Recalling the three Rs from Valerie Harper…
Rock (Rock, Rock), Rhoda and (Blame it on) Rio, memories from the Film and TV career of Valerie Harper.
Rhoda Season 1 Opening and Closing Credits and Theme Song, Steven Brandt
No-one defined the sassy and spirited Seventies more than Valerie Harper in 1970s TV’s Rhoda (1974-78). Valerie Harper, the actress who played the titular role so brilliantly and credibly sadly passed away recently. With Valerie’s likeable, strong female character who was remembered for some great retorts – delivered as only Valerie Harper could – with her brusque sarcasm in her comedic comments.
Mary : If I know I can’t have it, why look?
Rhoda : If I felt that way I’d never go to a Paul Newman movie.
I remember Rhoda was an American comedy series that my mum enjoyed, but was one I was too young for when it first showed on British telly. It was on telly quite late at night when it was repeated in the 1980s. It was then that I watched this comedienne’s tour de force.
This my first introduction to this talented actress from films, TV Movies, the stage and TV. I didn’t know her as Valerie Harper then, just always as Rhoda and the actress in the comedy series with the wee kitten at the end of the final credits.
The plot for Rhoda was described eloquently by Valerie in the opening credits in a strong New Jersey accent. This alongside a photo montage of Valerie through the years with crazy collage illustrations. The photographs now is a wonderful tribute not just to Rhoda, but to the talented actress who played her.
The series told of the Bronx born Rhoda Faye Morgenstern, who returns to Manhattan after living in Minneapolis. Cue her comic adventures with work, love and family in this TV series spin off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77). Rhoda‘s wedding episode featured in a crossover with this show came in high in the ratings breaking all records at the time with 53 million viewers.
The show was one of many firsts. It featured the first Jewish character in a leading role in a sitcom. It also was the first TV Series to get a number-one Nielsen rating for its pilot episode. Valerie won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on Rhoda once and as a supporting actress to Mary Tyler Moore three times.
Before her role as Rhoda, Valerie had appeared in many TV Movies. But her first role goes back to 1956. One of my blogging friends, put up a gif to remember her by from this movie, the musical, Rock Rock Rock! (1956) which stars many rock and roll stars from that time. This a film that he recommends with a teenage Valerie in a blink and miss it small debut role as an extra. She was also credited in an extra role in Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) with Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.
She started her career as a dancer on Broadway and also appeared in a number of theatre productions. Valerie also had roles in over twenty made for television films throughout her career. These appearances were in a wide range of TV Movie genres such as family dramas about divorce in The Day the Loving Stopped (1981) with Ally Sheedy and Dennis Weaver to Horrors such as Don’t Go to Sleep (1982). In the latter, she also starred with Weaver and with Ruth Gordon.
Valerie Harper also had guest star roles in Columbo (1972), The Love Boat (1986) Desperate Housewives (2011), Melrose Place (1998), The Office (1995) and The Muppet Show (1976). In The Muppet Show, she showed her previous talents as a singer and dancer on Broadway in a wee musical number with the Clodhoppers. But not before Statler and Waldorf fight for her attentions. More recently she was reunited with her on-screen sister in Rhoda, Julie Kavner in a number of vocal roles in The Simpsons (2013-18).
More recently I re-enjoyed her as Michael Caine’s on-screen wife and Demi Moore’s on-screen mother in Blame it on Rio (1984). This was Valerie’s second film with Joseph Bologna, her co-star in Chapter Two (1979). is – as it was then – quite a controversial film romantic comedy, which makes it quite uncomfortable viewing.
It tells of Caine’s Matthew who goes to Rio with his friend and their teenage daughters, while his wife Karen – played by Valerie – has a separate holiday to think about their troubled marriage. Matthew then kinda falls into a fling with his best friend’s daughter. The trouble is she’s just 17 and he’s a lot older. After they break up she’s heartbroken, with her father enrolling Matthew’s help to find the man who broke his daughter’s heart.
Caine and Valerie have a few of the now more easy to watch scenes of this “comedy”. As a married couple, they had credible chemistry in their scenes together at the beginning and towards the end of the movie.
An example of this when Matthew tells his wife he misses her once he is in Rio…
Matthew Hollis: Do you miss me at all?
Karen Hollis: At all? Yes dear, I miss you at all.
Bizarrely, both Rhoda stars Valerie Harper and Julie Kavner both starred with Michael Caine in two of his 1980s romantic comedy movies. Kavner had a later role with him in Surrender (1987) which co-starred Sally Field and Steve Guttenberg. So I’m guessing that – to quote that saying from Caine impersonators everywhere – not a lot of people know that. But they do know that Valerie Harper, was a comedienne who rocked, rocked, rocked.