Valerie Harper is an American actress known for her roles as Rhoda Morgenstern on the 1970s television series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and its spin-off, Rhoda, and later as Valerie Hogan on Valerie.
Valerie was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, New York. Her Canadian-born mother, Iva (née McConnell), was a nurse, and her father, Howard Donald Harper, was a lighting salesman. She is of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. 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 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, Valerie 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.
Valerie began as a dancer/chorus girl on Broadway in 1959 in the musical Li'l Abner 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 Valerie later married in 1965. She 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.
Valerie 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 toured with Second City with Schaal, Linda Lavin and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. Valerie and her husband moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and co-wrote an episode of Love, American Style.
While doing theater in Los Angeles in 1970, Valerie 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, she reunited with Moore in Mary and Rhoda, a TV movie that brought their iconic characters back together again in later life.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for "New Star of the Year" for her role in Freebie and The Bean (1974). She was a guest star on The Muppet Show in 1976, its first season.
Valerie 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, Valerie was fired from the series at the end of its second season. 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 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 Valerie was replaced by actress Sandy Duncan, who played her sister-in-law Sandy Hogan.
Valerie worked almost exclusively in theater and television but also had key supporting roles in such feature films as Freebie and the Bean (1974) and Blame It on Rio (1984). She appeared in various television movies and in guest roles on such series as Melrose Place (1998) and Sex and the City (1999).
In 2005 through 2006, Harper portrayed Golda Meir in a US National tour of the one-woman drama Golda's Balcony. A film of this production was released in 2007. Valierie and Schaal divorced in 1978. She married tony Cacciotti in 1987; the couple has a daughter by adoption.
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 that occurs when cancer cells spread into the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. She said her doctors have given her as little as three months' life expectancy. Though the disease is incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy in an effort to slow its progress.
Let's pray for the Lord to shower Valerie with His love and draw her to Himself during the next few months.