Valerie Harper

A beloved presence on both the stage and screen, Valerie Harper remains best known for her iconic role as Rhoda Morgenstern on "Mary Tyler Moore" (CBS, 1970-77) and the spin-off "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78). Born in Suffern, New York in 1939, Harper's father's work required the family to make frequent moves. She had attended school in five different states by the time she opted to remain in New York on her own, studying ballet at Young Professionals School while appearing as a chorus girl at Radio City Corps de Ballet at the young age of 16. Harper went on to appear in Broadway productions like "Wildcat" and "Take Me Along" before joining the improv theater Second City, where she met and began a relationship with Richard Schaal, whom she later married in 1965. Harper branched into on-screen acting with a minor appearance on the soap opera "Doctors" (NBC, 1963-1982) before she and Schaal moved to Los Angeles in order to pursue film and television work more seriously. The pair co-wrote and starred in an episode of "Love, American Style" (ABC, 1969-1974) in 1970, right around the same time that Harper landed the role of Rhoda, best friend to protagonist Mary on the series "Mary Tyler Moore." The massive success of the series made Harper a star overnight, and though she also continued to appear on stage and in movies like "Freebie and the Bean" (1974), by 1974 Rhoda had become such an iconic character that she was offered her own spin-off. Harper began starring on "Rhoda" in 1974, occasionally returning for guest appearances on "Mary Tyler Moore." "Rhoda" wrapped in 1978, the same year Harper and Schaal divorced, and Harper moved on to appear in the film adaptation of Neil Simon's "Chapter Two" (1979). Over the coming years, Harper appeared in memorable projects like the cult hit "Blame it on Rio" (1984) before developing and starring on her own series, "Valerie" (NBC, 1986-1991) beginning in 1986. The family sitcom proved a big hit with viewers and Harper married second husband Tony Cacciotti on the heels of the show's success, but trouble hit after season two when network executives became intractable during routine contract negotiations. Unable to reach an agreement, the network fired Harper and, infamously, wrote her character off of the show, changing the series' name to "Valerie's Family" and eventually "The Hogan Family." Harper sued the show's production company and was awarded $1.4 million plus 12.5% of the show's profits, and she moved on to star on the Paul Haggis series "The City" (CBS, 1990), in addition to starring in acclaimed off-Broadway productions of "Death Defying Acts" and "All Under Heaven." Harper made a memorable appearance on an episode of "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004) before reuniting with Mary Tyler Moore for the reunion TV movie "Mary and Rhoda" (ABC, 2000). She returned to Broadway to star as Tallulah Bankhead in "Looped" in 2011, earning tremendous acclaim, and enjoyed making cameo appearances as a voice actor on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989-) and "American Dad!" (Fox, 2005-). Harper passed away in 2019, several years after being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. She was 80 years old.