Thursday, July 28, 2011

Valerie Harper: Mary's best friend, Rhoda

Recently I have been watching reruns of Rhoda on Comedy Gold.  As a result, I’ve found myself thinking about Valerie Harper and what she’s been up to lately.  Since I am not a regular viewer of Desperate Housewives, I did not realize that Valerie had been a guest star on an episode of the popular sitcom.  The episode is titled “Where Do I Belong” and it aired on January 9, 2011.  Valerie portrayed Susan Delfino’s (Teri Hatcher) Aunt Claire.  In the episode, Susan undergoes dialysis while awaiting a kidney transplant.  She receives a visit in the hospital from her mother, Sophie (Leslie Ann Warren), who is accompanied by Aunt Claire (Valerie Harper).

Valerie and Leslie Ann in Desperate Housewives

Valerie Harper is now 71 years old.  She was born in Suffern, Rockland County, New York on August 22, 1939.  Her Canadian-born mother, Iva, was a nurse and her father, Howard Donald Harper, was a lighting salesman. 

Valerie's career runs the gamut from stage to television and feature films.  She started out as a dancer/showgirl with the Corps de Ballet at Radio City Music Hall.  She gradually moved on to acting in regional theatre.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the aspiring actress danced on Broadway.  She appeared in the musical L'l Abner and in several shows for famed choreographer Michael Kidd.  Her Broadway performances included Wildcats with Lucille Ball and Take Me Along with Jackie Gleason.  Valerie also performed with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago.  

Valerie Harper caught the eye of casting agent Ethel Winant while performing in a small theatre in Los Angeles.  Winant called her to audition for a role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  She won the part and from 1970 until 1974, she portrayed wise-cracking Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Richards`neighbour and closest friend.  Rhoda, a window dresser  for a Minneapolis department store, was a single Jewish woman in her 30s.  Unlike Mary, the Bronx-born Rhoda desperately sought a husband and eventually found one back home in New York City during a visit with her family. 

Rhoda's sister Brenda introduced her to curly-haired Joe Gerard, the divorced owner of the New York Wrecking Company.  A romance blossomed and Rhoda, decided to leave Minneapolis and return to the Big Apple permanently.  Her character became the focus of a new spin-off sitcom called Rhoda.

Rhoda made its debut on CBS on September 9, 1974 with Valerie Harper in the lead.role.  Three weeks later, on October 28, 1974, viewers were treated to a full-hour special episode of the series in which Rhoda and Joe were married.  The newlyweds moved into Brenda's apartment building and Rhoda became stepmother to Joe's 10 year-old son, Donny.

After two year of stories about a happily married couple, the producers of Rhoda determined that that Joe and Rhoda should break up.  They decided they would have more flexibility and more storylines open to them if they concentrated on Rhoda and her sister Brenda as two single women trying to cope.  Soon after the 1976-1977 season, Rhoda and Joe separated.  The Gerards eventually divorced and Joe was gradually phased out of the show.  CBS cancelled Rhoda in December of 1978. 

In 1986, Valerie Harper returned to television comedy in a series called Valerie.  She starred as Valerie Hogan, the harried matriarch of a family living in the Chiago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois.  The Hogan household also consisted of husband Michael (Josh Taylor), an airline pilot who was frequently away on flights, teenage son David (Jason Bateman) and fraternal twins Willie and Mark (Danny Ponce and Jeremy Licht). 

In the autumn of 1987, Valerie suddenly walked off the show during a much-publicized salary  dispute.  She was immediately fired.  The producers decided to continue the show without her and renamed it Valerie's Family.  Harper successfully sued Lorimar Productions for breach of contract.  In June of 1988, the name of the sitcom was changed yet again, this time to The Hogan Family.  Valerie's character was written off the show as having died and Sandy Duncan joined the cast as Michael's divorced sister. The Hogan Family aired until 1991. 

In 1995 Valerie Harper appeared in six episodes of The Office.  She played the role of Rita Stone.  In 2000 Valerie reunited with Mary Tyler Moore in a made-for-television movie titled Mary and Rhoda.  The two old friends find themselves single with daughters in college.  Mary Richards  returns to New York after months in Europe following the sudden death of her Congressman husband in a rock-climbing accident.  Rhoda also returns to New York from Paris after divorcing her second husband, Frenchman Jean-Pierre Rousseau.  She is trying to establish herself in a new career as a photographer.

Valerie Harper in 2007

Valerie Harper has been married twice.  She met her first husband, actor Richard Schaal at Second City.  They wed on January 29, 1964.  The couple did not have any children and divorced in 1978.  On April 8, 1987, the Valerie married producer Tony Cacciotti.  They adopted a daughter, Cristina Cacciotti, born in 1983.  Cristina is an actress.

Valerie Harper is an activist and a strong advocate of women's rights.  She supported the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The actress is a devoted member of the Screen Actors Guild.  She ran for its presidency in the 2001 election, but lost to Melissa Gilbert. 

In 2010, Valerie starred on Broadway as Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's stage production of Loop.  She performed at the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street.

I took a look at Valerie Harper's official website and discovered that she recently filmed two television movies and that there will be an update on Facebook as to when they will be aired.  I also learned that Valerie filmed an episode of Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime.  She believes it will be aired on September. 11.


David Groh

Actor, producer and director David Groh, who played Rhoda's husband Joe Gerard on the series died of kidney cancer on February 12, 2008.  He was 68 years old at the time of his death.  Groh left the show in 1977 after the break-up of his character and Rhoda.

