Friday 30 August 2019


There was one thing that surprised me about Valerie Harper and one that didn’t.

I was a little stunned when, having watched her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for some time, I heard her interviewed and she didn't sound like she was from the Bronx. Rhoda’s accent certainly fooled me.

I was kind of stunned but not really surprised after Rhoda debuted to learn the title character would be (sound the promotional trumpets) getting married. Even a teenager like me knew that was the kiss of death for the series. Weddings were a gimmick that never worked on Get Smart or I Dream of Jeannie.

Rhoda, on both shows, was a likeable, funny character (less so on her own series), so it's no wonder people liked Valerie Harper. Let's go back and look at a couple of newspaper columns. The first is after she burst onto the scene. It appeared in papers on November 12, 1970.

Friends Aid Miss Harper Make Grade

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — Every television season, no matter how bad some critics say it is, there's always at least one young actor or actress who is spotted in a small part and becomes important.
This year, one of this lucky group is Valerie Harper, who plays Rhoda, the kookie upstairs neighbor on CBS' Mary Tyler Moore Show. She is a very funny young lady.
She also happens to be a very pretty young lady, a fact which you don't notice right away because you're laughing too hard. That's the way Valerie wants it, because she'd rather be known as funny than pretty. And that's funny, too.
VALERIE HARPER is one of many ex-dancers — she was in the chorus of a bunch of Broadway musicals — who decided there was no future in one-two-three-kick, so she switched to acting.
She grew up in many places because her father, a salesman for a lighting company, moved around. She spent her childhood in Suffern, N.Y., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ashland, Ore., Michigan and Jersey City. Jersey City gave her the proper edge to her voice to play Rhoda. She is modeling Rhoda after several friends and her Italian stepmother, Angela.
"ACTUALLY," she says, "I didn't think I'd get the part. It's sort of a Jewish character, and I'm not Jewish, and there are some very fine Jewish actresses around. But I had a lot of Jewish friends and that helped. There was a chemistry between Mary and me. They signed me the same day I read with her for the first time."
Valerie lived in New York for a long time, rooming with five other girls in a huge Riverside Drive apartment. One of her roommates was Arlene Golonka, who now plays Millie on Mayberry R.F.D.
ONE DAY Arlene came back from doing a show and told Val that there was a boy in the company who was very nice—"In fact," she told Val, "if I wasn't going with somebody now I'd grab him myself."
Arlene introduced Val to Dick Schaal, and Valerie is now Mrs. Dick Schaal. Dick is a Chicago-born actor and didn't like New York, but Val did. They were both with the Second City company which toured to Los Angeles. He wanted to stay but she didn't. She has adjusted to it now.
Being a hit on a hit show doesn't hurt.

Harper jumped to her own show and a wedding dress. Being the 1970s, that naturally brought about the then-standard questions about “women's lib” (ie. not needing a man, let alone a wedding dress). The column appeared on October 5, 1974.

