LET’S COOK: Thank you, Rhoda
One of the great joys of being a teenager back in the early ’70s was to appreciate the many wonderful sitcoms that were on television. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a favorite of mine. In this show Mary had a neighbor named Rhoda, played by Valerie Harper. They lived in a grand Victorian house in Minneapolis. Mary lived on the second floor and cool Rhoda had the attic which was alive with bold shades of candy apple red, bright orange and an ever present gold “etc.” sign. You would expect nothing less from a budding department store window designer.
Like Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, Mary and Rhoda were a tremendous duo and had their fans laughing, smiling and coming back each week for more. A spin-off of the Mary Tyler Moore Show was Rhoda. Valerie Harper, “Rhoda,” moves back to New York City and continues her artistic endeavors. I can remember seeing Harper in this leading role and thinking she was going to be a real TV favorite because her comic timing, looks and unhampered delightful smile.
On August 30, 2019 Valerie Kathryn Harper passed away after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. Upon first hearing this news, my mind flashed back to the many memories she blessed us with: her Minneapolis apartment, her New York City apartment with the pronounced window and balcony, and the monotone voice of her doorman, Carlton. I had purchased from the book club at school a book, “Rhoda.” How I devoured each page and photograph. But most of all, I thought about the inspiration she gave. She did not portray a nurse, doctor, teacher, or lawyer, but rather a window dresser with a great sense of humor. In some crazy little way, her character let me know that being artistic does not immediately land you on the gifted avenue. Instead it was the zigzagging on the side streets of creativity that will ultimately bring you forward as an artist.
The character of Rhoda informed us that a world without creative windows displays is no world at all. Her colorful scarfs, funky jewelry, and unique style of living in the attic said “don’t let the world change you rather you change the world with inspired art.” I have never decorated a New York City department store window, but I can tell you that my brother, Tom and I did some colorful displays at the Coast to Coast Store on Lincoln Avenue in Underwood advertisng our signature paint “Soft Touch.” We had ladders tipped at different angles and paint chips representing every color of the rainbow. It looked as though they were floating in mid-air thanks to fishing line. Rhoda inspired!
Harper began her show business career as a dancer and chorus girl on Broadway. She went on to perform in several Broadway shows including Wildcat (starring Lucille Ball). It was while she was doing theater in Los Angeles that she was spotted by a casting agent who auditioned her for the role of Rhoda Morgenstern. She was a great success earning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a television series and Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a comedy series for Rhoda. Her list of accomplishments is amazing, including a television movie “Golda’s Balcony” where she portrayed Golda Meir. She was active in charity work and co-founded L.I.F.E. in 1983 which was a charity that fed thousands of needy in Los Angeles. An inspiring example of her helpfulness to triumph a healthier welfare in our world.
Last Sunday evening I watched a tribute to Rhoda and they played the episode of her marrying Joe Gerard, one of my favorites. This episode gives plenty of time to Nancy Walker who played Ida Morgenstern, Rhoda’s nagging mother. I grew up with Rhoda coming into our family den each week where I sat on our Early American sofa and laughed. She expanded my life beyond Underwood, North Dakota and affirmed that living each day with a sense of humor, a good friend and with artistic flair is winning combination and a devastating defense in the time of woe.
Should I be granted a wish-of-a-lifetime that would include time with someone famous, Valerie Harper would be at the top of my list for a luncheon date. The setting would be a department store window, table for two, and Nancy Walker “also known as Rosie” as our waitress. After all, I have been known to spill and she is “quicker picker upper.”
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