Valerie Harper

Valerie Harper

Harper at a 2007 SAG Foundation brunch
Born Valerie Kathryn Harper
(1939-08-22) August 22, 1939
Suffern, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1959–present
Spouse(s) Richard Schaal (1964–78)
Tony Cacciotti (1987–present; 1 child)
Website Official website

Valerie Kathryn Harper (born August 22, 1939)[1][2] is an American actress.

She is best known for her roles as Rhoda Morgenstern in the 1970s television series The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Rhoda, and later as Valerie Hogan in Valerie. She is a four-time Primetime Emmy Award winner. Her notable film roles include Freebie and the Bean (1974), and Chapter Two (1979), both of which garnered her Golden Globe Award nominations.

Harper is also known for her stage work, having appeared in several Broadway productions. She started her career as a dancer on Broadway, making her debut in the musical Take Me Along in 1959. In 2010, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Talullah Bankhead in the play Looped.

Early life

Harper was born in Suffern, New York, the daughter of Iva Mildred (née McConnell; 1910—1988)[3] and Howard Donald Harper. Her father was a lighting salesman, and her mother was born in Canada and trained as a nurse. She is the middle child of three siblings. She has an older sister, Leah; a younger brother, Merrill (who later took the name "Don") and a half-sister, Virginia, from her father's second marriage.

She claims her parents were expecting a boy and after her arrival, her first and middle names derived from that year's women's doubles tennis champions, Valerie Scott and Kay Stammers.[4][5][6] She is of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry.[7] Harper claims to have based her future character Rhoda Morgenstern on her Italian stepmother, Angela Posillico, and Penny Ann Green (née Joanna Greenberg), with whom she danced in the Broadway musical Wildcat.[8][2] She was raised Catholic,[9] although at an early age she "quit" the church.[10]

The family moved every two years due to her father's work, attending schools in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey. When her family returned to Oregon, Harper remained in the New York City area to study ballet. She attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City, graduating from the private Young Professionals School on West 56th Street, where classmates included Sal Mineo, Tuesday Weld, and Carol Lynley.[2]


Broadway dancer and improv

Harper began as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway, and went on to perform in several Broadway shows, some choreographed by Michael Kidd, including Wildcat (starring Lucille Ball), Take Me Along (starring Jackie Gleason), and Subways Are For Sleeping. In-between she was also cast in Destry Rides Again but was forced to leave rehearsals due to illness. Her roommate, actress Arlene Golonka, introduced her to Second City improvisation theater and to improv performer Dick Schaal, whom Harper later married in 1965. Harper was stepmother to Schaal's daughter, Wendy, an actress. They lived in Greenwich Village.[2] She returned to Broadway in February 2010, playing Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Lyceum Theatre.[11]

Harper appeared in a bit part in the film version of Li'l Abner (1959), playing a Yokumberry Tonic wife. She broke into television on an episode of the soap opera The Doctors ("Zip Guns can Kill"). She was an extra in Love with the Proper Stranger. She was in the ensemble cast of Paul Sill's Story Theatre[12] and toured with Second City with Schaal, Linda Lavin and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. Harper and Schaal moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and co-wrote an episode of Love, American Style.[2]


Harper with Mary Tyler Moore and Cloris Leachman in final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1977)

While doing theater in Los Angeles in 1970, Harper was spotted by casting agent Ethel Winant, who called her in to audition for the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.[2] She co-starred from 1970–1974 and then starred in the spin-off series, Rhoda (CBS 1974-1978) in which her character returned to New York.

She won four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for her work as Rhoda Morgenstern throughout this period. In 2000, Harper reunited with Moore in Mary and Rhoda, a TV movie that brought their iconic characters together again in later life.[13] The first season of Rhoda was released on DVD on April 21, 2009, by Shout! Factory.[14]

She was nominated for a Golden Globe for "New Star of the Year" for her role in Freebie and The Bean (1974).[15] Harper was a guest star on The Muppet Show in 1976, its first season.[16]

Harper at 2010 The Heart Truth

Harper returned to situation comedy in 1986 when she played family matriarch Valerie Hogan on the NBC series Valerie.[17] Following a salary dispute with NBC and production company Lorimar in 1987, Harper was fired from the series at the end of its second season.[17][18][19][20][21] Harper sued NBC and Lorimar for breach of contract. Her claims against NBC were dismissed, but the jury found that Lorimar had wrongfully fired her and awarded her $1.4 million plus 12.5 percent of the show's profits.[19][20] The series continued without her with the explanation that her character had died off-screen.[17][18] In 1987, it was initially renamed Valerie's Family and then The Hogan Family, as Harper was replaced by actress Sandy Duncan, who played her sister-in-law Sandy Hogan.[17] NBC canceled The Hogan Family in 1990, but it was picked up by CBS for a final season.[22]

Harper appeared in various television movies, including a performance as Maggie in a production of the Michael Cristofer play The Shadow Box, directed by Paul Newman, and in guest roles on such series as Melrose Place (1998) and Sex and the City (1999).

