Rhoda, which lasted from 1974-78, featured the further adventures of Mary Richards’ friend and neighbor from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as she relocated from Minneapolis back to her native New York City. The first season of Rhoda was ranked #6 of all shows that television season in the Nielsen ratings.
The Archive interviewed Rhoda herself Valerie Harper, just this February, below are some excerpts from her interview with Jim McKairnes:
Q: Describe Rhoda Morgenstern.
A: Rhoda was like most of us, a victorious loser, you know, she thought of herself as a loser but she kept at the game, she kept in the game of life fully. She had a marvelous sense of humor; remember the greatest comedy writers in the world were writing the jokes for her. The character had a sense of humor and I used to say to Jim, well, this joke, ‘Am I making this joke or is Rhoda?’…. Rhoda was a very funny person with a funny point of view… and what made her funny is that she would say the unsayable, and it was nice juxtaposition to Mary who was a perfect lady…. She would say things in a New York brash, no edit way that’s funny. And I think that was part of her charm, she also was terribly insecure, and a dear friend of mine, [once]…. said ‘you know Valerie it’s so interesting with the show, Mary is who you wish you were, Rhoda is who you probably are, and Phyllis is who you’re afraid you’ll become.’ It’s a great little adage and I think that is true, I think Rhoda Morgenstern appeals to people because all of us, men/women, gay/straight, black/white, young/old knew that they felt like Rhoda at some time in their life, and that most of us are just trying to get through, you know. Bumping into life and our families and our work– and Mary had a career, Rhoda had jobs, I think she was every woman to a greater degree than Mary. And her being a New Yorker and had a wonderful accent… and I’ve always found when I play a character that the sound of them is very important and then the way they move, you want to get the total person…. And I loved her too, liked her a lot, and I loved playing her.
Q: Rhoda’s evolution led of course to your own show after four years, how did that come about?
A: Well from the first year, Freddy Silverman who was then head of the network was saying we’re going to spin you off and I thought I was being fired until I asked somebody what the term meant. And then I said no, no, no I don’t want – and then finally the fourth year of Mary, I said ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t want to…’, she said ‘you don’t want to be my sidekick all your life?’ I said ‘Yes, yes I do.’ She said ‘Oh, come on.’ I said ‘What if it fails?’ She said ‘If it fails you’ll move back to Minneapolis, and I’ll have you back in my life again.’ And I thought that, that’s working with a net isn’t it? And Nancy Walker said to me, the greatest thing in her understated way. I said, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know if I should leave, this is a very comfortable berth, I won Emmys, it’s fabulous I know it,’ And she said ‘Valerie, it’s a job, take it.’ No glamour, glitz, it’s a good job, take it, and I’m glad I did.
Q: Why do you think Rhoda’s wedding resonated the way it did?
A: Oh, because everybody was pulling for her to get married. … [there was a] roll up to it where there were wedding parties. We got toasters. We got wedding presents, I have silver plaques and things that were sent, trays and – the toasters were the funniest because that was a de rigor 1950’s, 1960’s… newly marrieds got a thousand toasters. People dressed up in black tie, and Howard Cosell over at, I think it ABC Sports. He would say “… we’d better shift over to the wedding.” He did Rhoda wedding jokes all night long because they’d think the women were in another room watching a second TV, you know for Rhoda’s wedding. It was a big deal. It was a very big deal because they watched her for 4 years, liked her. [The Mary Tyler Moore Show] was a big hit by the time I left and it didn’t suffer at all for Rhoda leaving because it was such a solid, wonderful show. And…. now the [audience] was happy to follow Rhoda’s progress. And I think everybody was just waiting for that wedding.
Q: Where do you think Rhoda is today?
A: Oh, I don’t know, I …. think she’s happy, she’s keeping on, going to art exhibits… maybe she’s working in the art field…. It was wonderful to have done [the television reunion movie Mary and Rhoda]. It was wonderful to work with Mary again and remember the old rhythms and the camaraderie and the love and the way we were together, that pair of women you know each together were greater than each of ourselves I think.