Nancy Walker

Nancy Walker, who portrayed Rhoda`s meddling mother, Ida Morgenstern, died of lung cancer in Studio City, California on March 25, 1992.  She was 69 years old and had been co-starring in the situation comedy True Colors.  From 1971 until 1976, the hard-working Walker also played a regular role on the Rock Hudson detective series, McMillan & Wife.  She portrayed Mildred, the Mcmillan's housekeeper.

The talented Walker earned an Emmy nominaton for her performance in "The Separation," the 1976-1977 season premiere episode of Rhoda.  In the episode, Ida learned about Joe and Rhoda's separation as she was about to leave on a year-long vacation.

Julie Kavner

Julie Kavner played the role of Rhoda`s younger sister, bank teller Brenda Morgenstern.  Julie later became famous for providing the raspy voice of blue-haired Marge Simpson on the animated television show The Simpsons.  Kavner, born September 7, 1950, is now 60 years old.  Rhoda marked her first professional acting role. 

She orignianlly auditioned for a guest-spot on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but producer David Davis cast another actress instead.  Davis, who co-wrote the pilot to Rhoda, remembered Kavner's audition and called her back to play the part of Brenda. 
As it turned out, Davis became Kavner's boyfriend and the two have been together since the 1970s. 

Of Rhoda, Julie is quoted by Tim Lammers in an April 21, 2009 posting on the website LifeWhile as saying, "The writing was phenomenal - the show still holds up, except for the '70s wardrobe."  She described the series as "the true definition of a situation comedy."  She said, "The comedy arose from the situations.  The funniness came from the characters.  It was real.  The writing came from a real sense of these people." 

For her portrayal of the insecure Brenda Morgenstern, Kavner received four Primetime Emmy Award norminations for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.  She won the Emmy in 1978.

In the 1980s and '90s, Julie appeared in a string of Woody Allen movies.  After watching her on Rhoda in the 1970s, Woody was impressed and later offered her a part in his 1986 film, Hannah and Her Sisters.  She agreed to take the part and it gave her career a much-need boost at the time.

In 1987 Julie was cast as Tracey Ullman's sidekick on Fox TV's Tracey Ullman Show.  It was a comedy/variety series in which Kavner had the opportunity to play a host of different characters. 
The show also led to Julie's voicing of the Marge Simspon character.

The Simpsons was originally a series of animated shorts on the Ullman program.  The producers decided to ask Kavner and castmate Dan Castellaneta to provide the voices for Marge and Homer Simpson instead of hiring new actors.

Julie Kavner became very wealthy as the voice of Marge Simpson.  She leads a very private life and makes few public appearances.

Harold Gould

Harold Gould portrayed Rhoda`s father, Martin Morgenstern, on both The Mary Tyler Moore Sho and Rhoda. Gould, whose real name was Harold Goldstein lived in Los Angeles with his wife, Lea.  He died of prostate cancer on September 11, 2010 at the age  of 86.

Lorenzo Music

We can't forget Carlton, the doorman at Brenda's apartment building.  Carlton was never seen on screen but was voiced by Lorenzo Music.  Brenda and Rhoda were constantly speaking on the intercom to the drunken, annoying doorman.  He would always preface his announcements with, "Hello, this is Carlton your doorman." 

Lorenzo Music was an actor, producer and writer.  He passed away on August 4, 2,001 due to complications from lung and bone cancer.  He was 64.  Lorenzo also provided the voice for Garfield the Cat.

To watch a promo for the 35th anniversary DVD edition of the first season of Rhoda, click on the link below.

Kavner (left) and Mary Tyler Moore in Rhoda

EDITOR'S UPDATE: January 18, 2013 - Valerie Harper, a lifelong non-smoker, has opened up about her battle with lung cancer.  At the end of her new memoir, I, Rhoda, Harper reveals that in March of 2009, she was admitted to Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles under the name Valerie McConnell (her mother's maiden name was McConnell).  She was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her lung and underwent surgery to remove part of the lung.  She now wants to promote early detection of cancer.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: March 6, 2013 - Valerie Harper, 73, has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  She was given the terrible news in January.  Of her diagnosis, she told People magazine, "I don't think of dying.  I think of being here now."  

EDITOR'S UPDATE: August 31. 2013 - Valerie Harper has received some really good news.  On August 29th, the Today show broadcast a segment from "Valerie Harper's Story - A Meredith Vieira Special" in which her physician, neuro-oncologist Dr. Jeremy Rudnick, stated that the actress is "getting pretty close to a remission."  He added, "It defies the odds."  NBC will broadcast the full hour-long documentary on Valerie's battle with brain cancer on September 19th.

EDITOR'S UPDATE:  September 7, 2013 - On September 4, 2013, it was announced on Good Morning America that Valerie Harper, 74, and actress Leah Remini, 43, will take part in the 17th season of Dancing With the Stars, the popular TV dance competition.  Valerie told Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts that the brain scans she has every two months "are looking better and better."  She stated that her doctors "are just delighted that I am moving in the right direction."

EDITOR'S UPDATE:  Valerie Harper passed away on August 30, 2019 in Los Angeles.  She was 80 years old.

-  Joanne

1 comment:

  1. Valerie Harper is of British, Irish, French-Canadian, and Spanish ancestry.