"I used to get some ego thing out of saying I wasn't a star, just an actress. Forget it. I'm a star. I wanted it. I worked for it. I got it." Four-time Emmy winner Valerie Harper is best known for her innovative comedic work as Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Rhoda".
On August 22, 1940, Valerie Harper was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York. Harper began her career as a dancer with the corps de ballet at Radio City Hall during its spectacular heyday. She gradually moved into acting, working in everything from industrial shows to regional theatre to the Second City comedy troupe of Chicago. She eventually graduated from Erhard Seminars Training (EST).
Harper's first movie was "Rock, Rock, Rock", in 1956. She was 16 at the time. She acted in 2 other movies, "Li'l Abner" (1959) & "With a Feminine Touch" (1969), before co-starring in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" as Rhoda Morgenstern, the single, Jewish, and (at times) very pathetic neighbor of Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore). She won 3 Emmys for "Mary Tyler Moore" in 1971, 1972, & 1973. She was also nominated in 1974.
In 1974, Harper left "Mary Tyler Moore" to star in a spinoff, "Rhoda", about Rhoda's return to New York City. Rhoda married Joe Gerard (David Groh). "Rhoda" was one of the most hailed TV shows of the 1970s and even beat its predecessor, "Mary Tyler Moore", in the ratings in its first 2 seasons. She won an Emmy for her role as Rhoda in 1975. After Rhoda divorced Joe, the ratings plumetted, and CBS cancelled the show in 1978.
After "Rhoda", Harper starred in many movies, including "Fun & Games" (1980), "Farewell for the People" (1982), and "Blame it on Rio" (1984). In 1986, CBS gave her another TV show, "Valerie", about a mother (Harper) who had to take care of her 3 sons mainly alone while her husband (Josh Taylor) worked as an airline pilot. In 1987, NBC fired Harper for missing a day of work, so Harper sued NBC. She won $1,400,000 plus 12.5% of the profits of the show that continued on without her until 1991.
Harper starred in 2 more shows, "City" (1990, as Liz Gianni) and "The Office" (1995, as Rita Stone). They both were cancelled shortly after their premiere. Then, Harper turned to Broadway. She is still in Broadway even to this day in the show "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife" as Marjorie Taub.
Harper reprised her role as Rhoda in the TV movie "Mary & Rhoda", opposite Mary Tyler Moore, in 2000. This tied up all loose ends from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" & "Rhoda". While Mary married a Congressman and lived in New York, Rhoda married a French man and lived in Paris.
In 2001, Harper ran for president of SAG but was defeated by Melissa Gilbert ("Little House on the Prairie"). Harper, in response to the results, said, "...the election has been tainted irreparably," thus challenging the results. She was angered because New York voters of SAG had 2 more days to vote. 5 months later, after a re-vote, Gilbert was still beat Harper by 8,431 votes. This time, Harper did not care to argue as she agreed that Gilbert had one that time fairly.
Nowadays, Harper spends her time acting, mostly in TV movies; speaking out in favor of women's rights and preservation of the enviroment; and spending time with her husband, Tony Cacciotti, who she married in 1987. (Her first marriage was to Richard Schaal in 1964-1978.) Harper & Cacciotti have one adopted daughter, Cristina, who was born in 1983.
Harper was one of the best actresses of the seventies, and she will never be forgotten.