She may be best known for playing her Emmy Award winning role of Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, but the stage is Valerie Harper’s first love and she has returned to it playing the witty and wicked Tallulah Bankhead in Arena Stage’s Broadway-bound production of Looped.
Valerie chatted with Joel Markowitz in her Lincoln Theatre dressing room a few days before Looped‘s official opening. The play, she explains, written by Matthew Lombardo, is a comedy inspired by an actual overdubbing (looping) session in which Tallulah had to replace a single line of dialogue in what would be the star’s final film “Die, Die My Darling”.
Few people know that Valerie Harper was a Broadway Baby. At age 18, she debuted in the chorus of the musical L’il Abner followed by Take Me Along with Jackie Gleason and Wildcat with Lucille Ball, “I worked with two of the comedic giants of the 20th century. ” She also worked with Andy Griffith in Destry Rides Again, and Subways Are for Sleeping with Phyllis Newman. “I was doing these shows to pay for acting lessons. I had intended to be a ballet dancer, and I got shifted over to theatre at that time. I always tell people, “Before you is a failed ballerina!”
Valerie came back to Broadway replacing Linda Lavin in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife and took it on tour, and then took Golda’s Balcony on the road and made the film adaptation.
Funny and warm, Valerie Harper talks about Tallulah Bankhead, the actress and film star, “People who don’t know her will get a kick out of this old broad saying terrible things”, and the script changes playwright Lombardo has been making on the road, including bringing in Broadway vet Jay Goede to play film editor Danny Miller.
Broadway producers are looking at a possible Fall opening for Looped, but meanwhile Valerie Harper is happy to be in Washington. “Arena Stage is like a zenith. There are certain theatres you want to have played. And Arena Stage is one of them.”
Looped plays at the Lincoln Theatre through June 28th.