Saturday, August 31, 2019

Godspeed Valerie Harper

Valerie Harper, best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the spinoff Rhoda, died yesterday, August 30 2019, at the age of 80. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and leptomeningeal carcinomatosis in 2013.

Valerie Harper was born on August 22 1939 in New York City. Because her father's work, the family moved frequently, so that Valerie Harper lived in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey.  Valerie Harper studied ballet in New York City and attended the Quintano School for Young Professionals there, alongside classmates Carol Lynley, Sal Mineo, and Tuesday Weld.

Valerie Harper began her career as a dancer on Broadway. She made her debut on Broadway in Take Me Along in 1959 and appeared in Wildcat in 1960. In the Sixties she appeared in the productions Subways Are for Sleeping, Something Different, and Paul Sills' Story Theatre. She made her film debut as an uncredited dancer in Rock Rock Rock! in 1956 and appeared in an uncredited role in Li'l Abner (1959).

In the Sixties Miss Harper appeared on Broadway in Ovid's Metamorphoses. She made her television debut in an episode of The Doctors in 1963. It was in 1970 that Valerie Harper began playing Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Rhoda was Mary Richards's wisecracking neighbour from New York City on the show. The character proved popular enough that she would be spun off into her own show, Rhoda, in 1974.

In the Seventies Valerie Harper continued playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and starred as Rhoda on the sitcom of the same name. Rhoda lasted for five seasons. She also guest starred on such shows as Love, American Style; Story Theatre; Columbo, and The Muppet Show. She appeared in the films Freebie and the Bean (1974), Chapter Two (1980), and The Last Married Couple in America (1980).

In the Eighties Valerie Harper played the lead role on the sitcom Valerie until she was fired from the show due to a salary dispute.  She won a wrongful termination lawsuit against Lorimar Television. Later in the decade she starred in the TV series City. Miss Harper guest starred on The Love Boat and also appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade. She appeared in the feature film Blame It On Rio (1984).

In the Nineties she starred in the short-lived TV series The Office (not to be confused with the later British and American shows of the same name) and was a semi-regular on the TV series Missing Persons. She guest starred on the shows Promised Land, Melrose Place, Touched by an Angel, Sex and the City, and Beggars and Choosers. She starred along side Mary Tyler Moore in the TV reunion movie Mary and Rhoda, and also appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade. She returned to Broadway in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.

In the Naughts Valerie Harper guest starred on the TV shows That 70's Show, Family Law, Three Sisters, As Told by Ginger, Less Than Perfect, Committed, and 'Til Death. She starred as Golda Meir in the film Golda's Balcony (2007). Miss Harper appeared one last time on Broadway win Looped. In the Teens she guest starred on the shows Desperate Housewives; Drop Dead Diva; Hot in Cleveland; Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Melissa & Joey, 2 Broke Girls, and Children's Hospital. She was a frequent guest voice on The Simpsons for much of the decade was also a guest voice on American Dad!. She appeared in the movies Certainty (2011), Shiver (2012), The Town That Came A-Courtin' (2014), and Stars in Shorts: No Ordinary Love (2016).

Valerie Harper had a gift for comedy and a gift for fully realising characters. There should be little wonder that Rhoda remains one of the best remembered characters from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and the character proved so popular. While it is a certainty that Valerie Harper will always be best remembered as Rhoda, she played a wide array of characters throughout her career, particularly on stage. She played Golda Meir in the one woman stage show Golda's Balcony. She played Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped. In her various TV movies she played everything from a divorced mother (The Day the Loving Stopped) to the mother of a schizophrenic (Strange Voices) to the editor of a fashion magazine (Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion). Valerie Harper admittedly had a gift for comedy, but her talents lent themselves to drama as well. She was an immensely talented actress.


Jon said...

Great work here!

Carol Lynley, Ms. Harper's NYC classmate that you mentioned, died just this week at age 77. She may also be worthy of a near future post from you, if you have the time & inclination.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Jon, last night I saw where Miss Lynley died. I am eulogising her today.