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.”
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.’
“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.”