Valerie Kathryn Harper Born August 22, 1939 – August 30, 2019 was an American actress. She began her career as a dancer on Broadway, making her debut in the musical Take Me Along in 1959. Harper is best remembered for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977) and its spin-off Rhoda (1974–1978). For her work on Mary Tyler Moore, she thrice received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and later received the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on Rhoda.
From 1986 to 1987, Harper appeared as Valerie Hogan on the sitcom Valerie. Her film appearances include roles in Freebie and the Bean (1974) and Chapter Two (1979), both of which garnered her Golden Globe Award nominations. Harper returned to stage work in her later career, appearing in several Broadway productions. In 2010, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped.
Valerie was born on August 22, 1939 in Suffern, New York, the daughter of Iva Mildred (née McConnell; 1910–1988) and Howard Donald Harper (1907–1981). Her father was a lighting salesman; her mother was born (and raised) in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan before becoming a teacher and later trained as a nurse. Her parents married in Alberta before her mother immigrated to the United States. Valerie was the middle child of three siblings, between her sister Leanne (b. 1937) and her brother Merrill (b. 1942, who later took the name “Don”). After her parents’ divorce in 1957, she also had a half-sister, Virginia, from her father’s second marriage to Angela Posillico (1933–1996).
She stated that her parents were expecting a boy; after her arrival, her first and middle names were derived from that year’s women’s doubles tennis champions, Valerie Scott and Kay Stammers. She was of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. Harper based her character Rhoda Morgenstern on her Italian stepmother and Penny Ann Green (née Joanna Greenberg), with whom she danced in the Broadway musical Wildcat. She was raised Catholic, although at an early age she “quit” the church.
Her family moved every two years due to her father’s work. Harper attended schools in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey. When her family returned to Oregon, Harper remained in the New York City area to study ballet. She attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City, graduating from the private Young Professionals School on West 56th Street, where classmates included Sal Mineo, Tuesday Weld, and Carol Lynley.
Harper married actor Richard Schaal in 1964. They divorced in 1978. Harper married Tony Cacciotti in 1987. The couple shortly afterward adopted a daughter. Despite occasionally playing Jewish characters, such as Rhoda Morgenstern, Harper herself was not Jewish and was of mixed European and French Canadian descent.
In 2009, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer. She announced on March 6, 2013, that tests from a January hospital stay revealed she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition in which cancer cells spread into the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. She said her doctors had given her as little as three months life expectancy. Although the disease was reported to be incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy in an effort to slow its progress. In April 2014, Harper said she was responding well to the treatment. On July 30, 2015, Harper was hospitalized in Maine after falling unconscious, and taken via medevac to a larger hospital for further treatment. She was later discharged.
In 2016, Harper continued battling cancer with treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center but was well enough to appear in a short film, My Mom and the Girl, based on the experiences of director/writer Susie Singer Carter, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease. In September 2017, she made this comment: “People are saying, ‘She’s on her way to death and quickly’. Now it’s five years instead of three months … I’m going to fight this. I’m going to see a way.” At the time, Harper was developing a television series with Carter. By July 2019, Harper was on a regimen of “a multitude of medications and chemotherapy drugs” and was experiencing “extreme physical and painful challenges” that require “around the clock, 24/7 care.”
Harper died on the morning of August 30, 2019, in Los Angeles, at the age of 80.
Valerie and Mary Tyler Moore
Harper began her show business career as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway, and went on to perform in several Broadway shows, some choreographed by Michael Kidd, including Wildcat (starring Lucille Ball), Take Me Along (starring Jackie Gleason), and Subways Are for Sleeping. In-between she was also cast in the musical Destry Rides Again, but was forced to leave rehearsals due to illness. Her roommate, actress Arlene Golonka, introduced her to Second City improvisation theater and to improv performer Dick Schaal, whom Harper later married in 1965. Harper was stepmother to Schaal’s daughter, Wendy, an actress. They lived in Greenwich Village. She returned to Broadway in February 2010, playing Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo’s Looped at the Lyceum Theatre.
