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Valerie Harper: A Fan's Open Letter


Final Update: August 30, 2019

There are many heroes in this world. Those who make us laugh heal our souls. Valerie Harper's work will live on for a long, long time beyond today her passing.

Update: June, 2017 I wrote this article several years ago and Ms Harper's courage is still inspiring to this day. While we never know a celebrity on a personal level, it is possible for us to detect from words and actions the givers of this world and Valerie Harper is truly a person who belongs in that heroic category of "Givers".

Dear Valerie Harper,

I woke up this morning with your image and voice in my head. I had been viewing your website and videos of your performances on youtube ever since hearing the sobering news of your illness. I asked myself why the illness of a person I've known only through a character played on TV would affect me with such sadness. After all, the character an actor plays is not the real person, nor does the actor necessarily wish to be remembered for the character they play. I decided however, that an actor's soul always shines through to an audience - it's the part of them that is the character that we love, and it is the part of you that was Rhoda that made me feel so connected to you.

There are reasons for this connection with an actor and reasons for my connection with you. I believe that there is no one who could have brought more comic realism and understanding to Rhoda than you did. Behavior scientists call people who walk with us in the same period of time "cohorts" in history. I call them time-walkers. You are a time-walker with millions, and your character and the precise rendering you gave to that character reflected something deep that was going on in America during the 70s.

While millions of us watched as you unfolded Rhoda's story for us, you didn't have the opportunity to watch us! Behind the TV screens, behind the soaring ratings, were a myriad of individual stories. We will never know precisely how your role affected those stories, but we can analyze how that might have been. Here is one of those millions of stories. I tell it to you with the hope that knowing the impact you had on our real lives will bring you joy.

Click Below Picture to View 1st Episode on Hulu

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show"  Rhoda Washing Windows of "her" apartment

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" Rhoda Washing Windows of "her" apartment

When "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" show started in September of 1970, I was teaching deaf and hard of hearing students while my husband of a few months was serving in Quang Tri, South Vietnam. Today I searched in the shoebox of letters labeled "Vietnam". I found one dated "Saturday, 19 Sept.'70," the very day "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" first aired. It wasn't a particularly unusual letter from "Tim" that day. It was similar to all the letters he wrote - letters that reiterated the loneliness of war and the longing to go home. He asked about my day at school in that letter, talked about a student I had mentioned, and added: ”...only 26 more days" - a reference to Tim's R & R (Rest and Relaxation) for 5 days in Hawaii in October of 1970 before he would return to Vietnam for the second half of his tour.

Of course, there were no TVs in Tim's hootch in Vietnam when he wrote that letter, so he wouldn't have seen that opening episode where you were introduced to the audience washing windows behind closed drapes. But later that day, across the globe, I would be watching in my parent's apartment where I was living until Tim returned home. Through continued months of worry and waiting, I watched the show while your character became more dear to me and a welcome distraction. My mother, father and I laughed at the dilemmas of Mary and Lou and the acerbic humor of Murray, but really, we always were waiting for scenes with you! The edginess you gave to Rhoda was modified by the heart you skillfully let shine through that character. I believe she actually became a metaphor for the "sweet me" becoming a "cynical me" with the reality of war.

When my husband would return from Vietnam in December of 1970, we left for Tacoma, WA where Tim finished his tour at Ft. Lewis. We'd watch "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" faithfully on a Saturday night in our tiny furnished apartment. Perhaps it was the way you adeptly added Rhoda's rye cynicism that helped me accept the edge I'd see in Tim upon his return from Vietnam. Tim approached life with that mildly dark humor that Rhoda had and with an impatience for superficiality. Just as Rhoda had no patience with the rigidity of Phyllis, Tim had no fear of authority from that point on. "What are they going to do to me? Draft me? Send me to Viet Nam?", he'd say.

Rhoda's Wedding

Through Rhoda's character as you portrayed her, America began to view the individual in society who thinks outside of the box differently than they had before. The beautiful Rhoda in her Bohemian style of dress and her beaded-curtained doorways was a contrast to the classic Mary Tyler Moore. A post-Vietnam nation now could view your meticulously crafted character with a respect of those who questioned values that often needed to be questioned.

Of course, none of us realized any of this at the time; you simply provided release from the reality of life. You took our hand and walked along with us through the pivotal timeline of our history. And as we changed, your writers changed the character of Rhoda. Her life, as ours, became more complicated as the series "Rhoda" developed. And you nimbly transitioned that character, your comedic timing genius never skipping a beat. While Rhoda was going through her separation from Joe, back in Milwaukee my husband and I held the hand of a dying friend. During Rhoda's divorce, my father entered the hospital for electro-shock therapy for the second time in his life. The question of whether life imitates art or art imitates life could not be more fitting as we all marched along.

Each of us walking along the timeline of our lives leave footprints. Yours, however, will extend farther along that invisible line because as long as sound and light can be conducted along airwaves or radio waves or whatever waves the future uses to transmit, your work will be viewed and your legacy will live on.

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You are part of that elite group who are privileged to help us, your "cohorts," cope with life and to laugh at it. Of all great artists, comedic actors are the ones who hold our hands and pick us up emotionally. You are the ones who help us go back to our classrooms, our jobs, our drudgery - refreshed. You give us something to look forward to at the end of a day which perhaps has been filled with worry and sadness. And you, in particular, Valerie, have done that with brilliance. You took our hands and walked along this timeline as one of the most beloved because of who you are.

My hope is that you now can imagine our hands - the hands of the millions who love your work, holding yours. Do I think that millions of people can love an actor? Can we love someone we know only through a character on TV? All I know is that it's very difficult NOT to have feelings of love for someone who has given us so much. And so I will say we DO love you - not because of the character Rhoda, not because of the many roles you've played, but because always your soul has shone through, and it's quite an endearing soul.

With great admiration,

A Fan


modified from Animated Atlas

modified from Animated Atlas


Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on August 03, 2015:

MichalWrotter, Thank you so much for your lovely comment.

Michal from Czech Republic on August 02, 2015:

This amazing tribute made me speechless and brought tears to my eyes . We all can simply and humbly just adore this amazing person with her will and joy to live. God bless her.

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on October 21, 2013:

Writer Fox, I'm so glad you liked the tribute. Thank you for the kind words. She has been truly amazing and courageous and gives everyone hope.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on October 21, 2013:

I was so touched by this tribute to Valerie Harper. What a phenomenal woman she is to have appeared on Dancing With the Stars when she is so terribly ill.

She said, "It was an opportunity for me to carry a message to folks, not just with cancer, whatever they have — whatever challenge."

I think, more than anything, she did it as a tribute to all of her fans who have loved her and cared about her throughout her career. She was dancing for you!

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on October 08, 2013:

MT, Thank you so much for your comment - truly "Minnesota nice". There is something so special about Valerie Harper. Her soul kind of shines through everything she does. Glad to have "met" you here. I'm in the middle of 3 projects, like all of us, but I'll stop by your place on "hub street"!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on October 07, 2013:

Hi Billie~Had to come over and meet the person that use to live in Fridley, MN.

I am blown away with this beautiful letter to Valerie Harper regarding the character she played and how her soul shined through. Your writing is effortless and I feel blessed that I found this touching letter. She would be very honored to read this heart felt tribute that you so eloquently penned. I am sharing this beautiful timeline of Rhoda's life and Billie's life.

P.S. I too loved that show and Rhoda's character. I could relate to the tomboy in her and loved seeing that on a t.v. show.

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on April 16, 2013:

Thanks LTM. It must be nice being off the grid. I can't remember what that was like! Cheers! Billie

LongTimeMother from Australia on April 16, 2013:

Hi Billie. Just spotted your note to me when I stopped in to see what penlady has to say today. :)

Sorry I won't be able to listen to your audio piece. Because I'm off the grid and living in the middle of nowhere, I have a satellite dish for internet connection. It takes forever to watch videos or play audio because everything downloads so slowly, which then means I'm sucking power out of my solar batteries waiting, waiting, waiting.

In short, I'll have to miss the audio. I do like the title though.

