Valerie Harper
Harper in 1974
Valerie Kathryn Harper

(1939-08-22)August 22, 1939
DiedAugust 30, 2019(2019-08-30) (aged 80)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles[1]
  • Actress
  • comedian
  • dancer
  • writer
Years active1956–2019
  • (m. 1964; div. 1978)
  • Tony Cacciotti
    (m. 1987)
WebsiteOfficial website

Valerie Kathryn Harper (August 22, 1939 – August 30, 2019) was an American actress. She began her career as a dancer on Broadway, making her debut as a replacement in the musical Li'l Abner.[2] She is best remembered for her role as Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970–1977) and its spinoff Rhoda (1974–1978). For her work on Mary Tyler Moore, she thrice received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and later received the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Rhoda.

From 1986 to 1987, Harper appeared as Valerie Hogan on the sitcom Valerie, which she was fired from after two seasons. Her character was killed off, and the show was retitled Valerie's Family and eventually The Hogan Family. Actress Sandy Duncan was cast in a new role that served as a replacement for Harper's character. Her film appearances include roles in Freebie and the Bean (1974) and Chapter Two (1979), both of which garnered her Golden Globe Award nominations. She returned to stage work in her later career, appearing in several Broadway productions. In 2010, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance as Tallulah Bankhead in the play Looped.

Early life

Harper was born on August 22, 1939, in Suffern, New York,[3][4] the daughter of Iva Mildred (née McConnell)[5] and Howard Donald Harper. Her father was a lighting salesman; her mother was born (and raised) in Dalmeny, Saskatchewan, before becoming a teacher and later training as a nurse. Her parents married in Alberta before her mother immigrated to the United States.[6] Valerie was the middle child of three, between her sister Leanne and her brother Merrill, who later took the name "Don". After her parents' divorce in 1957, she also had a half-sister, Virginia,[citation needed] from her father's second marriage to Angela Posillico (1933–1996).

She stated that her parents were expecting a boy. But after her arrival her first and middle names were derived from tennis players Valerie Scott and Kay Stammers who were victorious doubles partners at a tournament Harper’s father was attending the day she was born.[7][8][9] She was of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry.[10] Harper based her character Rhoda Morgenstern on her Italian stepmother and Penny Ann Green (née Joanna Greenberg), with whom she danced in the Broadway musical Wildcat.[11][4] She was raised Catholic,[12] although at an early age she "quit" the church.[13]

Her family moved every two years due to her father's work. Harper attended schools in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey. When her family returned to Oregon, she stayed in the New York City area to study ballet. She attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City, New Jersey[14] before graduating from the private Young Professionals School on West 56th Street, where classmates included Sal Mineo, Tuesday Weld, and Carol Lynley.[4]


Broadway dancer and improv

Harper began her show business career 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), Li'l Abner, Take Me Along (starring Jackie Gleason), and Subways Are for Sleeping. She was also cast in the musical Destry Rides Again, but was forced to leave rehearsals due to illness. She returned to Broadway in February 2010, playing Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Lyceum Theatre.[15]

Harper had 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"), and was an extra in Love with the Proper Stranger. She was in the ensemble cast of Paul Sills' Story Theatre and toured with Second City along with then-husband Richard Schaal, Linda Lavin, and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. She performed several characters in a comedy LP record, 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.[4]


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

Richard Schaal and Harper wrote "Love and the Visitor" (1970) for Love, American Style, a TV series.[16][17][18]

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.[4] She co-starred there from 1970 to 1974, then starred in the spinoff series Rhoda (CBS 1974–1978) in which her character returned to New York City.

She won four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for her work as Rhoda Morgenstern. In 2000, she reunited with Moore in Mary and Rhoda, a television film that reunited their characters in later life.[19] The first season of Rhoda was released on DVD on April 21, 2009 by Shout! Factory.[20]

Harper was nominated for a Golden Globe for "New Star of the Year" for her role in Freebie and the Bean (1974),[21] and was a guest star on The Muppet Show in 1976, its first season.[citation needed]

Harper returned to situation comedy in 1986 when she played family matriarch Valerie Hogan on the NBC series Valerie.[22] Following a salary dispute with NBC and production company Lorimar in 1987, she was fired from the series at the end of its second season,[22][23][24][25][26] and she 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% of the show's profits.[24][25] The series continued without her, with the explanation that her character had died offscreen.[22][23] In 1987, it was initially renamed Valerie's Family, then The Hogan Family, as Harper was replaced by Sandy Duncan, who played her sister-in-law Sandy Hogan.[22]

Harper appeared in various television films, 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 at 2010 The Heart Truth

Harper was a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and ran for its presidency in 2001, losing to Melissa Gilbert. She served on SAG's Hollywood board of directors.[27]

In 2005–2006, Harper portrayed Golda Meir in a United States national tour of the one-woman drama Golda's Balcony.[28][29] A film of the production was released in 2007.

