‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’: Valerie Harper Spoke On Interactions with Jewish Fans After Portraying Rhoda

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Rhoda on the Mary Tyler Moore Show was the beautiful, smart, funny Jewish character on one of the country’s most beloved TV series.

And Valerie Harper, who portrayed Rhoda Morgenstern for eight seasons and a reunion movie, loved the interaction with her fans. By the way, Harper wasn’t Jewish.

“Little old Jewish ladies grab my cheeks and say, ‘sweetheart, darling, they tell me you’re not Jewish. Say it isn’t so,'” Harper said during a 2007 interview.

“The truth is, if you go back far enough, we’re all Jewish,” said Harper, who lists her background as an American blend of Irish, Scottish and English. She had both Protestant and Catholic branches on her family tree.

She said of her fans: “It’s like having family and friends I didn’t know I had. There is something about walking through an airport and faces lighting up like they’re seeing a relative that they like. It’s so beautiful.” 

Rhoda Was Perfect Friend on Mary Tyler Moore Show

That’s how much people loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show and all of Mary Richard’s quirky friends. The series showcased a modern, single career woman in Mary. Viewers saw her work place — she was as associate producer for WJM-TV in Minneapolis. And viewers also saw Mary at home. She lived in a lovely Victorian that had been turned into apartments. Rhoda lived on the floor above Mary’s place.

Harper said that the Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the first to spotlight a Jewish character.

“It was quite an interesting time in America,” Harper said. “And I think the show reflected it without being politically correct. We were never really an ‘issue’ show, but we sure were about people bumping into each other. It was really a family – a work family. It was such a wonderful show and such an opportunity to act and do great material.” 

On the show, Rhoda was artistic. She designed the window displays in a fictional Minneapolis department store. Rhoda had a breezy boho style. She joked about everything, from her job, her love life and her weight.

Rhoda Wedding Episode Drew 52 Million Viewers

In 1974, Harper starred in a spin-off called Rhoda. The character moved back to her hometown, New York City. And viewers saw all of Rhoda’s family. There was her sister Brenda. And Rhoda moved in with her parents, Ida and Martin Morgenstern. Nancy Walker played Ida to perfection. And like Harper, she wasn’t Jewish.

While Rhoda was single on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she quickly found love in the spinoff. The eighth episode of season one in 1974 was all about Rhoda’s marriage to Joe. More than 52 million people tuned in to see Rhoda’s wedding. The episode was the most-watched of the decade until the mini-series Roots generated more viewers in 1977.

The episode also proved to be a great cross-over show. The only main characters from the Mary Tyler Moore Show who didn’t attend the TV wedding were Ted Baxter and Sue Ann Nivens.

But Rhoda and Joe, who were blissfully in love in the first two seasons, separated to start the third year and then divorced. Fans didn’t love the direction of the show and abandoned the series. CBS canceled Rhoda in December, 1978.

Still, fans loved Valerie Harper until she died in 2019. Rhoda from the Mary Tyler Moore Show had timless appeal.

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