‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’: One Main Character Was Supposed to be ‘Mary’s Nemesis,’ Ended up Being Friend

by Suzanne Halliburton

The Mary Tyler Moore Show changed the way women were portrayed on television. It was the early 1970s, and Mary Richards was a 30-something, single, career woman who didn’t even have a boyfriend. To paraphrase the theme song, she definitely could make it on her own.

But every strong, modern woman usually has another strong woman by her side. You need that perfect friend to enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee with and to discuss the day’s adventures. And with Mary, her bestie was Rhoda Morgenstern. To think, when the show started, Rhoda and Mary were supposed to be rivals.

Valerie Harper, who as Rhoda became the nation’s best girlfriend, recalled how the show was supposed to be during a 2007 interview with PopEntertainment.com.

“I was supposed to be Mary’s nemesis,” Harper said. “Rhoda was supposed to be jealous of Mary, but she got to adore her. They became best friends. Mary is who you wish you were, Rhoda is who you probably are, and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), is who you are afraid you’ll become. 

Valerie Harper’s First Big Role Was In Mary Tyler Moore Show

Rhoda was Harper’s first major role. She was doing theater in Los Angeles before she landed Rhoda in the Mary Tyler Moore Show. This was 1970. Moore as Richards was a classic, well-dressed beauty. Rhoda was a little over-weight. She was funny. She dated a lot, but never found the right guy.

While Mary worked at a TV station, Rhoda decorated windows for a Minneapolis department store. Rhoda lived upstairs from Mary in an old Victorian home owned by Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) and her husband, Lars.

It was reported that show creators initially thought Harper was too pretty to play Rhoda. But then they wrote her character as someone who was insecure about her looks.

By 1974, the creators of the Mary Tyler Moore Show decided to make Harper the star of the spinoff, Rhoda. The show had Rhoda move back to New York. Rhoda’s best friend was her sister, Brenda. And her parents also were major characters.

But while Rhoda was single on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, her new show quickly had her meet and marry a nice man named Joe.

Harper was funny and charming in both roles. She won four Emmys for portraying Rhoda.

In 2000, the Two Best Friends Reunited in NYC

And in 2000, Mary and Rhoda were reunited in the TV movie appropriately titled Mary and Rhoda. Mary returned to New York. She was a widow. Her husband was a Congressman before his death.

Rhoda was newly divorced. She’d been living in Paris, but returned to NYC, too. The two women each have college-age daughters.

Together, the two middle-aged women try to revive their careers. It was a perfect way to say hello again and catch up for two of the most popular Mary Tyler Moore Show characters.

Moore died in 2017. Harper passed away in 2019. They influenced a generation of women, letting them know they were going to make it after all.