Actress Valerie Harper on how her real life compared with Rhoda’s

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Actress Valerie Harper as Rhoda

Valerie Harper and Rhoda are very similar (1974)

How does Valerie Harper compare herself with her alter-ego Rhoda?

In an exclusive magazine interview, she admits, “Our main similarity is that she is someone who doesn’t like herself very much.”

Her co-stars on television’s latest hit see other similarities. Nancy Walker says Valerie is as hell-bent on self-improvement as Rhoda; Julie Kavner (Rhoda’s younger sister) sees Valerie’s humor, kindness, and lifelong weight struggle as similar to Rhoda’s; while David Groh, her television husband, says they both have the “same incredible ability to mock themselves.”

Despite these similarities, magazine author Marcia Seligson finds Valerie sexier and less ethnic than Rhoda, but with periodic startling lapses into Rhoda gestures. “She also seems to have more confidence, to be less like one of the ex-walking wounded than Rhoda.”

Recently asked if she’s afraid that her success will threaten her marriage, the actress showed more confidence than might be expected from “someone who doesn’t like herself very much.”

Actress Valerie Harper as Rhoda

She flared, “You’d never ask that of a successful man, would you?” and displaying this same self-confidence she discusses her marriage with actor Dick Schall.

“This man I’ve lived with for ten years — his masculinity, his humaneness, his stature — is not dependent on my subservience. He’s a separate person and he’s always encouraged me. No, not encouraged. Demanded.

“He’d had a traditional marriage before, and didn’t want it again. He said, ‘Listen, babe, don’t think you can live through me. You live your life and I’ll live mine, and then we’ll have something to share.’

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“So we’ve always both worked. And now he’s delirious for what’s happened to us. It’s our money, not his or mine; he relished my success as he would if it were a friend’s. And he is my best friend… Dick doesn’t force me to be a wife, whatever that is.

“We don’t feel bound by marriage… we don’t clutch at each other, or do as many activities together as other couples… There’s no owning, no possessing, no you’re compelled to because you belong to me. That’s the evil that I see destroying most marriages.”

Lorenzo Music, one of “Rhoda’s” producers, explains similarities and points out a major difference between Valerie and Rhoda:

“We took the strong areas of the actress Valerie, the thing, she does and feels intuitively, and developed them in a character. So a lot of Rhoda’s feelings are Valerie’s.

“The biggest contrast between them is that Rhoda’s much simpler than Val; Valerie is a quiet freight train. She’s a mensch, which means in Yiddish, ‘a real person.’ But she’s always been headed for the top. All this didn’t just happen to her. She made it happen. That’s the part of Valerie that doesn’t show.”

And now that she’s made it to the top how does the “quiet freight train” feel?

“You know what all this success means so far?” says Valerie Harper. “It means I get to have a cleaning lady more than once a week.”

Valerie Harper An interview as her character, Rhoda

Valerie Harper: An interview as her character, Rhoda (1975)

“Hello, my name is Rhoda – this is where I live”

Finding a great apartment in Manhattan isn’t exactly easy, but Joe and I just couldn’t live in his old bachelor apartment — I mean there were too many of his old loves turning up and none of mine. So my sister Brenda and I found this terrific place, right in her building. It had a terrace and a large living room and, well, I just loved it.

The only thing was, though, before we moved in, the couple who lived there split up and his wife took custody of everything – including the fireplace and the plaster. So then I got to work.

The style is sort of New York eclectic — you know, chic-on-a-budget. We have two 6-foot sofas, butter-yellow with the little white polka dots, and a drop-leaf oak desk that I picked up for $45. Our new fireplace is porcelain, and the honey-colored campaign chest blends with our rust-colored draperies… It’s terrific!

Valerie Harper on her time as Rhoda - 1975

Charley, Joe’s friend, played by Richard Schall (who’s married to Valerie Harper), is one aspect of matrimony that doesn’t thrill Rhoda: “I tried for Joe’s sake to be friends with Charley when he first came over, but he just looked at our lovely bamboo dining chairs and said, ‘I hate ’em.'”

Three’s a crowd in a small kitchen, especially when the crowd is Rhoda and Joe and “friend” Charley (left). The kitchen is done to Rhoda’s liking with a cast-iron rack over the stove, lots of copper pots and colanders.

In fact, the whole apartment would be practically ideal, if only, as Rhoda puts is, “Charley would just stay home with his Valerie!”

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Video clips from Season 1, Episode 1 of Rhoda

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