Later career

Harper is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and ran for president in the 2001 election, losing to Melissa Gilbert. She served on the Hollywood Board of Directors of SAG.[23]

In 2005 through 2006, Harper portrayed Golda Meir in a US National tour of the one-woman drama Golda's Balcony.[24][25] A film of this production was released in 2007.[26]

She played Tallulah Bankhead in the world-premiere production of Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Pasadena Playhouse from June 27 to August 3, 2008,[27][28] and at Arena Stage[29] in Washington, D.C., in 2009. The play had a brief run on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, from February 2010 (previews) through April 2010.[11][30] She played Claire Bremmer, aunt of Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher), on ABC's Desperate Housewives in 2011.[31]

On September 4, 2013, Harper was announced as a contestant for the 17th season of Dancing with the Stars. She was partnered with professional dancer Tristan MacManus.[32] Harper and MacManus were voted off on October 7, 2013.

Activism and charity work

In the 1970s/80s, Harper was involved in the Women's Liberation Movement and was an advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment.[33] With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E. in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles.[34][35]

Personal life

Harper married actor Richard Schaal in 1964. They divorced in 1978. Harper later married Tony Cacciotti in 1987; the couple has a daughter by adoption.[36]

In 2009, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer.[37] She announced on March 6, 2013, that tests from a January hospital stay revealed she has leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition in which cancer cells spread into the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. She said her doctors had given her as little as three months' life expectancy.[38] Although the disease was reported to be incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy in an effort to slow its progress.[39] In April 2014, Harper said she was responding well to the treatment.[40] On July 30, 2015, Harper was hospitalized in Maine after falling unconscious, and taken via medevac to a larger hospital for further treatment.[41][42][43] She was later released.[44]



Year Title Role Notes
1956 Rock Rock Rock! Dancer at Prom (uncredited)
1959 Li'l Abner Luke's Wife (uncredited)
1963 Trash Program Wife (voice, uncredited) Short film
1969 With a Feminine Touch
1973 Shape of Things, TheThe Shape of Things Herself Television movie
1974 Thursday's Game Ann Menzente Television movie
1974 Freebie and the Bean Consuelo Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1977 Night Terror Carol Turner Television movie
1979 Chapter Two Faye Medwick Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1980 Last Married Couple in America, TheThe Last Married Couple in America Barbara
1980 Fun and Games Carol Hefferman Television movie
1980 Shadow Box, TheThe Shadow Box Maggie Television movie
1981 The Day the Loving Stopped Norma Danner Television movie
1982 Farrell for the People Elizabeth "Liz" Farrell Television movie
1982 Don't Go to Sleep Laura Television movie
1983 Invasion of Privacy, AnAn Invasion of Privacy Kate Bianchi Television movie
1984 Blame It on Rio Karen Hollis
1985 Execution, TheThe Execution Hannah Epstein Television movie
1987 Strange Voices Lynn Glover Television movie
1988 Drop-Out Mother Nora Cromwell Television movie
1988 People Across the Lake, TheThe People Across the Lake Rachel Yoman Television movie
1990 Stolen: One Husband Katherine Slade Television movie
1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion Dyan Draper Television movie
1993 Poetry Hall of Fame, TheThe Poetry Hall of Fame Herself Television movie
1994 Friend to Die For, AA Friend to Die For Mrs. Delvecchio Television movie
1995 Great Mom Swap, TheThe Great Mom Swap Grace Venessi Television movie
1997 Dog's Best Friend Chicken (voice) Television movie
2000 Mary and Rhoda Rhoda Morgenstern-Rousseau Television movie
2002 Dancing at the Harvest Moon Claire Television movie
2007 Golda's Balcony Golda Meir
2011 Shiver Audrey Alden
2011 My Future Boyfriend Bobbi Moreau Television movie
2011 Fixing Pete Mrs. Friedlander Television movie
2011 Certainty Kathryn
2014 The Town That Came A-Courtin' Charlotte Television movie
2015 Merry Xmas Mother 7 minute short
2016 My Mom and the Girl Norma/Nanny 22 minute short


