“Rhoda, like most of us, was a victorious loser,” actress Valerie Harper once said of her best-known character, Rhoda Morgenstern.
Surely that’s why we loved Rhoda, and by extension Harper, so much. Rhoda made us feel that we could have an extraordinary life, even if we weren’t as perky and pretty as the cultural ideal represented by Mary Richards, played so memorably by Mary Tyler Moore over those heady years (1970-1977) of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. (Sadly Moore died in 2017.) For many of us, those seasons took place during our formative years, and it was breathtaking and instructive to see two characters of such vastly different upbringing and demeanor asserting themselves, living as they wanted to live.
That’s why news of Valerie Harper’s death, at age 80, hits hard. She was the second stringer who came off the sidelines and threw the Hail Mary for the win . She was the sidekick who got her own show (the spin off Rhoda) and a good man (at least temporarily). Her wedding to Joe Gerard (David Groh) in 1974 was must-see TV before we held our breath to see who shot JR and long before the nation came together to find out who took the Iron Throne just this past May.
Not Just Rhoda
Of course, Rhoda Morgenstern wasn’t Valerie Harper’s only role. Yes, she won Emmys for playing Rhoda–both in the Mary Tyler Moore Show and in her own sitcom. But she also acted on Broadway, and later starred in another TV series called simply Valerie (1986-87). Still nothing she did surpassed the achievement of bringing to life a brash New Yorker who was a fish-out-of-water in the great Midwest.
We’d all do well to embrace the spirit of Rhoda, especially now. We don’t have to miss out on fun and fulfillment because we no longer are the belle of the ball of life–if we ever were. It’s there for the taking for all of us. We thank Valerie Harper for showing us the way.