|Birth Date||22 August 1939|
|Died||30 August 2019 (aged 80)|
|Hometown||Suffern, New York|
|Highest Score||21 (Paso Doble)|
|Lowest Score||16 (Cha-Cha-Cha)|
Harper was born in Suffern, New York, the daughter of Iva Mildred (née McConnell 1910-1988) and Howard Donald Harper. Her father was a lighting salesman, and her mother was born in Canada and trained as a nurse. She is the middle child of three siblings. She has an older sister, Leah; a younger brother, Merrill (who later took the name "Don") and a half-sister, Virginia, from her father's second marriage.
She claims her parents were expecting a boy and after her arrival, her first and middle names derived from that year's women's doubles tennis champions, Valerie Scott and Kay Stammers. She is of French, English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestry. Harper claims to have based her future character Rhoda Morgenstern on her Italian stepmother, Angela Posillico, and Penny Ann Green (née Joanna Greenberg), with whom she danced in the Broadway musical Wildcat. She was raised Catholic, although at an early age she "quit" the church.
The family moved every two years due to her father's work, attending schools in South Orange, New Jersey; Pasadena, California; Monroe, Michigan; Ashland, Oregon; and Jersey City, New Jersey. When her family returned to Oregon, Harper remained in the New York City area to study ballet. She attended Lincoln High School in Jersey City, graduating from the private Young Professionals School on West 56th Street, where classmates included Sal Mineo, Tuesday Weld, and Carol Lynley.
Broadway Dancer and Improv
Harper began as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway, and went on to perform in several Broadway shows, some choreographed by Michael Kidd, including Wildcat (starring Lucille Ball), Take Me Along (starring Jackie Gleason), and Subways Are for Sleeping. In-between she was also cast in Destry Rides Again but was forced to leave rehearsals due to illness. Her roommate, actress Arlene Golonka, introduced her to Second City improvisation theater and to improv performer Dick Schaal, whom Harper later married in 1965. Harper was stepmother to Schaal's daughter, Wendy, an actress. They lived in Greenwich Village. She returned to Broadway in February 2010, playing Tallulah Bankhead in Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Lyceum Theatre.
Harper appeared in a bit part in the film version of Li'l Abner (1959), playing a Yokumberry Tonic wife. She broke into television on an episode of the soap opera The Doctors ("Zip Guns can Kill"). She was an extra in Love with the Proper Stranger. She toured with Second City with Schaal, Linda Lavin and others, later appearing in sketches on Playboy After Dark. Harper and Schaal moved to Los Angeles in 1968, and co-wrote an episode of Love, American Style.
While doing theater in Los Angeles in 1970, Harper was spotted by casting agent Ethel Winant, who called her in to audition for the role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She co-starred from 1970–1974 and then starred in the spin-off series, Rhoda (CBS 1974-1978) in which her character returned to New York. She won four Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for her work as Rhoda Morgenstern throughout this period. In 2000, Harper reunited with Moore in Mary and Rhoda, a TV movie that brought their iconic characters together again in later life. The first season of Rhoda was released on DVD 21 April 2009, by Shout! Factory.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for "New Star of the Year" for her role in Freebie and The Bean (1974). Harper was a guest star on The Muppet Show in 1976, its first season.
Harper returned to situation comedy in 1986 when she played family matriarch Valerie Hogan on the NBC series Valerie. Following a salary dispute with NBC and production company Lorimar in 1987, Harper was fired from the series at the end of its second season. Harper sued NBC and Lorimar for breach of contract. Her claims against NBC were dismissed, but the jury found that Lorimar had wrongfully fired her and awarded her $1.4 million plus 12.5 percent of the show's profits. The series continued without her with the explanation that her character had died off-screen. In 1987, it was initially renamed Valerie's Family and then The Hogan Family, as Harper was replaced by actress Sandy Duncan, who played her sister-in-law Sandy Hogan. NBC canceled The Hogan Family in 1990, but it was picked up by CBS for a final season.
Harper appeared in various television movies, including a performance as Maggie in a production of the Michael Cristofer play The Shadow Box, directed by Paul Newman, and in guest roles on such series as Melrose Place (1998) and Sex and the City (1999).
Harper is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and ran for president in the 2001 election, losing to Melissa Gilbert. She served on the Hollywood Board of Directors of SAG.
In 2005 through 2006, Harper portrayed Golda Meir in a US National tour of the one-woman drama Golda's Balcony. A film of this production was released in 2007.
She played Tallulah Bankhead in the world-premiere production of Matthew Lombardo's Looped at the Pasadena Playhouse from 27 June to 3 August 2008, and at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., in 2009. The play had a brief run on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, from February 2010 (previews) through April 2010. She played Claire Bremmer, aunt of Susan Delfino (Teri Hatcher), on ABC's Desperate Housewives in 2011.
Activism and Charity
In the 1970s/80s, Harper was involved in the Women's Liberation Movement and was an advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment. With Dennis Weaver she co-founded L.I.F.E. in 1983, a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles.
Harper married actor Richard Schaal in 1964. They divorced in 1978. Harper later married Tony Cacciotti in 1987; the couple has a daughter by adoption.
Illness and Death
In 2009, Harper was diagnosed with lung cancer. She announced 6 March 2013, that tests from a January hospital stay revealed she had leptomeningeal carcinomatosis, a rare condition in which cancer cells spread into the meninges, the membranes surrounding the brain. She said her doctors had given her as little as three months life expectancy. Although the disease was reported to be incurable, her doctors said they were treating her with chemotherapy in an effort to slow its progress. In April 2014, Harper said she was responding well to the treatment. On 30 July 2015, Harper was hospitalized in Maine after falling unconscious, and taken via medevac to a larger hospital for further treatment. She was later discharged.
In 2016, Harper continued battling cancer with treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center but was well enough to appear in a short film, My Mom and the Girl, based on the experiences of director/writer Susie Singer Carter, whose mother has Alzheimer's. In September 2017, she made this comment: "People are saying, 'She's on her way to death and quickly'. Now it’s five years instead of three months ... I’m going to fight this. I’m going to see a way." At the time, Harper was developing a television series with Carter. By July 2019, Harper was on a regimen of "a multitude of medications and chemotherapy drugs" and was experiencing "extreme physical and painful challenges" that require "around the clock, 24/7 care."
Harper died the morning of 30 August 2019 in Los Angeles, eight days after her 80th birthday.
Dancing with the Stars 17
On 4 September 2013, Harper was announced as a contestant for the 17th season of Dancing with the Stars. She was partnered with professional dancer Tristan MacManus. Harper and MacManus were eliminated 7 October 2013.
|Week #||Dance/Song||Judges' score||Result|
|1||Foxtrot / "Some Kind of Wonderful"||7||7||7||No elimination|
|2||Paso Doble / "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"||6||6||7||Safe|
|3||Cha-Cha-Cha / "Grace Kelly"||6||5||5||Safe|
|4||Viennese Waltz / "Carry On"||6||61||6||Eliminated|
1Julianne Hough judged in place of Goodman.
- Valerie is the second Dancing with the Stars contestant to die; Florence Henderson died in November 2016.
- They have inserted stars in the ballroom floor in their memory.