Valerie Harper's real-life pregnancy depended on her television career
Image credit: The Everett Collection
Valerie Harper played the role of one of TV's most popular and enduring characters. She played the role of Rhoda Morgenstern in both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its first spin-off series, Rhoda (1974).
Harper was known for being many things; An actress, a dancer, a singer and a comedian. There wasn't much more this busy actress could take on; It seemed like Harper was already everywhere.
In a 1976 interview with The San Bernardino County Sun, Harper said she had one avenue left to explore: Motherhood.
"I'm going to have a baby," Harper said. "I'm going to have it in..."
According to the article, Harper clicked her nails together and counted to herself.
"Well, not this year," Harper said. "I've already blown it for this year. It's too late for pregnancy to fit into my Rhoda schedule."
For Harper, the idea of motherhood was special. She had longed to be a mother for years but struggled to find the time as a full-time actress. Although a few other famous ladies made doubling as a parent and actress work, it wasn't for everyone.
Harper said she wanted her motherhood to be planned so the evidence wouldn't be shown on the CBS series. The main portion of her child-carrying months was planned to be done on hiatus.
In 1974, the wedding of Rhoda became a top Nielsen ratings event during the hour-long special, which broke several television records. Harper said she had no desire for Rhoda to become saddled with the responsibilities of motherhood, unlike herself in real life.
She had even less desire to: "Have a baby for America."
Lucille Ball did it during the early days of I Love Lucy. Americans, by the record, would tune in to watch Lucy and then-husband Desi Arnaz wrap comedic situations around their bundle of joy.
"I could do it too," Harper said. "I happen to think it's too private of a matter to showcase on TV (though please say I said it was for Lucy). But if I wanted to do it, we'd just reslant the show, and handle it anyway I wanted. After all, I am the star."
Harper said that is what stardom meant to her: "Getting to do things the way you want; Getting to do most anything you want."
During season one of Rhoda, she put that theory to the test when she engaged in contractual renegotiation wars with her Mary Tyler Moore Show production bosses and managed to hike her salary from $15,000 to $17,000 per segment. Why? Because she's the star.
It was the perfect salary for an expecting mother.
Harper and her husband, Tony Cacciotti, would go on to adopt one daughter in 1984 and named her Cristina.
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