Harper appeared in a bit part in the film version of Li’l Abner (1959), playing a Yokumberry Tonic wife. She broke into television on an episode of the soap opera The Doctors (“Zip Guns can Kill”). She was an extra in Love with the Proper Stranger. She was in the ensemble cast of Paul Sills’ Story Theatre and toured with Second City along with Schaal, Linda Lavin and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. Harper performed several characters in a comedy LP record, When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish, which included the popular novelty single, The Ballad of Irving, a recitation by TV announcer Frank Gallop. Harper and Schaal moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and co-wrote an episode of Love, American Style.
While doing theater in Los Angeles in 1970, Harper was spotted by casting agent Ethel Winant, who called her in to audition for the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She co-starred from 1970–1974 and then starred in the spin-off series, Rhoda (CBS 1974–1978) in which her character returned to New York City.
She won four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for her work as Rhoda Morgenstern throughout this period. In 2000, Harper reunited with Moore in Mary and Rhoda, a TV movie that brought their characters together again in later life. The first season of Rhoda was released on DVD on April 21, 2009, by Shout! Factory.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for “New Star of the Year” for her role in Freebie and the Bean (1974). Harper was a guest star on The Muppet Show in 1976, its first season.
Harper returned to situation comedy in 1986 when she played family matriarch Valerie Hogan on the NBC series Valerie. Following a salary dispute with NBC and production company Lorimar in 1987, Harper was fired from the series at the end of its second season. Harper sued NBC and Lorimar for breach of contract. Her claims against NBC were dismissed, but the jury found that Lorimar had wrongfully fired her and awarded her $1.4 million plus 12.5 percent of the show’s profits. The series continued without her with the explanation that her character had died off-screen. In 1987, it was initially renamed Valerie’s Family and then The Hogan Family, as Harper was replaced by actress Sandy Duncan, who played her sister-in-law Sandy Hogan. NBC canceled The Hogan Family in 1990, but CBS picked up the series for a final season.
Harper appeared in various television movies, including a performance as Maggie in a production of the Michael Cristofer play The Shadow Box, directed by Paul Newman, and in guest roles on such series as Melrose Place (1998) and Sex and the City (1999)
Harper at 2010 The Heart Truth
Harper was a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and ran for president in the 2001 election, losing to Melissa Gilbert. She served on the Hollywood Board of Directors of SAG.
In 2005 through 2006, Harper portrayed Golda Meir in a United States National tour of the one-woman drama Golda’s Balcony. A film of this production was released in 2007.
She played Tallulah Bankhead in the world-premiere production of Matthew Lombardo’s Looped at the Pasadena Playhouse from June 27 to August 3, 2008. The production moved to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2009. It then briefly ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, from February 2010 (previews) through April 2010, for which she received a Tony Award nomination. Harper was to continue in the role on a national tour beginning January 2013, but withdrew from the production due to her health.
She played Claire Bremmer, aunt of Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher), on ABC’s Desperate Housewives in 2011.
On September 4, 2013, Harper was announced as a contestant for the 17th season of Dancing with the Stars. She was partnered with professional dancer Tristan MacManus. Harper and MacManus were voted off the show on October 7, 2013.
Harper appeared as the character Wanda, on the American comedy Web television series Liza on Demand, in the July 11, 2018 episode: “Valentine’s Day”.
Activism and Charity Work
In the 1970s and 1980s, Harper was involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement and was an advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment. With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E. in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles.
