The Valerie Harper Blogathon, Part 2
Valerie Harper began as a dancer in Broadway musicals in the late 1950s and early 1960s: Subways Are for Sleeping, Wildcat, Take Me Along and Li’l Abner (watch for her in the chorus of the movie version of Li’l Abner, along with Beth Howland from Alice). She gradually moved into acting, and long before Rhoda, she played Jewish characters on a comedy album When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish (1966). She worked in regional theater, with Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe and, on Broadway, most notably in the Tony-winning Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1970).
Despite Esquire’s dire predictions in 1974 (photo 1), there was life after Rhoda for Harper. On television, there was Valerie, a new series in which she played the mother of young Jason Bateman (photo 2). In the fall of 1987 she was abruptly fired and her character killed off. The series went on without her first as “Valerie’s Family,” then as “The Hogan Family.” Harper sued for breach of contract and won. In the fall of 1988, she was awarded $1.4 million plus 12.5% of the profits of the show, which continued on without her until 1991.
There were films, of both the major release and the made-for-television kind: Chapter Two (1979), The Last Married Couple in America (1980), The Shadow Box (1980 ), Farrell for the People (1982), Don’t Go to Sleep (1982) and An Invasion of Privacy (1983). There were more TV series: The City (1990) and The Office (1995), plus numerous guest appearances.
Harper returned to the theater, appearing in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife (2001-2002). She portrayed Golda Meir in a national tour (2005-2006) of the one-woman drama Golda’s Balcony (photo 3). A film of this production was released in 2007. She played Tallulah Bankhead (photo 4) in the world-premiere production of Matthew Lombardo’s Looped at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2008 and at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in 2009. The play had a brief run on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in 2010.
Before receiving the terrible diagnosis of brain cancer, Harper finished her memoir, I, Rhoda, and recorded the audio book. For all these things, and more, she will be remembered for a long, long time.