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Valerie Harper (1939-2019)

by Nathaniel R

Emmy & Golden Globe winner Valerie Harper, who rose to considerable fame as Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Rhoda, passed away yesterday after a long battle with brain cancer which doctors thought would end her life years ago. And it wasn't her first such battle either. She'd survived lung cancer in 2009, returning triumphantly to showbiz with a smashing performance as Tallulah Bankhead in the play "Looped" in 2010. Though The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda were before our time as showbiz conoisseurs we did catch her in Looped on Broadway and were thrilled to see her justly Tony-nominated for what was surely a taxing but also a bewitching performance...

Looped numbers among one of our favourite sub-genres in storytelling wherein a playwright or screenwriter or novelist takes on a seemingly tiny incident and builds a whole exciting narrative around it. Looped centered around a looping session from 1965 in which a drunk Tallulah Bankhead needed eight hours to rerecord a single line of dialogue (!!!)  from her final feature film Die! Die! My Darling! That was one of of the many grande dame guignol pictures that cropped up in the wake of Baby Jane's blockbuster success in 1962

In addition to her Tony nomination for Tallulah and four Emmy wins as Rhoda, Harper probably came close to an Oscar nomination once. She was Golden Globe nominated for her supporting role in the Neil Simon/Marsha Mason picture Chapter Two (1979). At the Oscars that year the Academy passed on Globe nominees Kathleen Beller and Valerie Harper to make room for Barbara Barrie and Mariel Hemingway in the Supporting Actress category) 

with Marsha Mason in "Chapter Two"

Other key roles outside of Rhoda and Bankhead included Consuelo in Freebie and the Bean (1974), and the title character on the sitcom Valerie (1986-1987) and taking over for the Tony nominated Tovah Feldshuh in the national tour of Broadway's Golda's Balcony in 2005/2006.

Are you old enough to have known and loved "Rhoda" on TV? Did you see her in Chapter Two or Looped?  If so do share your Valerie Harper memories in the comments.

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Reader Comments (17)

I loved her in "Rhoda" and her tv husband David Groh was a fine looking man

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

I don't know her career very well mainly from her should have been nominated work in 79's Chapter Two and the TV horror film Don't go to Sleep.RIP.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

For people who are of a certain age, the Mary Tyler Moore show was a watershed moment. Rhoda was was as influential and well known as "Elaine" from Seinfeld. Single, funny, loud, proud,and Jewish she made a huge impact on the culture.
Valerie Harper was a warm and talented, and she will be missed.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Lady really said it all. She was a wonderful comedienne.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

RIP Valerie. You were not the Mary, you were the Rhoda. The very best Rhoda ever. <3

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

"Rhoda" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" were my favorite shows when I was a teenager.

Years later, I had the privilege of seeing Valerie Harper on Broadway, in "The Dermatologist's Wife".

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTony Goes

Grew up with MTM Show and Rhoda in the 1970s and 1980s. Always loved Valerie Harper. May she rest in peace.

BTW, Harper was raised Catholic. She based her TV characters on an Italian aunt.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

She was wonderful in Chapter two . R.I.P.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJavier

Will Hubby be giving the GoFundMe money back?

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I was a kid then but I watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show from day one and the instant Rhoda appeared cleaning the outside of the windows of what she thought was going to be her apartment that Phyllis had given to Mary you knew that you were seeing someone special. From her first interaction with Mary their connection and interplay was exceptional. You wanted to hang out with both of them but while Mary was always nice and sweet you were sure Rhoda would be more fun to spend time with. So much of that was thanks to Valerie Harper's talent.

When she moved on to her own show I was happy to follow along especially since the great Nancy Walker, another performer Valerie had tremendous chemistry with, was so much more visible as mother Ida.

Loved her in Chapter Two.

One of those performers who when they appeared or even when you saw their name in the credits you got a little inner smile because you know there would be at least one entertaining aspect to the movie or show.

Her biography was a terrific read and so full of wonderful tidbits, not just of the MTM show but her early life on Broadway as one of the favored dancers of Michael Kidd up through her battles over "Valerie" and so many other things.

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

i'll never understand the "i'm the mary, you're the rhoda" insult from 'romy & michelle..'

rhoda had all the best lines!

[i'm the phyllis]

August 31, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I recently began rewatching MTM on Hulu this week, so this hits hard. She’s such a legend, and a truly brilliant actress who will be missed, but fondly remembered.

I didn’t watch MTM/Rhoda until 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon made me interested to understand the working women sitcoms that came before. Harper was always such a stand out. I’ve never sought out Chapter Two, but will now!

September 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Valerie Harper was great, no question, and created an iconic character in Rhoda.

I want to be Rhoda, and also want a Rhoda in my life. She is a friend who is funny, but listens. I feel like she embodied what we wanted of her in "Sex and the City" - she was the mother of a boyfriend Carrie dated, and Carrie liked her more than the boyfriend - I mean, we always want her around.

September 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I'm a little embarrassed to say that I never got the chance to watch a single episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show or Rhoda, but her guest appearance as Justin Theroux's mother in Sex and the City was memorable. I always marvel at this type of performer who manages to create a three-dimensional character with a limited amount of dialogues and scenes and she was definitely one of them.

September 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFrenchToast

Rhoda, Mary, Phyllis, Maude, Alice, Julia... tv was a safe space for actressexuals in the 70s.

This could be a future series here... (using McDormand's voice) Just sayin'...

September 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I grew up watching and loving Rhoda. Valerie had such a powerful gift for endearing herself to viewers. She created one of the key characters in television. This is a terrible loss. Be at peace.

September 1, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I grew up watching the MTM show and so much of my identity came from it. Mary and Rhoda's friendship is arguably the best portrayal of true friendship on TV. A world without Mary and Rhoda is a sad world.

September 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBgk

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