Year Title Role Notes
1970–1977 Mary Tyler Moore Show, TheThe Mary Tyler Moore Show Rhoda Morgenstern 92 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (1971–73)
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (1973–74)
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
1971 Story Theatre Unknown Unknown episodes
1971 Love, American Style Barbara Watkins Episode: "Love and the Housekeeper"
1972 Columbo Eve Babcock Episode: "The Most Crucial Game"
1974–1978 Rhoda Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard 110 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1976–78)
1976 The Muppet Show Herself Episode: "Valerie Harper"
1982 Fridays Herself 1 episode
1986 Love Boat, TheThe Love Boat Laurel Peters 2 episodes: "Egyptian Cruise Part 1 & Part 2"
1986–1987 Valerie Valerie Hogan 32 episodes
1990 City Liz Gianni 13 episodes
1994 Missing Persons Ellen Hartig 3 episodes: "All They Had to Do Was Ask..." and "Tell Me You Didn't Do It... I'll Go to the Wall for You" and "What Do You Want... A Signed Confession?"
1995 The Office Rita Stone 6 episodes
1996–1999 Touched by an Angel Kate Prescott 2 episodes: "Flesh and Blood" (1996) and "Full Circle" (1999)
1996 Promised Land Molly Arnold Episode: "The Magic Gate"
1998 Generator Gawl Various (voice) Unknown episodes
1998 Melrose Place Mia Mancini 2 episodes: "Mama Mia" and "Last Train to Bagdad"
1998 Sorcerous Stabber Orphen Townspeople (voice) Episode: "The Sword of Baltanders"
1999 Sex and the City Wallis Wysel Episode: "Shortcomings"
2000 Beggars and Choosers Unknown Episode: "Be Careful What You Wish For"
2000 As Told by Ginger Maryellen (voice) Episode: "The Wedding Frame"
2001 That '70s Show Paula Episode: "Eric's Naughty No-no"
2001 Family Law Julia Episode: "Clemency"
2001 Three Sisters Merle Keats 2 episodes: "The In Laws" and "Three Thanksgivings, One Turkey"
2003−2004 Less Than Perfect Judith 2 episodes: "Claude's Alternative Thanksgiving" and "Mom's the Word"
2005 Committed Lily Solomon Episode: "The Mother Episode"
2009 'Til Death Barbara Episode: "The Courtship of Eddie's Parents"
2011 Desperate Housewives Claire Bremmer Episode: "Where Do I Belong?"
2011–2012 Drop Dead Diva Judge Leslie Singer 2 episodes: "Bride-a-Palooza" and "Freak Show"
2013 The Simpsons Test Proctor Episode: "A Test Before Trying"
2013 Hot in Cleveland Angie Episode: "Love Is All Around"
2013 Dancing with the Stars Herself (Contestant) Season 17, eliminated week 4
2014 American Dad! IHOP Diner Episode: "Cock of the Sleepwalk"
2014 Signed, Sealed, Delivered[45] Theresa Capodiamonte Guest star; 2 episodes: "Time to Start Livin' " and "To Whom It May Concern"
2015 Melissa & Joey Aunt Bunny Episode: "Thanks But No Thanks"
2015 2 Broke Girls Nola Episode: "And The Great Unwashed"
2016 Childrens Hospital Mamma Fiorucci, head of the Fiorucci crime family Episode: "Childrens Horsepital"


Year Title Role Notes
1959–1960 Take Me Along Lady Entertainer, Townswoman
1960–1961 Wildcat Dancer
1961–1962 Subways Are for Sleeping Dancer
1967–1968 Something Different Beth Nemerov Replacement
1970–1971 Paul Sills' Story Theatre Various
1971 Ovid's Metamorphoses Ensemble
1995 Death Defying Acts Dorothy/Carol Replacement. Off-Boardway: Variety Arts Theatre
1998–1999 All Under Heaven Pearl S. Buck Off-Broadway's Century Center Theatre. Ran Nov. 3, 1998 to Jan. 11, 1999. Playing 16 previews and 65 regular performances.
2001–2002 Tale of the Allergist's Wife, TheThe Tale of the Allergist's Wife Marjorie Replacement (from July 31, 2001 - May 26, 2002)
2008–2010 Looped Tallulah Bankhead 2010 Tony Award nominee: Best Actress in a Play. "Looped" ran on Broadway (at the Lyceum Theatre) from 2/19/2010 - 4/11/2010 for 60 performances.
2015 Nice Work if You Can Get It Millicent Winter Ogunquit Playhouse (Maine) (July 22—July 29—bowed out after collapsing backstage and hospitalized. Replaced by Brenda Vaccaro for remaining run through Aug 15, 2015.)

