I’m a Rhoda, not a Mary. If you’re a classic tv fan, an old person, or both, you’ll remember Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern as one of the sitcom world’s best buddy duos on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary was sort of the straight man, and eminently sweet and lovable. Rhoda was sassy, self-deprecating, others-deprecating (is that a thing?) and had a disastrous dating life.
I watched Mary Tyler Moore repeats as a kid, but it was by and large a “grown-up” show to me. See, I could watch shows about adults in my era (see: Friends), but a bunch of adults in the 70s didn’t really resonate with me. Now that I’m a young professional, The Mary Tyler Moore show is my life. Since college, my friend and I have even used “throwing our hats in the air” as a catchall expression for just generally succeeding at life.
Rhoda Morgenstern probably reminds you of either yourself or one of your friends (in which case you’re a Mary, and likely far more likable and bubbly than I am). When prepping for a beauty contest, Rhoda introduced herself: “My favorite hobbies are cheerleading, liking people, and living in America.” Still, Mary always had the good luck, as Rhoda informed her on a down day: “You’re having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 3000 peanut butter cups and die.” Then, there’s the voice-over from season one of Rhoda:
Whomever decided that a voice-over monolog would make a good theme song was freaking crazy. It was the 70s, and everyone was just kind of trying things I guess. But still. Rhoda. I love Rhoda.
Of course, there’s no Rhoda without Valerie Harper. The fact is, Harper’s pretty great in her own right. She got her start touring with Second City, and appeared on the super-60s (but still funny) comedy album When You’re In Love The Whole World Is Jewish. She ran for SAG president but lost to Melissa Gilbert, which isn’t even really fair because who could vote against Half-Pint Ingalls, except for Nellie Freaking Olsen? Harper even advocated for the ERA in the 70s, and you can tell that I have the boundless, baseless optimism of someone who was raised in Buffalo Bills territory, because every time it’s introduced I’m like “you know, maybe this is our year.” In 2006, she called Britney Spears a “Disney Hooker.” Harper also offered one of my favorite bits of life advice:
“Stop working so hard at being interesting and focus on what’s outside yourself. There are universes out there that need to be explored. And, an interested person is extremely interesting.”
This fall, Valerie Harper has advanced cancer and a reality tv contract – because she’s Rhoda Morgenstern and she does what she wants. So, on Monday I voluntarily watched Dancing With The Stars even though I am not a suburban lady in my early 60s. I’ll keep watching as long as she’s on the show – and possibly longer if Bill Nye and Jessie Spano make it farther. I was a 90s kid, after all. I’m not watching because it’s amazing that Harper is responding unbelievably well to treatment, or inspiring that she’s undertaking a serious dance regimen on top of a serious illness. I’m watching because Rhoda Morgenstern was hilarious, and so is the woman who plays her. Which means that – at the very least – if a routine is really awful, or someone falls down, or the costumes are atrocious, I think we can count on her for some witty, Rhoda-like commentary.
[Ed. note: This was initially written to appear this past Monday, but was postponed to write about one of our other favorite funny ladies. I don’t think Valerie Harper cares, though. Meaning: I don’t think she’s one of our readers. But, the delay allowed me to watch DWTS before posting, and Harper did not disappoint. But would it have killed them to put her in a turban? For old time’s sake, I mean.]
6 thoughts on “Be My BFF: A Love Letter To Rhoda Morgenstern (And Valerie Harper, Too)”
Your article on Valerie Harper and Rhoda is original and funny. It seems as though you don’t agree with me that her best work was on the Rhoda show with Julie Kavner, yes Marge Simpson, who kicked butt as her sister. It is too bad if you missed out on appreciating this spin-off, but, of course, she was great with Mary and Cloris, too.
Oh man … Valerie Harper on Rhoda or Valerie Harper on The Mary Tyler Moore Show? Serious Sophie’s Choice situation here. You’re so right about Julie Kavner. I’ve probably only seen about 2/3 of the episodes of Rhoda because it wasn’t on as often in syndication but I think you’ve convinced me it has to be my next sitcom binge-watch – thanks!
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I met you at the Democratic convention in I think 1982 or 1984, I was an usher. I enjoyed meeting you and always liked watching you on the Mary Tyler Moore show and Rhoda. Sorry to hear of the passing of Mary, but I still remember meeting you and talking with you. Every time I listen to my CD that has the Mary Tyler Moore show theme song or when I see you in one of the episodes, I remember how nice it was to meet you. Hope you are well. Jay Chishti (firstname.lastname@example.org .I am currently 48 y/o and I remember watching you on TV when I was a kid.
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