimed as a Norman Lear production, Ann Marcus served as the co-creator and head writer who invented most of the characters and infamous storylines. In fact, Norman Lear's involvement with the show remained marginal until its success. My presentation explores Marcus’ significance as a feminist writer in creating a show that is today fondly remembered for breaking down social and cultural barriers. The show’s candid representation of white suburbia made it a focal point for impassioned praise and fierce criticism among audiences who felt the show was too realistic and inappropriate for entertainment television. Regardless of whether Marcus intended to “inform” or “entertain,” ordinary Americans participated in debates on feminism’s influence over the traditional family through critiques of the television show. This paper examines Marcus’ role in the development of a feminist portrayal of housewifery and the suburbs in one of the most controversial programs of the decade. The scripts she wrote drew inspiration from Simone deBeauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) and Marcus’ lived experiences. I argue that Marcus attempted to reflect the changing world around her in Mary Hartman through representations of realistic characters and events. In turn, Marcus' role as writer and creator helped to mainstream feminist ideologies through one of the largest popular culture mediums in the United States. 
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