Harper, Valerie (1940—)

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Harper, Valerie (1940—)

Valerie Harper was a little-known actress-dancer when she was cast as Rhoda Morgenstern, neighbor and best buddy of Mary Richards, on CBS's landmark 1970s TV sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Harper emerged as one of television history's most beloved second bananas. The Jewish, Bronx-accented Rhoda was a true New York neurotic: obsessed by her weight and her looks; uncomfortably single and ever-anxious in her relationships with men; and a perfect wisecracking comic contrast to Mary, the more subdued, always perfectly-coifed Midwesterner.

Harper won three Comic Supporting Actress Emmy Awards for playing Rhoda. In 1974, she left the series to star in Rhoda, a Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off. Here, Rhoda Morgenstern was relocated to New York, and her character was far more attractive and assertive. Early in the show's first season—in one of the all-time top-rated TV sitcom episodes—Rhoda married Joe Gerard (David Groh). Meanwhile, Rhoda's sister and neighbor Brenda (Julie Kavner) became the homelier, insecure second banana. Rhoda lasted four seasons, during which she and Joe separated—and Harper added another Emmy to her mantle, this one as Outstanding Series Comic Actress.

—Rob Edelman

Further Reading:

Alley, Robert S., and Irby Brown. Love Is All Around: The Making of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. New York, Delta, 1989.