|1959–1960||Take Me Along||Lady Entertainer, Townswoman|
|1961–1962||Subways Are for Sleeping||Dancer|
|1967–1968||Something Different||Beth Nemerov||Replacement|
|1970–1971||Paul Sills’ Story Theatre||Various|
|1995||Death Defying Acts||Dorothy/Carol||Replacement. Off-Broadway: Variety Arts Theatre|
|1998–1999||All Under Heaven||Pearl S. Buck||Off-Broadway’s Century Center Theatre. Ran November 3, 1998 – January 11, 1999. Played 16 previews and 65 regular performances.|
|2001–2002||The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife||Marjorie||Replacement (July 31, 2001 – May 26, 2002)|
|2008–2010||Looped||Tallulah Bankhead||2010 Tony Award nominee: Best Actress in a Play. Looped ran on Broadway (at the Lyceum Theatre), February 19 – April 11, 2010 for 60 performances.|
|2015||Nice Work if You Can Get It||Millicent Winter||Ogunquit Playhouse (Maine) (July 22–29—bowed out after collapsing backstage and being hospitalized. Replaced by Brenda Vaccaro for remaining run through August 15, 2015.)|
|1970–1977||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Rhoda Morgenstern||92 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1971–73)
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (1973–74)
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
|1971||Story Theatre||Unknown||Unknown episodes|
|Love, American Style||Barbara Watkins||Episode: “Love and the Housekeeper”|
|1972||Columbo||Eve Babcock||Episode: “The Most Crucial Game”|
|1974–1978||Rhoda||Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard||110 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1976–78)
Awards and Nominations
|1971||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Won|
|1972||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Won|
|1972||Golden Gobe||Best Supporting Actress — Television||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Nominated|
|1973||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Won|
|1973||Golden Globe||Best Supporting Actress — Television||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Nominated|
|1974||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series||The Mary Tyler Moore Show||Nominated|
|1974||Golden Globe||New Female Star of the Year||Freebie and the Bean||Nominated|
|1974||Golden Globe||Best Actress in a TV Comedy Series||Rhoda||Won|
|1975||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||Rhoda||Won|
|1975||Golden Globe||Best Actress in a TV Comedy Series||Rhoda||Nominated|
|1976||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||Rhoda||Nominated|
|1977||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||Rhoda||Nominated|
|1978||Primetime Emmy||Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series||Rhoda||Nominated|
|1979||Golden Globe||Best Supporting Actress — Motion Picture||Chapter Two||Nominated|
|2010||Tony Award||Best Actress in a Play||Looped||Nominated|
- “Valerie Harper Biography”. The Biography Channel (A&E Networks). Retrieved April 16, 2014
- Harper in Valerie Harper Interview Part 1 of 3. Archive of American Television. February 26, 2009. Event occurs at 00:36. Retrieved April 16, 2014. It’s ‘well-known’ that I was born in 1940, I read it everywhere, but it was actually 1939.
- “Iva Mcconell Harper”. Family Search. Archived from the original on October 4, 2015. Retrieved July 31, 2015
- Google Books
- Harper, Valerie (January 15, 2013). I Rhoda: A Memoir. Gallery Books. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4516-9946-3.
- Ouzounian, Richard (April 12, 2006). “Good as Golda; Yes, that is veteran actress Valerie Harper playing Israel’s 1970s prime minister in a play coming soon to Toronto. Turns out Rhoda Morgenstern has Canadian roots”. Toronto Star. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Bawden 1987.
- “Ask Them Yourself”. Daytona Beach Morning Journal. July 28, 1973.
- Jacobs 2008, p. 1.
- Lacher 2008.
- Gregory 2002, p. 35.
- “LoopedOnBroadway.com”. Loopedonbroadway.com. Archived from the original on March 1, 2013. Retrieved March 12, 2013
- “Story Theatre”. IMDb. January 1, 2000.
- “Mary and Rhoda | Archive of American Television”. Emmytvlegends.org. February 7, 2000. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
- “Rhoda – Formal Press Release from Shout! Factory for Rhoda’s 1st Season DVDs” Archived 2009-06-01 at the Wayback Machine Tvshowsondvd.com, accessed January 26, 2011.
- “Valerie Harper profile”. Thegoldenglobes.com. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- “‘The Muppet Show’, Air Date November 22, 1976, Valerie Harper” TV.com, accessed January 26, 2011
- Weinman 2008.
- Hutchings 1987.
- Brennan 1988.
- Farber 1988.
- Lacayo & Seufert 1988.
- Haithman, Diane (April 19, 1990). “‘Hogan Family Jump to CBS Called an Exception”. Los Angeles Times.
- Bates, James (November 3, 2001). “Divided SAG Elects Melissa Gilbert”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Marcus, By Lori Lowenthal (March 11, 2013). “Pro-Israel Valerie Harper (Rhoda) Suffering Incurable Cancer”. The Jewish Press. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Simonson, Robert (April 5, 2005). “Valerie Harper to Play Meir in Golda’s Balcony Tour”. Playbill. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Golda’s Balcony IMDb listing, retrieved April 5, 2010
- “Looped”. Pasadena Playhouse. Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
- McNulty, Charles (July 10, 2008). “‘Looped’ at the Pasadena Playhouse”. Los Angeles Times.
