The only item from my Valerie Harper collection I can’t put my fingers on this morning is a clipping from the Sunday Indianapolis Star, a column in the entertainment section where people wrote in to ask questions about their favorite celebrities. I wrote with a question about Valerie Harper and they printed my letter. I can’t remember the question or the answer off the top of my head. That clipping is around here somewhere!
But I was obsessed. I was 15.
My mom and I went to see this touring production and waited around after the show hoping to meet her. It was Mom and I and maybe 4 or 5 others, mostly older women as I remember, waiting in the house, and someone came out and brought us all backstage. We waited just offstage in the wings, surrounded by all that beautiful old hemp rigging, for quite a while until she and Anthony Zerbe appeared, all smiles, changed and out of makeup. They must have talked to us for a good half hour. They took a moment with each person there individually. When Zerbe found out I wanted to be an actor, he took me off to the side a bit and gave me a “don’t give up on your dreams” speech. I was practically vibrating.
This venue, Clowes Hall in Indianapolis, is the same theater where I saw the Broadway tour of A Chorus Line the following year (1977) on a Thespians trip. It’s still there, I think, still bringing in touring shows. In my memory it’s sacred ground.
This must have been during the third season of Rhoda because backstage after the show, one of the women who’d waited to see her said that she was heartbroken that Rhoda and Joe had separated and asked why they wold do that, and Harper said, “Marriage just wasn’t funny.”
I loved Mary, but I identified with Rhoda. I wanted so badly to be friends with her, or just to BE her. Much of what I think of as my taste or sensibility, my idea of what I wanted my life to be like, comes from being infatuated with Rhoda as a teenager: my obsession with New York before I’d ever been here, my lifelong love of bead curtains. A sense of the possibility that insecurity could be attractive if you were smart and funny.