There was no one on TV that I identified with more than Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern.
From her see-sawing weight to her trouble finding love, Rhoda was my heroine, first on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and then on her own spin-off. When Harper’s TV husband David Groh (Joe) died I wrote here about his influence on my young life. Now we’ve learned that Harper has terminal brain cancer and in January, doctors gave her 3 months to live.
Valerie Harper is 73. I’ve been to her house. Okay, that’s an overstatement! The Dearly Departed tour bus I rode in Los Angeles stopped briefly outside her house as the guide pointed out other areas of interest. This wasn’t a tour of the stars’ homes; her house was incidental. But I remember it clearly. Sprawling and dark, it’s where she and her second husband, Tony Cacciotti, live. With Tony’s loving guidance Harper finally conquered her yoyo weight problem and lived an active and healthy life. The tour guide’s only colourful comment was that Harper was known to walk her two dogs through the area and “she doesn’t stoop and scoop.”
Harper says Rhoda’s message to women was to be OK with yourself. As a teen girl watching her struggle with her kooky sister, her overly-involved Mother and her poor body image which she masked with humour, I found in Rhoda the role model that Mary could never be. Mary was perfection. Rhoda was gloriously flawed. Mary had men falling at her feet. Rhoda dated well-meaning schlubs until Mr. Right came along, swept her away and then broke her heart. I even forgave Harper for the awful schlock of the 2000 TV movie, Mary and Rhoda, perhaps the worst reunion show ever made.
Harper fought and seemingly beat lung cancer in 2009. In response to her grim diagnosis she told People Magazine, “I’m not thinking about dying. I’m thinking about being here now.” That’s the kind of pluck and optimism Rhoda would have shown, too.