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The Unlikeliest (and Most Fun) Role Model for Aging Boldly

It's hard to believe but Mrs. Roper—of "Three's Company" fame—is having a big moment, reminding us how frisky older women can be.
Who knew that back in the late 70s, when we kicked off our Candies and snuggled up on the sofa in our bell bottoms to watch the sitcom Three’s Company, we were witnessing an icon in action? We sure didn’t. We thought the whole show was kind of dumb, to be honest. Brought down several notches on the intelligence scale by Chrissy’s exaggerated bimbo routine.
But thanks to long memories and re-runs forever, one of the characters has become a surprisingly celebrated icon. Not Chrissy (thank God). Or Janet (yawn). But the delightfully wacky Mrs. Roper. Yes, she of the red curly hair, caftan, and chunky, cheap costume jewelry.
Today, you can find Mrs. Roper Romps in dozens of cities across the United States and Canada, with at least 20 scheduled through the end of October. The Roper Romp Facebook group to date has over 7,100 members, up from around 200 last year, and a TikTok video of a recent romp in Rhode Island has gotten millions of views.

Why Mrs. Roper?

Mrs. Roper Romp, audra lindley

Mrs. Roper, bottom left, with her much less interesting co-stars on Three’s Company.

Helen Roper, played by the effervescent Audra Lindley, was the eye-rolling, free-spirited wife to the character played by Norman Fell on the sitcom, which ran from 1977-1984. As you may remember with a groan, the premise was that Mr. Roper only allowed Jack (John Ritter) to share an apartment with Chrissy and Janet because he thought he was gay. The plot doesn’t hold up today, but his wife does.

She illustrated for Janet and Chrissy how an older woman could have sexual agency.

A recent New York Times article describes Mrs. Roper as the show’s “progressive Pole Star: Freethinking and voluptuary, she pooh-poohed her husband’s anti-gay slights and illustrated for Janet and Chrissy how an older woman could have sexual agency.”

In the same article, Matt Baume, the author of the new book “Honey, I’m Homo!: Sitcoms, Specials and the Queering of American Culture,” chalked up Mrs. Roper’s popularity to the character’s “strangely aspirational” combination of glamorous drag queen and mother-protector. “The way that she is constantly needling Mr. Roper is a takedown of the patriarchy,” Baume said. “Her subtle undermining of masculine power is very fun and pleasurable to women and to gay men.”

What Happens at a Romp?

Photos from various Mrs. Roper Romps. Looks like fun, huh?

The Mrs. Roper Romps began as a group of 50 in New Orleans ten years ago when they walked in the Southern Decadence parade.

Now, this is pretty much how they roll, according to an invite on Facebook: “A bunch, maybe hundreds, of people dress up as Mrs. Roper, one half of the original landlords from the sitcom Three’s Company. That means floral caftans or muumuus, long strings of pearls, loud jewelry including gaudy bracelets and earrings, and even larger and more colorful rings. Picture it: A mob of Audra Lindley lookalikes drinking together and complaining about the nature of the relationship between Jack and Chrissy.”
Any good romp is built on the joy of seeing all the variations of Mrs. Roper.
Often, the group drinks signature drinks such as The Regal Beagle (after the young trio’s favorite bar on the show) and the “Oh, Stanley” (after Mrs. Roper’s frequent admonishment of her husband). There might be limbo or a trivia contest. Most romps serve as a benefit for a local non-profit.

But any good romp is built on the joy of seeing all the variations of Mrs. Roper, which always seems to include some mustached men.”We love ALL the characters in the show, don’t you? But here’s the deal—this is a Mrs. Roper romp, and that means you need to dress up as Mrs. Roper, and Mrs. Roper ONLY (well, if any Chrissy, Janets, Larrys, or Mr. Furleys show up we won’t kick them out, we promise). Don’t know what that entails? Go to YouTube and type in Mrs. Roper—there’s a million episodes to watch and get great costume ideas from.”

Joss Richard, the host of a podcast about re-watching Three’s Company (we know, we know!), believes Lindley, who died in 1997 at age 79, would love her legacy.

“Her character wasn’t considered super iconic when it aired,” Richard said by phone. “But she would want to hang out with gay guys and other women and do limbo contests and have a cocktail.” Who wouldn’t?

Read More: Cass Elliot’s Daughter Talks About the Star’s Bravery

Top photo from the Mrs. Roper Romp in Providence, R.I.

By NextTribe Editors


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