***Many of our hearts were broken recently when we learned that the great Valerie Harper had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. To pay a much-deserved tribute to one of our most cherished icons my friend Amanda over at the always amazing Made for TV Mayhem decided to host a blogathan dedicated to Valerie. Here is my little contribution and, needless to say, I am honored to participate and while my post might be a short one my admiration and love for this very special actress and woman is huge. So thank you Valerie Harper. We all wish you the very best and send you lots of love.
Few actors have ever been able to project insecurity, self-doubt and vulnerability better than Valerie Harper and even fewer could project these very human frailties with as much charisma, wit and warmth as Valerie. All of Harper's strongest skills as an actor and icon are on display during the terrific and touching third season episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show entitled "Rhoda the Beautiful", an episode that never fails to make me both laugh and cry throughout its 25 minute running time.
Watching Valerie Harper in her key role as the charming but neurotic Rhoda Morgenstern all these years later it is quite simply impossible to picture anyone else in the role, or even imagine the early seasons of the legendary series without her. The fact that there was initially a push-back against casting the perfect Harper for the plum role of Rhoda is absolutely baffling...who else could have brought such extraordinary honesty, natural beauty and finely tuned comic timing to the role?
The incredible "Rhoda the Beautiful" was written by one of The Mary Tyler Moore's Shows most important behind the scenes voices Treva Silverman, who was often credited as being the driving force behind the character of Rhoda Morgenstern. The episode centers on the attention Rhoda gets when she participate in a work-sponsored beauty contest after losing twenty pounds. The episode in the wrong hands could have been an exploitative disaster but Silverman (credited once by Harper as “Feminist conscience of the show”) wisely turns the focus of the show not on the pageant but Rhoda's frustrations at her inability to accept just how truly beautiful she really is.
"Rhoda the Beautiful" is a classic Mary Tyler Moore episode. It's funny, moving, wonderfully written and beautifully performed by the entire cast. Valerie Harper is especially smashing here from her early scenes with Moore, where she just can't recognize that she isn't the frumpy overweight sidekick she has always considered herself as, to her hilarious mocking of the ridiculous nature of beauty pageants to her triumphant victory at the show, which Silverman wisely doesn't show (Harper's emotional and hilarious description of the show tops any footage they could have captured).
Valerie Harper was rightly considered in the seventies (and beyond) as one of the most important role models for young women in all of popular culture. I will go that even further and say that she, and her greatest creation Rhoda Morgenstern, was important to everyone (males included) who recognized their own self-doubts, fears and insecurities in her work. She gave many of us hope and she helped us laugh off our inner demons that can cripple.
Valerie Harper remains one of our absolute great actors, icons, humanitarians and beauties. I love "Rhoda the Beautiful" for many reasons but I especially love that it acknowledges that Rhoda Morgenstern was indeed a knockout and, like Valerie Harper herself, was more importantly a knockout on her terms.
-Jeremy Richey, 2013-