Valerie Harper, who parlayed a sidekick role as the leading lady’s unprepossessing best friend on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ into a star turn of her own in the hit sitcom ‘Rhoda,’ died on Friday,” reports Bruce Weber in The New York Times. Harper had turned 80 on Aug. 22nd.
Says the Times, “She had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, in which cancer cells invade the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the brain.”
“Harper was a theater actress, working with some regularity but far from well known, when she auditioned for a new CBS sitcom starring Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, a Minneapolis news producer (well, associate news producer) and the embodiment of a newly ascendant American breed — the single working woman,” Weber writes.
Harper herself wrote the following in her 2013 memoir, “I, Rhoda,” “I first met Rhoda Morgenstern in the spring of 1970 at an old round oak table in the breakfast nook of the small house I was renting in West Hollywood. Through an amazing stroke of luck, CBS had sent me—an unknown actress—an incredible script for the pilot of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore’ show.
“Rhoda—free spirited, funny and from the Bronx—leaped off the page and grabbed me with her honest and brash humor. This was a woman I liked—no, a woman I loved. This was a woman I wanted to play. And somehow I got the chance.
“For nine incredible years I was lucky enough to be Rhoda Morgenstern, who was as funny and as insecure—as downright relatable—as they come.”
Harper won four Emmys for portraying Rhoda.
In this short interview for the TV Academy’s Archive of American Television, Valerie Harper discusses playing Rhoda:
Here’s the opening of “Rhoda” that we found on YouTube: