IN TWEET: VALERIE HARPER ANNOUNCES SHE HAS TERMINAL BRAIN CANCER. JOIN RONTHINK FOR A CELEBRATION OF HER AMAZING LIFE.
Growing up in the 70’s meant coming of age during a comedy renaissance on television. It was an era of major social upheaval; a decade that laid the foundation for the modern chapters of the civil rights movement, fueled the second wave of the feminist movement and gave real momentum to the fight for gay rights and marriage equality.
ALL IN THE FAMILY, GOOD TIMES, THE JEFFERSONS, SANFORD AND SON, CHICO AND THE MAN, MAUDE, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and RHODA were sit-coms that also held a mirror up to society. Through these now iconic series, once taboo or little discussed subjects like race relations, the plight of the poor, divorce, rape, homosexuality and women in the workplace were suddenly broadcast into living rooms across the country. From controversial episodes like the Maude’s (Bea Arthur) decision to get an abortion (a TV first, to this day) to the attempted rape of Edith (Jean Stapleton) on ALL IN THE FAMILY, comedy in the 1970’s could indeed be very dramatic.
The territory covered by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and spin-off RHODA was decidedly on a more sunny side of the topical street but no less important. In both series the central characters were smart, single career women. They were also close friends who certainly dated quite a bit but were never defined by men or reduced to pathetic man hunters. Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper, also happened to be Jewish. VERY Jewish; something quite ordinary behind the scenes in Hollywood but still surprisingly rare on television at that time. Rhoda did eventually get married (in the spin-off) and also divorced, another taboo topic off the no-no list.
Watching many of these shows now, it’s almost shocking to see how freely topics that we still grapple with were discussed with a frankness and honesty that would probably not clear the S&P process today. Hearing Archie Bunker call someone a “fag” on ALL IN THE FAMILY or an episode of THE JEFFERSONS where the word “nigger” is bandied about would have many people in a tizzy if they aired tonight. Of course, those shows were expertly written and well-cast with talented folks who knew how to stoke controversy without exploiting it.
Valerie Harper was part of something special. A creative revolution of sorts, the likes of which we may never see again on the major broadcast networks. Harper announced yesterday that she has leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare and terminal form of brain cancer. She believes she has as little as three months to live. It was devastating news for friends of Harper’s and fans like me.
While the news from Harper is indeed sad, she is still with us and has already amassed a body of work worth celebrating. I’ve pulled together a collection of links to great articles and posts that do just that along with one of my favorite full episodes of the spin-off RHODA (from Hulu). Note to to TV trivia buffs…run a stop watch during the opening credits of the series and try to find any modern TV show that would be afforded the same luxury of time.
CLICK HERE to visit Valerie Harper’s official website.
CLICK HERE to tour Los Angeles with Harper as your guide (from LA Magazine).
CLICK HERE to re-live some of Harper’s best television moments (from The Daily Beast).
CLICK HERE for a retrospective of Harper’s life before and after RHODA, in her own words (from The Washington Post)
CLICK HERE to buy Harper’s new book I, RHODA (from Amazon.com)
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