Joyce Bulifant Was Marie on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." See Her Now at 84.
The actor has released a tell-all memoir about her fascinating life in Hollywood.
When The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired in 1970 it was a new kind of sitcom. It told the story of a young, single woman building her broadcast news career at a time when most women in television were pigeonholed as wives and mothers. The show featured several memorable actors beyond its world-famous lead, including Betty White, Ed Asner, Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, and more. In a less prominent but equally memorable role was Joyce Bulifant, who played Marie Slaughter, wife of news writer Murray Slaughter (MacLeod). She quickly became a fan favorite, revered for her comedic timing, distinctive voice, and sympathetic character. Read on to see the actor now at 84!
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Bulifant says she's a lot like her characters.
Though Bulifant appeared in just 11 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she made an outsized impression on the sitcom's audience. "It's very nice when people [refer to me as] 'one of the stars of The Mary Tyler Moore Show,' but I really wasn't. I was a recurring character. But when people think about me, they think about Marie Slaughter. I'm still always amazed," she told Closer Weekly in 2020.
The actor added that she has been fortunate to take on roles that suit her real life personality, and that she has always identified deeply with her on-screen characters. "I don't like to be sad, so I've played mostly happy, silly characters," she told the magazine. "And I'm pretty much like the characters I've played." Besides The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she is most famous for her roles in The Happiest Millionaire and Airplane!, and for her recurring appearances on several game shows, including Match Game, Chain Reaction, and Password Plus.
She had a tough childhood, but an easy start to her Hollywood career.
In her interview with Closer, Bulifant opened up about her difficult childhood and her path to Hollywood success. "My mother and father were divorced when I was very young and I had to live in some foster homes and an orphanage for a while. That was a little difficult. It all was for the best because it taught me how to get along in different situations," she explained.
When the actor was 14, she performed in a play at her Pennsylvania boarding school—and it was there that she got her first big break. "A producer saw me and asked my mother if I would like to work as an apprentice in his summer stock theater in New Angola, Pennsylvania. That's where Kirk Douglas started, too. I worked there for three years, playing every young maid and ingenue role. I learned how to do lights, stage-manage, sweep the floor, do the props and clean the toilet. I did everything," she recalled.
In 1962, she moved to Hollywood in hopes of pursuing acting as a career. Three days after she arrived in L.A., she signed a contract with Universal Studios. "I had the best contract, the last of its kind. I had to star in eight of their shows, do a pilot for a series, and I could work anyplace else. I did so many shows. It was great," she said.
She's been married five times and has three adult children.
In 2017, Bulifant published her memoir, My Four Hollywood Husbands. In total, the actor was married five times, however her fourth husband worked outside of the Hollywood industry. Her partners were James MacArthur (Hawaii Five-0), Edward Mallory (Days of Our Lives), William Asher (I Love Lucy), Glade Bruce Hansen, and Roger Perry (Star Trek).
Bulifant shared with Closer Weekly that her fifth husband, Perry, was the great love of her life and the couple remained married until his death in 2018. "We dated for a year but then he broke up with me. It took another 40 years before we'd get married!" she told the magazine. "I went back to L.A. at the end of a not-very-good two-month marriage and called a mutual friend of Roger and mine. A few nights later my friends asked Roger to dinner [and eventually] we started seeing each other. We took baby steps because it's very scary to be with somebody who never left your heart. You have all kinds of 'what if' fantasies. But we very gently worked back into a relationship. We were more mature and had more to offer each other in a very deep way. I miss him terribly," she said.
Bulifant had two children with her first husband (MacArthur) and one child with her second husband (Mallory).
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These days, she focuses on advocacy work and her family.
In her memoir and recent interviews, Bulifant has opened up about the ways that alcoholism and abuse led her to marry so many times, and the ways these issues shaped the key relationships in her life. She says that "all four husbands" that she discusses in the book were alcoholics, and that she now sees her own codependency and enabling as part of the problem. "I've done (the book) to let people know they're not alone," Bulifant told Daily Press in 2017. "I lived a fairy tale life except for a lot of drinking (by the husbands) and a lot of abuse," she added.
Having reflected on her own relationships, she now hopes to heal others—including her own family—with the insights she's gained. "Maybe if I had known more when I was married to James MacArthur—and so young—maybe I would have been able to help," she said in a 2017 interview with CBS Los Angeles. "But because that marriage was so difficult and abusive, the effects it had on my children—that's what I have to live with, and that's what makes me very sad. Because even if someone isn't abused physically, if they're abused emotionally, that scar may not show on the outside but it's on their heart for life," she said.
As of 2020, the actor shared that she was moving to Glenwood Springs, Colorado to be closer to her children, and to focus on advocacy work related to these issues. She says that she and Perry established a center for abused children there, and she plans to spend her time fundraising and learning more about advocacy work. That said, Bulifant's most recent film credit is from 2019, so there's reason to believe we may also still see more of the multi-talented actor on the silver screen.