Valerie Harper played one of the most-loved Jewish women on television throughout the 1970′s. Harper was Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend and her neighbor. Rhoda was a Jewish character on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Harper played her with a broad New York accent and plenty of shtick.
Harper was cast as Rhoda after honing her nasal Jewish voice in a 1960′s comedy album, “When You’re in Love the Whole World is Jewish.”
In 1974, Harper’s role was spun off to a show of her own, “Rhoda,” which ran until 1978, and for which she won a Golden Globe award in 1975.
Harper must have been very convincing as a Jew, because she was also called on to play Israel’s fourth prime minister, Golda Meir, in a national touring company of “Golda’s Balcony,” a play based on her life. In addition, Harper played Meir in the film version of “Golda’s Balcony,” which came out in 2007.
Although many people thought Harper was Jewish, she was actually Catholic. In a 2006 interview, Harper said that while she wasn’t Jewish, she was a Zionist. “I’m not Jewish, but I guess I’ve always been a Zionist without a word for it,” she said.
Some of the proceeds from Harper’s national tour of “Golda’s Balcony” were donated to Israel Children’s Centers.
Harper was named Honorary Grand Marshall of Israel’s 60th anniversary parade in New York City in 2008.
Harper, 73, was recently diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer, leptomeningeal carcinomatosis. She was reportedly told she has only a few months to live, but she says she is “open to a miracle,” and that she “intends to live each moment fully.” Harper battled lung cancer in 2009, but believed she had defeated it.
Harper’s memoir, “I, Rhoda” was published late last year.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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