Rho, You Rock! Memories of Rhoda Morgenstern

According to my parents, I should’ve been a teenager in the ’70’s. Lucky for me, however, serendipity intervened (along with the synchronicity of the 20 year fashion cycle), and I got to enjoy the next best thing – adolescence in the ’90’s amidst the groovy 1970’s revival of music, fashion, and pop culture. For this reason, I feel somewhat qualified to speak with experience on a subject from the decade that wanted everyone to Have A Nice Day :) (May I remind any naysayers that an entire sitcom based around the ’70’s starred kids my age?)

My obsession with the 70’s had me drawing smiley faces and peace signs in my notebooks, learning to walk everywhere in platform sandals, and starting a thrift store music collection on vinyl and 8-Track. But perhaps the most wonderful discovery made during this period was through Nick-at-Nite. My Mom introduced me to Rhoda, one of her all-time favorite TV characters, who instantly became mine as well. It’s probably no accident that I feel such a sentimental connection to the Morgenstern clan. My Mom is oftentimes reminded of her striking resemblance to Brenda, Rhoda’s kid sister. Their New York City apartment feels like a good friend’s living room. And something about the way they affectionately referred to one another in one syllables (“Bren,” “Rho,” “Ma,” and “Pop”) made it feel like I was watching a real family like my own. But that wasn’t everything.

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Valerie Harper brought to life a character that perfectly exemplified the type of cool adult I always wanted to be. While Mary Richards discovered that she might just make it after all in Minneapolis, Rhoda Morgenstern was able to laugh at the trials and tribulations of life on her own turf, back in the Big Apple. It’s no coincidence that my Twitter profile pic of Alice In Wonderland at Central Park is a nod to Brenda and Rhoda in the opening credit sequence. Any visit to the statue in which I can pose for a picture next to the Mad Hatter makes me feel a little more connected to a piece of Rhoda’s place in pop culture. Fortune plays into this story once more as I learned that my birthday of October 28th is Rhoda’s famously tuned-into wedding day. Although her wedding to Joe occurred before I was born, I can’t help but feel a happy link to one of the most-watched events in TV history. While I idolize Rhoda Morgenstern for her humor and independence, I adore Valerie Harper for breathing life into this television character.

I’ve enjoyed with much anticipation, 2000’s TV film Mary and Rhoda, a pairing-up of the two beloved characters, and am beyond excited with the knowledge of the current Hot In Cleveland reunion taking place. Additionally, I appreciate Valerie’s many guest starring roles, including one on that aforementioned ’70’s-themed sitcom that made one Ashton Kutcher a household name. But it is the television appearances of Valerie as Valerie that have confirmed what I always imagined to be true – not only is she every bit as warm and likable as the Rhoda that everyone knows and loves, but she’s the reason for the character’s status as a TV icon. I don’t think any actress other than Valerie Harper could inject such warmth and humanity into a character written on paper, bringing to life someone with whom you both identify and want to be friends with. A dancer myself as well, I love hearing about her early stage experiences in ballet and musical theatre. Her positive outlook on the world is excitingly contagious, and inspires me to enjoy life. Her advice on how to stay youthful, turn obstacles into opportunities, and enjoy new adventures, continues to put me awe of such a special lady. I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next. Keep at it, Rho – you rock now more than ever :)

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