I was first introduced to Valerie's brilliance when I started watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the fall of 2010, my junior year of college. My biggest regret is that I didn't start watching sooner. I'm a child of the past; my favorite music and television shows pretty much all come from the '60s, '70s, and '80s. So while Nick @ Nite, TV Land, and DVDs had given me a good foundation, MTM had slipped under the radar. But that September my life changed. I fell in love with the entire cast, but while Mary Richards was the show's star, Rhoda Morgenstern was my star.
It had always been hard for me to make friends, and I often felt on the outside in relationships I did have. Sitcom characters became surrogate friends for me, and Rhoda was no exception. Rhoda kept me company and made me feel less alone, not only that semester, but from then on. She was my best pal that next semester when I was studying abroad in London and had a hard time fitting in with my group. She was there for me when I struggled with my transition to graduate school and other life struggles last semester. Rhoda was someone that I could identify with, someone I knew would understand me if she were a real person. I have struggled with my body image. Felt unsuccessful compared to others. Have been unlucky in love. Of course, Rhoda was more fashionable than I am, more street-smart and funny. But we were both young Jewish girls from New York, hoping for something better in life but not being afraid to seize upon our desires.
I'm looking for an appropriate clip to aptly summarize my feelings for Rhoda, but the one I'm searching for must have been removed from YouTube. So to paraphrase one of Valerie's comments in the MTM 20th Anniversary special, "Mary was the girl you wanted to be, Rhoda was the one you probably were, and Phyllis was the one you were afraid of becoming." You know what, Valerie? Rhoda was always the one I wanted to be. I admired her big heart and her wonderful friendship with Mary. She was spunky, she was gutsy, she was real. She was vulnerable, yet strong. And despite her insecurities, she was beautiful. I suppose I identified with Rhoda in that way too; it's difficult to see yourself the way that your loved ones see you.
But Rhoda wasn't the only one I fell in love with; I was loved Valerie as well. First of all, I loved that it never bothered her to be identified as Rhoda so many years after MTM and Rhoda had ended. She was proud of her character. She loved her just as much as her fans do. And that made both Rhoda and Valerie all the more special. Valerie was Rhoda and Rhoda was Valerie.
I loved learning more about the woman behind the character through interviews and other video clips. It's a rarity for actors to be like the characters they portray in real life, but Valerie goes above and beyond Rhoda. She has even more heart, dynamism, and grace. She is beautiful inside and out. Like Rhoda, Valerie is also the kind of person I wish I could be friends with.
And in a way, I have been. I've been fortunate enough to communicate with Valerie a few times via twitter. So many celebrities don't give you the time of day. Valerie is a celebrity in another sense of the word; she is extraordinary because she is so human. And she made the Rhoda-esque, often insecure me feel special. She responded to my first tweet about how I joined twitter just so I could follow her. Complimented me on my Rhoda costume for my first (and only) college Halloween party. At our last exchange, I inquired if she had an address I could send fan mail to. She said that with facebook and twitter, people could get in contact with her easily. She's correct-yes, Valerie even accepted me as a friend on facebook. I had asked that question, though, because I wanted to do what I am doing now; express how much her career has meant to me in something longer than 140 characters. Maybe I'd be fortunate enough to get an autographed photo of her too. I'm not a collector in the slightest, but to have tangible recognition from her would have meant the world to me. But in her response, she did address me by my real name. And that was enough. I decided not to press further.
I was so excited to hear about Valerie's development and release of I, Rhoda. What an honor to get an intimate look at the life of the woman behind the character I so admired. For some reason, though, I didn't order the book right away. I scolded myself for waiting so long, and eventually ordered it in late February.
On March 6, the day the news broke out, I, Rhoda appeared at my doorstep. I had a feeling it would. I needed that book then more than ever. And here was Valerie comforting me during her time of need. Just as she's been encouraging others to stay strong throughout this ordeal. The more I read about her condition, the sadder I become, but I also become more inspired. Reading Valerie's words, "Live the best life you can. Be as healthy as possible," coaxed me to reevaluate my priorities, let the bad things slip away, and focus on what's most important. Just as Rhoda gave me an outlet, a friend to turn to, Valerie continues to help me emerge from myself and strive to be the best person I can be. Her courage and her strength inspire me more than words can say.
Valerie, thank you for the gifts you have given me through your acting and your humanity. It is an honor to be your fan. I'm excited to learn even more about you as I finish your memoir. You are my inspiration.