Awards and nominations

Harper is a one-time Tony nominee, eight-time Emmy nominee (four wins) and a six-time Golden Globe nominee (one win).[46]

Year Award Category Work Result
1971 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series The Mary Tyler Moore Show Won
1972 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series The Mary Tyler Moore Show Won
1972 Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress – Television The Mary Tyler Moore Show Nominated
1973 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series The Mary Tyler Moore Show Won
1973 Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress - Television The Mary Tyler Moore Show Nominated
1974 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series The Mary Tyler Moore Show Nominated
1974 Golden Globe New Female Star of the Year Freebie and the Bean Nominated
1974 Golden Globe Best Actress in a TV Comedy Series Rhoda Won
1975 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Rhoda Won
1975 Golden Globe Best Actress in a TV Comedy Series Rhoda Nominated
1976 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Rhoda Nominated
1977 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Rhoda Nominated
1978 Primetime Emmy Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Rhoda Nominated
1979 Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Chapter Two Nominated
2010 Tony Awards Best Actress in a Play Looped Nominated


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  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Harper in Valerie Harper Interview Part 1 of 3. Archive of American Television. February 26, 2009. Event occurs at 00:36. Retrieved 2014-04-16. It's 'well-known' that I was born in 1940, I read it everywhere, but it was actually 1939.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-04. Retrieved 2015-07-31.
  4. Harper, Valerie. I Rhoda: A Memoir © 2013. Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.); ISBN 978-1-4516-9946-3/ISBN 978-1-4516-9948-7 (ebok), pg. 8
  5. "Good as Golda; Yes, that is veteran actress Valerie Harper playing Israel's 1970s prime minister in a play coming soon to Toronto. Turns out Rhoda Morgenstern has Canadian roots". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  6. Bawden 1987.
  7. "Ask Them Yourself". Daytona Beach Morning Journal. 1973-07-28.
  8. Jacobs 2008, p. 1.
  9. Lacher 2008.
  10. Gregory 2002, p. 35.
  11. 1 2 "". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  12. "Story Theatre". 1 January 2000 via IMDb.
  13. "Mary and Rhoda | Archive of American Television". 2000-02-07. Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  14. "Rhoda - Formal Press Release from Shout! Factory for Rhoda's 1st Season DVDs", accessed January 26, 2011.
  15. "Valerie Harper profile". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  16. "'The Muppet Show', Air Date November 22, 1976, Valerie Harper", accessed January 26, 2011
  17. 1 2 3 4 Weinman 2008.
  18. 1 2 Hutchings 1987.
  19. 1 2 Brennan 1988.
  20. 1 2 Farber 1988.
  21. Lacayo & Seufert 1988.
  22. "'Hogan Family Jump to CBS Called an Exception", Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1990
  23. "Home - MET Group". Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  24. "Talkin' Broadway Regional News & Reviews - "Golda's Balcony" - 6/2/06". Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  25. Golda's Balcony IMDb listing, retrieved April 5, 2010
  26. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-03-05. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
  27. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-05-05. Retrieved 2009-05-27.
  28. Jones, Kenneth."'Looped' Will Play Its Final Fadeout April 11" Archived April 7, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., April 5, 2010
  29. "Keck's Exclusives: Rhoda Comes to Desperate Housewives". Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  30. Sher, Lauren (September 4, 2013). "Dancing With the Stars 2013: Season 17 Cast Announced". Good Morning, America. ABC News Network. Retrieved November 6, 2014.
  31. "Valerie Harper She Doesn't Mince Words; She's Here For Equality". 1980-09-20. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  32. Antonio Olivo (October 6, 1994). "Info re L.I.F.E. (charity)". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  33. "Album`s Proceeds To Go To Charity". Sun Sentinel. 1992-10-23. Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  34. "Valerie Harper profile". Retrieved 2013-03-12.
  35. Lloyd, Janice (March 6, 2013). "Harper's brain cancer likely related to previous cancer". USA Today.
  36. Tauber, Michelle; Dodd, Johnny (March 6, 2013). "Valerie Harper Has Terminal Brain Cancer". People. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  37. Dodd, Johnny; Tauber, Michelle (March 6, 2013). "Valerie Harper's Rare Cancer Explained". People. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  38. Valerie Harper Reveals: "I Am Absolutely Cancer-Free!". Closer Weekly. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  39. Daley, Megan (July 30, 2015). "Valerie Harper's hospitalization prior to a Maine performance a 'precaution,' says the theater". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  40. "Valerie Harper In a Coma, Sources Say". Entertainment July 30, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  41. "Valerie Harper released from hospital".
  42. Gagnon, Dawn. "Valerie Harper not in coma, looking forward to returning to Ogunquit Playhouse". Retrieved 2016-08-28.
  43. "Breaking News - Valerie Harper Will Guest Star in First Two Episodes of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," the Highly Anticipated Hallmark Channel Original -".
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