Harper at a 2007 SAG Foundation brunch
|Born||Valerie Kathryn Harper
August 22, 1939
Suffern, New York, U.S.
(m. 1964; div. 1978)
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.
Harper was born in Suffern, New York, the daughter of Iva Mildred (née McConnell; 1910--1988) 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. She is of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. Harper claims to have based her 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. She was raised Catholic, although at an early age she "quit" the church.
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.
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. She returned to Broadway in February 2010, playing Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Lyceum Theatre.
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 and toured with Second City with Schaal, Linda Lavin and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. Harper performed several characters in a comedy LP, When You're in Love the Whole World is Jewish, which included the popular novelty single, The Ballad of Irving, a recitation by TV announcer Frank Gallop. Harper and Schaal moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and co-wrote an episode of Love, American Style.
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. 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 characters together again in later life. The first season of Rhoda was released on DVD on April 21, 2009, by Shout! Factory.
Harper returned to situation comedy in 1986 when she played family matriarch Valerie Hogan on the NBC series Valerie. 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. 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. The series continued without her with the explanation that her character had died off-screen. 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. NBC canceled The Hogan Family in 1990, but CBS picked-up the series for a final season.
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).
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. The production moved to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2009. It then briefly ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, from February 2010 (previews) through April 2010 Harper was to continue in the role on a national tour beginning January 2013, but withdrew from the production due to her health.
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. Harper and MacManus were voted-off the show on October 7, 2013.
In the 1970s/80s, Harper was involved in the Women's Liberation Movement and was an advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment. With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E. in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles.
In 2009, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer. 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. Although the disease was reported to be incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy in an effort to slow its progress. In April 2014, Harper said she was responding well to the treatment. On July 30, 2015, Harper was hospitalized in Maine after falling unconscious, and taken via medevac to a larger hospital for further treatment. She was later discharged.
In 2016, Harper continued battling cancer with treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center but was well enough to appear in a short film, "My Mom and the Girl," based on the experiences of director/writer Susie Singer Carter, whose mother has Alzheimer's disease. In September 2017, she made this comment: "People are saying, 'She's on her way to death and quickly'. Now it's five years instead of three months ... I'm going to fight this. I'm going to see a way." At the time, Harper was developing a TV series with Carter.
|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||My Future Boyfriend||Bobbi Moreau||Television movie|
|2011||Fixing Pete||Mrs. Friedlander||Television movie|
|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|
|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"|
|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||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"|
|1959-1960||Take Me Along||Lady Entertainer, Townswoman|
|1961-1962||Subways Are for Sleeping||Dancer|
|1967-1968||Something Different||Beth Nemerov||Replacement|
|1970-1971||Paul Sills' Story Theatre||Various|
|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.)|
|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|
It's 'well-known' that I was born in 1940, I read it everywhere, but it was actually 1939.
Harper is actually Catholic,...
That was the end of the Catholic church for me. I quit. I had a big click.