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.[30][31] The show moved to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2009.[32] It then briefly ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, from February 2010 (previews) through April 2010, for which Harper received a Tony Award nomination.[15][33] She was to continue the role on a national tour beginning January 2013, but withdrew due to her health.[34]

She played Claire Bremmer, aunt of Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher), on ABC's Desperate Housewives in 2011.[35]

On September 4, 2013, Harper was announced as a contestant for the 17th season of Dancing with the Stars, partnered with professional dancer Tristan MacManus.[36] They were eliminated from the show on October 7, 2013.

Harper appeared as the character Wanda on the American comedy web television series Liza on Demand, in its July 11, 2018, episode: "Valentine's Day".[37]

Activism and charity work

In the 1970s and '80s, Harper was involved in the women's liberation movement and was an advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment.[38][39] With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E. (Love Is Feeding Everyone) in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy people in Los Angeles.[40][41]

Personal life

Harper's NYC roommate was Arlene Golonka.[42]

Harper married actor Richard Schaal in 1964. They divorced in 1978, after which she had a relationship with Peter Horton.[43] She married Tony Cacciotti in 1987,[44] after dating for seven years, and they adopted a daughter, Cristina.[45]

Despite playing Jewish characters such as Rhoda Morgenstern,[46] Harper herself was not Jewish.[46]

Illness and death

In 2009, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer.[47] She announced on March 6, 2013, that tests from a January hospital stay revealed she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition where cancer cells spread into the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. She explained her doctors had given her as little as three months to live.[48] Although the disease was considered incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy to try to slow its progress.[49]

In April 2014, Harper said she was responding well to the treatment.[50] On July 30, 2015, she was hospitalized in Maine after falling unconscious, and taken via medevac to a larger hospital for further treatment.[51][52][53] She was later discharged.[54]

In 2016, Harper's cancer treatment continued at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and she 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.[55] In September 2017, she said: "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."[56] At the time, she was developing a television series with Carter.[57]

By July 2019, she was on a regimen of "a multitude of medications and chemotherapy drugs" and was experiencing "extreme physical and painful challenges" that required "around-the-clock, 24/7 care."[58] Harper died on the morning of August 30, 2019, in Los Angeles.[59][60]

Valerie Harper is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.[61]



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
1969 With a Feminine Touch
1973 The Shape of Things Herself Television film
1974 Thursday's Game Ann Menzente
Freebie and the Bean Consuelo Nominated — Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1977 Night Terror Carol Turner Television film
1979 Chapter Two Faye Medwick Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1980 The Last Married Couple in America Barbara
Fun and Games Carol Hefferman Television film
The Shadow Box Maggie
1981 The Day the Loving Stopped Norma Danner
1982 Farrell for the People Elizabeth "Liz" Farrell
Don't Go to Sleep Laura
1983 An Invasion of Privacy Kate Bianchi
1984 Blame It on Rio Karen Hollis
1985 The Execution Hannah Epstein Television film
1987 Strange Voices Lynn Glover
1988 Drop-Out Mother Nora Cromwell
The People Across the Lake Rachel Yoman
1989 Hanna-Barbera's 50th: A Yabba Dabba Doo Celebration Herself
1990 Stolen: One Husband Katherine Slade
1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion Dyan Draper
1993 The Poetry Hall of Fame Herself
1994 A Friend to Die For Mrs. Delvecchio
1995 The Great Mom Swap Grace Venessi
1997 Dog's Best Friend Chicken (voice)
2000 Mary and Rhoda Rhoda Morgenstern-Rousseau
2002 Dancing at the Harvest Moon Claire
2007 Golda's Balcony Golda Meir
2011 Shiver Audrey Alden
My Future Boyfriend Bobbi Moreau Television film
Fixing Pete Mrs. Friedlander
Certainty Kathryn
2014 The Town That Came A-Courtin' Charlotte Television film
2015 Merry Xmas Mother 7 minute short
2016 My Mom and the Girl Norma/Nanny[62] 22 minute short
Stars in Shorts: No Ordinary Love Mother Merry Xmas segment