Nice idea about a hub including ockerisms but I think you should write it. Give your perspective on aussie slang, and then wait for all the aussies on hubpages to come and give you comments. lol.

I'm sure just about every hubber would have heard some kind of aussie expression that tickled their fancy. I think you could create a very successful hub. Go for it! :)

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on April 15, 2013:

Penlady, thank you for your lovely comment!

penlady from Sacramento, CA on April 15, 2013:

This is a beautiful letter to a wonderful lady. I'm sure Ms. Harper herself would appreciate your lifelong loyalty to her.

Voted up and beautiful.

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on March 21, 2013:

Oh my goodness, LTM, you have the makings of a new hub here! Would you please write about some cool words we could use correctly in our writing or something cute to throw out to a friend in conversation? (PS I have that essay as an audio piece which is TOO TOO TOO long (and I'm going to split it in two) I don't think I can put the link here, but if you google "The Fight for Molly Dooker Day" at podiobooks, you'll find it. I wrote that about 6 years ago and MUST change it, but, just for fun, you can see how I used it. Not to worry if you don't have the time. Cheers, Billie)

LongTimeMother from Australia on March 20, 2013:

Thanks, Billie.

Shonky is great aussie term. You hear it a lot over here. A deal can be a bit shonky, a bloke can seem really shonky. Anyone or anything you are suspicious of is shonky. If it's not ridgy-didge, then it's undoubtedly shonky.

I'm not sure I'd want to be described as a shonky left-hander because it calls your character into question. Mind you, unless your essay is being marked by an aussie, they'll never know. I guess at a stretch it might mean you're not a genuine left-hander and you only write with your left hand when you get cramp in your right hand. Hmmmm.

Now as for molly dooker, where in the world did you unearth that humdinger? Let's put molly dooker in perspective, shall we?

There are six states in Australia and two territories. I have lived and worked in four of those states and one territory. Only once in my life has anyone ever used the term molly dooker when talking to me. You, Billie, are the second. lol.

The first time, I had to ask the person what it means!! Here's my take on molly-dooker. I heard the term used in Western Australia. WA has quite a lot of British refugees/escapees who chose the sunshine and beaches in our west over the bleak English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish climate. It was explained to me that molly dooker was originally rhyming-Cockney slang from England.

I guess it was imported here, but it hasn't taken hold like most other ockerisms, many of which, like frog and toad meaning road, originated in the same way.

I doubt there would be many people on the east coast - where the vast majority of Australians live - who would understand what you meant if you called yourself a molly dooker. They would suspect rhyming slang, and probably assume you were a streetwalker (hooker).

Oh, thank you for the laugh! Good luck with your esaay. :)

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on March 20, 2013:

LTM, you have that kind of humor - just read your hub on wrinkles! very cute! I hope she might read this with the millions of others she has received. The concept of walking in the same timeline as each other fascinates me a bit. BTW. I'm left-handed and found the Austrailian term is molly dooker, but is "shonky" ok to use with it, as in "I'm a shonky molly dooker. 'cuz I used it in any essay about being left-handed.

LongTimeMother from Australia on March 20, 2013:

What an awesome hub! Good on you, Billie, for thinking to write a thankyou letter to Valerie Harper. Add me to the list of grateful fans.

MTM and Rhoda aired in Australia back then and, with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect the Rhoda character actually influenced me more than I'd have thought. I suspect I adopted a couple of Rhoda traits unintentionally. They've served me well, I'm pleased to say. :)

I wonder what would have happened had I been viewing today's television during my formative years. Wow, that's a scary thought!

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on March 12, 2013:

Thanks, MsJackson213, for your comment. It's much appreciated. Cheers, Billie

Takiyah Jackson from New York on March 12, 2013:

Born in the eighties, I guess I should not know this character so well.. but somehow through late night T.V. , I came to know and Love Mary and Rhoda from the MTM show.... but it was Rhoda's character who captivated me as well. Thanks for Sharing this beautifully written article.

Billie Kelpin (author) from Newport Beach on March 12, 2013:

DDE, thanks so much for your comment

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 12, 2013:

So interesting and fantasies are possible, this hub takes one back in time thanks for sharing

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