- “Looped”. Arena Stage. Archived from the original on May 5, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
- Jones, Kenneth (April 5, 2010). “‘Looped’ Will Play Its Final Fadeout April 11”. Playbill. Archived from the original on April 7, 2010.
- Rizzo, Frank (January 28, 2013). “Valerie Harper Drops Out Of ‘Looped’ Tour For Health Reasons”. Hartford Courant. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- “Keck’s Exclusives: Rhoda Comes to Desperate Housewives”. TV Guide. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
- Sher, Lauren (September 4, 2013). “Dancing With the Stars 2013: Season 17 Cast Announced”. Good Morning America. ABC News. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
- News Desk, TV (June 27, 2018). “Liza Koshy’s YouTube Premium Series LIZA ON DEMAND Now Streaming 2013: Season 17 Cast Announced”. Broadway World. Retrieved July 27, 2019.
- Forbish, Lynn (September 20, 1980). “Valerie Harper She Doesn’t Mince Words; She’s Here For Equality”. Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida. Retrieved August 28, 2017.
- Olivo, Antonio (October 6, 1994). “Info re L.I.F.E. (charity)”. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 28, 2013.
- “Album`s Proceeds To Go To Charity”. Sun-Sentinel. Fort Lauderdale. October 23, 1992. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- “Valerie Harper & Tony Cacciotti”. DailyEntertainmentNews. Retrieved March 12, 2013.
- Haithman, Diane (September 19, 1988). “Valerie Harper Savors Her Victory”. Los Angeles Times. California. Retrieved July 24, 2019.
- Lloyd, Janice (March 6, 2013). “Harper’s brain cancer likely related to previous cancer”. USA Today.
- Tauber, Michelle; Dodd, Johnny (March 6, 2013). “Valerie Harper Has Terminal Brain Cancer”. People. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
- Dodd, Johnny; Tauber, Michelle (March 6, 2013). “Valerie Harper’s Rare Cancer Explained”. People. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
- Valerie Harper Reveals: “I Am Absolutely Cancer-Free!”. Closer. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Daley, Megan (July 30, 2015). “Valerie Harper’s hospitalization prior to a Maine performance a ‘precaution,’ says the theater”. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- “Valerie Harper In a Coma, Sources Say”. Entertainment Weekly. July 30, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- Deerwester, Jayme. “Valerie Harper released from hospital”. USA Today.
- Gagnon, Dawn. “Valerie Harper not in coma, looking forward to returning to Ogunquit Playhouse”. Bangor Daily News. Retrieved August 28, 2016.
- “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on October 28, 2017. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
- Nolasco, Stephanie (September 27, 2017). “Valerie Harper’s cancer battle: ‘Now it’s 5 years instead of 3 months'”. Fox News. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
- Scheps, Leigh. “BWW Interview: Valerie Harper Talks New Film & Not Letting Life Slip By”. BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved February 16, 2019.
- Jensen, Erin (July 18, 2019). “GoFundMe created to ease Valerie Harper’s ‘unrelenting medical costs’ amid cancer fight”. USA Today. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
- Saperstein, Pat. “Valerie Harper, Rhoda on ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ Dies at 80” Variety, August 30, 2019
- Blair, Elizabeth (August 30, 2019). “Valerie Harper, Who Played Beloved TV Sidekick Rhoda, Dies At 80”. NPR. Retrieved August 30, 2019.
- Elber, Lynn (October 12, 2017). “Valerie Harper back on screen despite cancer struggle”. ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved October 22, 2017.
- “Valerie Harper Will Guest Star in First Two Episodes of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” the Highly Anticipated Hallmark Channel Original”. The Futon Critic (Press release). Hallmark Channel. January 8, 2014.
- Official website
- John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas 1975 TV Special (with Valerie Harper)
- Valerie Harper on IMDb
- Valerie Harper at Find a Grave
- Valerie Harper at The Interviews: An Oral History of Television
- Valerie Harper at the Internet Broadway Database
- Valerie Harper at the Internet Off-Broadway Database