Title Role Notes
1963 The Doctors Mrs. Steiner Episode: "Zip Guns Can Kill"
1970–1977 The 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
Love, American Style Barbara Watkins Episode: "Love and the Housekeeper"
The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour Herself 1 episode
1972 Columbo Eve Babcock Episode: "The Most Crucial Game"
1972 The Dick Cavett Show Herself 1 episode
1973 The Carol Burnett Show Herself 1 episode
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)
1975 John Denver Rocky Mountain Christmas 1975 TV Special Herself Television special
1976 The Muppet Show Episode: "Valerie Harper"
1976–1977 Dinah! Herself 4 episodes
1976–1990 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Herself 8 episodes
1978–1980 The Mike Douglas Show Herself 7 episodes
1982 Fridays Herself 1 episode
1986 The Love Boat Laurel Peters 2 episodes: "Egyptian Cruise Part 1 & Part 2"
1986–1987 Valerie Valerie Hogan 32 episodes
1989–1990 The Arsenio Hall Show Herself 2 episodes
1990 City Liz Gianni 13 episodes
1990 Late Night with David Letterman Herself 1 episode
1991 Mary Tyler Moore: The 20th Anniversary Show Herself Television special
1994 Missing Persons Ellen Hartig 3 episodes
1995 The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder Herself 1 episode
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)
1996–2001 The Rosie O'Donnell Show Herself 6 episodes
1996 Promised Land Molly Arnold Episode: "The Magic Gate"
1998 Generator Gawl Various Voice
Melrose Place Mia Mancini 2 episodes
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"
As Told by Ginger Maryellen Voice, episode: "The Wedding Frame"
2001 That '70s Show Paula Episode: "Eric's Naughty No-no"
Family Law Julia Episode: "Clemency"
Three Sisters Merle Keats 2 episodes
2002 The Mary Tyler Moore Reunion Herself Television special
2003−2004 Less than Perfect Judith 2 episodes
2005 Committed Lily Solomon Episode: "The Mother Episode"
2007–2016 Entertainment Tonight Herself 7 episodes
2008 The Oprah Winfrey Show Herself 1 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
2011-2013 The Talk Herself 1 episode
2013–2018 The Simpsons Various characters Voice, 8 episodes
2013 Hot in Cleveland Angie Episode: "Love Is All Around"
The View Herself 2 episodes
Dancing with the Stars Herself (Contestant) 6 episodes
2014–2019 American Dad! IHOP Diner / Various Voice, 2 episodes
2014 Signed, Sealed, Delivered[63] 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"
2 Broke Girls Nola Episode: "And The Great Unwashed"
2016 Childrens Hospital Mamma Fiorucci Episode: "Childrens Horsepital"


Year Title Role Notes
2018 Liza on Demand Wanda Episode "Valentine's Day"


Year Title Role Notes
1957-1958 Li'l Abner Dancer Replacement, was not in opening night cast.
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-Broadway: Variety Arts Theatre

– 1997 "The Dragon and the Pearl," by Marty Martin, bio of Pearl S. Buck, commissioned by Cacciotti. The play workshopped at Milford, NH's American Stage Festival and was developed at Chicago's Organic Theatre. (Playbill, 11/16/1998) Later performed at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Connecticut.

1998–1999 All Under Heaven Pearl S. Buck Off-Broadway's Century Center Theatre. Ran November 3, 1998 – January 11, 1999. Played 16 previews and 65 regular performances.
2001–2002 The Tale of the Allergist's Wife Marjorie Replacement (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), February 19 – April 11, 2010 for 60 performances.
2015 Nice Work if You Can Get It Millicent Winter Ogunquit Playhouse (Maine) (July 22–29—bowed out after collapsing backstage and being hospitalized. Replaced by Brenda Vaccaro for remaining run through August 15, 2015.)

Awards and nominations

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


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