Ratings, Marriage Pleasing Valerie

Monitor News Service
You are invited to the Oct. 28 wedding of Rhoda Morgenstern and Joe Gerard . . . on CBS.
Yes, Mary Tyler Moore's upstairs neighbor, who migrated back to New York only four weeks ago ("Rhoda," Mondays, CBS, 9:30-10 p.m.) has found a mate.
Star Valerie Harper is only too happy to share her home and her ratings ("Rhoda" jumped into the number one spot in her first week on the air) with actor David Groh, who plays her husband. Julie Kavner plays her sister Brenda and Nancy Walker (on off days when she's not Rock Hudson's maid or selling paper towels) plays Mother Ida.
In Los Angeles, where the MTM Enterprises crew has just finished the special one-hour marriage show which, by the way, also will feature most of the Mary Tyler Moore cast), Valerie Harper is resting up for a couple of weeks before heading back to the sound stage for more "Rhoda."
ACCORDING TO Valerie, she is not so different from Rhoda. "I call on a lot from my own life," she says. "But, I guess I am not as funny a person as Rhoda . . . or as free. I'm working on it but Rhoda is very free. That's what I like about her — she's the person who says the unsayable. I'm getting better — but I must admit that I am a little more uptight than Rhoda. Otherwise I guess it's me.
"I, too, have a weight problem. When I started on the 'Mary Tyler Moore' show I weighed about 150, then lost about 30 pounds.
In private life Valerie Harper is Mrs. Richard Schaal. Her husband is an actor and director very much involved in this own theater group in Los Angeles. They both studied and acted with Paul Sills of "Second City" and his mother, the famous coach, Viola Spolin. Three-time Emmy winner Valerie Harper also has been a ballet dancer.
Has the instantaneous success of "Rhoda" changed the daily life of Valerie Harper?
"Well, we were never really poor. Dick always has managed to work as an actor. We've been down to very little money but we were never hurting.
"NOW, WE have a business manager and all that — I feel like a teen-ager again with an allowance. It's less than I used to give myself.
"And we bought a house in Westwood. Not a mansion—a house with neighbors, and we can walk to the rest of the village. We just hated the idea of living in a canyon and depending upon a car.
"Dick's daughter by an earlier marriage lives with us— she's 20..."
Rhoda is a rather liberated character. Why is she getting married?
"Well, at first I resented that as a compromise. But then I realized — Rhoda would want to be married. She's not the swinging singles type — and when she meets the right guy, she wants a wedding and all that."
IS VALERIE Harper a liberated woman?
"I'm not sure what that means. I'm ever thankful to 'MS' Magazine — I read it and think it's fabulous. I've given 25 subscriptions for Christmas. And I can remember being absolutely altered by Germaine Greer's book. And in my own way I think I'm working daily at my consciousness being raised. Sure I'm a libber — a human libber, though.
"Don't forget that in the acting profession, males and females operate on the same level — we're all kind of pieces of meat. We're always being used — so there's a common bond. Also no man can fill my job. So, I believe — but I haven't joined any organization. "Maybe I ought to?" Miss Harper often asks questions of herself, of anybody around her. The usual thing is that she seems to want to get the answer.
WHAT COMES after "Rhoda"?
"I'd like to dance again. And do many different things. I've been offered many roles like Rhoda, but I'd be a fool to do her anywhere but on this show. For one thing, she could never be as well written as she is by our own writers. But, I've learned that Broadway is not the only place for talent There's just as much artistry and probably more rewards in television and movies." Rhoda Morgenstern is Jewish. Valerie Harper is not. Has playing the role made her feel more Jewish?
"There's a lot of Gittl (of 'Two for the Seesaw') in my Rhoda. I saw Anne Bancroft in it many years ago. But I guess I have an identity crisis because I feel Jewish and I feel Italian and I am neither. But, having lived in New York for a long time, I think maybe I'm more Zionist than a lot of Jewish people I know, but, no question about it — I've never paid any dues. I've never faced exclusion, discrirnination.
"We'd all be so much happier, though, if we all just danced together in the garden."
There'll be dancing in the garden . . . and probably in the streets as well .. . at the Morgenstern house on Oct. 28 when Rhoda marries her fellow in what may turn out to be the most publicized domestic event on television since Lucy had her baby. And they're dancing right now at MTM enterprises . . . over the phenomenal ratings.

Rhoda may have been likeable but evidently someone wasn't crazy about Harper herself in network executive circles. She may be the only star fired from a show named after her. (Jurors, however, apparently liked her, as they awarded her $1.4 million in compensation plus profit participation in Valerie, which morphed into The Hogan Family).

That can probably be considered a blip on her career. After all, she appeared on (arguably) one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. If it shows up in reruns for many more decades, that’s one more thing that won’t surprise me.


  1. I posted yesyerday about Bob Newhart and Ed Asner reaching their 90th birthdays.

  2. Rhoda remained a strong character through all nine years. This was mainly due to Valerie's spot-on interpretation. Even if a script occasionally was a little off balance or out of character for her, Valerie made it work. She kept the character believable even if the situation was not. The Rhoda series was more of a serial, especially in light of the many supporting characters who came for a stretch and then disappeared. The only supporting character to make it through all four-and-a-half seasons was Brenda, convincingly played by Julie Kavner. The parents were absent for the third season, but both managed to finish out the series after that.

    The MTM Show remained strong even after the departure of Rhoda, but to me the best seasons will always be the first four. Mary and Valerie played off each other so well that the characters were very appealing. Even though I have never directed professionally, only in school or community productions, I would love to have had a chance to direct Valerie Harper. I get the impression she was a dream to work with. Certainly very hard-working.

    1. I watched the show, off and on for a while, but it really didn't do a lot for me. To show you how little an impression it made on me, I'd forgotten Rhoda and Joe got divorced. I'm pretty sure I had stopped watching by then.
      I never thought of the show as having serial qualities but I think that's an astute assessment.
      Harper was enjoyable and I always loved Nancy Walker (let's forget about Blansky's Beauties for a minute). I wasn't crazy about Kavner's character but her acting was very good and interesting to watch. She was a real find by the casting director.

    2. I remember the whole Joe and Rhoda thing was used in some sitcoms years later. " I'm just waiting for Joe and Rhoda to get back together ". Must admit, I watched " The Mary Tyler Moore Show " and " The Bob Newhart Show " more than Rhoda and Phyllis. I watched the former all the way to their finales. I think I made it through a season of Phyllis and Rhoda up to Joe and her divorce. Nothing against the very talented Valarie or Cloris. College, life, and other interests took me in other directions.

  3. RIP, Val.
    As for her being "the only star fired from a show named after her", there's also Roseanne Barr...
    Agreed that Julie Kavner was great as Brenda (of course, now she's better known for being Marge Simpson).