Well-loved actor, Valerie Harper aka Rhoda Morgenstern, succumbed to cancer at 80 after a lengthy and well-fought battle.
I spent an insightful afternoon with Harper in 2006 in Washington, DC when she portrayed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the one-woman show “Golda’s Balcony” at the Warner Theatre. She told me that she was honored to play such “a towering figure.” When asked if she found any similarities between the role she played and the real-life Valerie Harper, she responded: “Golda was gregarious.” So is Harper. “But Golda never tried to be pleasing,” she said thoughtfully. “I think it’s a female thing. … We’re raised to be charming. But I can call on my passion.” Although not Jewish herself, Harper, who often played stereotypical Jewish characters such as Rhoda Morgenstern, the TV character she made famous, called herself “Zionistic at heart.”
“I try to make Golda real and accessible,” Harper said. “I try to live the story rather than tell it.” Power supersedes glamour in this role. “I’d play Golda at 100,” Harper said. “She wielded power as a human being. Her humanity was first and then her gender.” Harper spent close to an hour each evening preparing for the role: Her makeup included a false nose, wig and body padding.
While in Washington, the passionate and politically aware actress spent her days lobbying on Capitol Hill for Results, a citizen lobby group working to end hunger and poverty. It wasn’t until after the show each evening when she did her work out in the hotel gym.
Her legacy may well be that she made us laugh while showing strength and passion. And let’s not forget she taught us humanity trumps gender.
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