You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Valerie Harper: A Fighter Who Left a Complex Hollywood Legacy

Valerie Harper was a fighter, and that may ultimately be her Hollywood legacy. That was true with her career, and also in her 10-year battle with lung cancer. Harper will forever be best known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern, her “Mary Tyler Moore Show” character that earned the actress four Emmys and was later spun off into an entirely separate series, “Rhoda.”

But just like Rhoda, the spunky, wise-cracking best friend of Moore’s Mary Richards, Harper didn’t back down from a fight. In Hollywood, Harper will perhaps be most remembered for standing her ground on the NBC sitcom “Valerie.”

The comedy, which starred Harper as the matriarch of a nuclear family living in Illinois, and grappling with typical life problems, launched in 1986 and eventually became a hit for the Peacock network. But that harmony was short-lived: Harper was fired from the show after its second season, however, following her salary dispute with Lorimar, the studio (which later merged with Warner Bros. TV) behind the show.

It was not a pretty fight. Lorimar claimed Harper walked and sued her for $70 million. But Harper, who was looking for a pay bump and more creative control, counter-sued for $180 million in damages.

It wasn’t the first time Harper had battled her bosses for recognition. In 1975, she reportedly refused to return to work on the second season of “Rhoda” until CBS bumped up her salary from $10,000 to $17,500 a week.

In the case of “Valerie,” a jury eventually found that she was wrongfully fired, and awarded her $1.4 million and 12.5 percent of the show’s profits. “Valerie” continued on as “Valerie’s Family,” and later, “The Hogan Family,” with Sandy Duncan replacing the actress as the show’s female lead.

Harper’s ultimate legacy, however, may be a bit more murky for the talent community. The case of Harper’s exit from “Valerie” also had a darker, long-lasting impact on the industry: It proved to executives that shows could indeed survive, and even thrive, despite the exit of its top star. That lesson proved handy for execs in following years on shows like “NYPD Blue,” when David Caruso left after one season; when “Two and a Half Men” had to adjust after Charlie Sheen was fired over his misconduct; and even up to the recent switch on “House of Cards” (as Kevin Spacey was fired due to sexual assault allegations).

Most recently, ABC kept “Roseanne” going as “The Conners” after Roseanne Barr was fired over racist comments on social media; just like Harper’s character on “Valerie,” Barr’s character was killed off and the remaining characters continued with a similar show under a new title.

As for Harper, the actress later took that fighting spirit to the Screen Actors Guild, where she ran for president in 2001 (although losing to Melissa Gilbert) and served on the Hollywood board of directors. In 2009, she was diagnosed with lung cancer — but rather than retreating from the limelight, Harper kept on working. She competed on “Dancing with the Stars,” guest starred on series such as “2 Broke Girls” and “Childrens Hospital” and continued her theater work. “I’m going to fight this,” Harper said in 2017. “I’m going to see a way.” Harper kept up her battle until Aug. 30, when the actress died at the age of 80.

More TV

  • Roberto Gomez Bolanos Mexican actor Roberto

    Chespirito Media Universe in Development from Grupo Chespirito, Thr3 Media Group

    Mexican production companies Grupo Chespirito and Thr3 Media Group have come to terms on a deal to co-produce multi-media content and create the Chespirito Media Universe based on the characters and world of Mexico and Latin America’s most iconic TV creator, director, producer and actor, Chespirito. Thr3 Media Group was launched in January 2018 by [...]

  • Bastian-and-Fabienne_2btube-Office-1

    2btube Adds Lacoproductora to Facebook, YouTube Originals Alliances

    CANNES —  Fast-driving from a huge digital media publishing base into the creation and production of premium content for global platforms and beyond, top Spanish-language digital native media group 2btube has clinched a wide-ranging production partnership with José Miguel Contreras’ Madrid-based Lacoproductora. The deal comes fast on the heels of 2btube’s production alliance with Facebook [...]


    Spain's Fasten Films Nabs Remake Rights to Argentine Series 'The Cleaning Lady' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Barcelona-based company Fasten Films has optioned Spanish and Portuguese adaptation rights to Argentine suspense series “La chica que limpia” (“The Cleaning Lady”). The deal was negotiated with Argentine distributors RM Vistar and GlowStar, who jointly handle the format’s international sales. A Mexican remake of the series is being produced by Turner Latin America, alongside BTF [...]

  • Motiv: Max ConzeFoto: © ProSiebenSat.1/Martin SaumweberDieses

    ProSiebenSat.1 Boss Max Conze Unfazed By the Invasion of the Digital Streaming Giants

    Max Conze, CEO of German broadcast company ProSiebenSat.1 since June last year, appeared relatively relaxed about the prospect of the coming invasion of new digital players like Disney Plus into his territory when speaking to journalists at TV market and conference Mipcom in Cannes Tuesday. “Disney Plus will not lock away all their content,” he [...]

  • Irmaos Freitas

    Amazon Prime Video takes Turner’s ‘Freitas Brothers’

    CANNES — In yet another – and significant – Latin America distribution deal for the now highly active OTT giant, Amazon Prime Video has acquired Brazilian and pan-Spanish-speaking Latin American SVOD rights to Turner Latin America’s highly anticipated “Freitas Brothers.” The announcement was made late Tuesday by Turner Latin America at Cannes Mipcom TV and [...]

  • Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker,

    Nonsense Ellen DeGeneres Question Derails an Otherwise Substantive Democratic Debate (Column)

    The fourth Democratic debate was dangerously close to being substantive. For almost three (3!) hours, the twelve (12!) candidates onstage tackled questions on foreign policy, reproductive rights, health care, gun control, big tech, and the opioid crisis. While the other debates — and indeed, the entire 2016 presidential campaign — have been marked by meme-able [...]

  • Pictured (l-r): Doug Jones as Lieutenant

    Mipcom Roundup: E4 Buys 'Star Trek: Discovery'; All3Media Sells Drama Package

    In Variety’s fourth Mipcom roundup, E4 buys U.K. linear rights to “Star Trek: Discovery,” All3Media sells drama package to Pickbox Now, African broadcasters buy 800 hours of content from BBC Studios, France’s Serieclub acquires offbeat Norwegian comedy, ZDF and Red Balloon team for young adult book adaptation, and Viacom and Youku partner on kids’ animation. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content