Valerie Harper is best known for her iconic role of Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and then her own spinoff, Rhoda. But a new documentary special on REELZ reveals the goofy and flamboyantly dressed character role almost went to another actress.

“When Valerie Harper auditioned for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, she was very prepared but she wasn’t counting on it,” says Deborah Wilker of The Hollywood Reporter in Valerie Harper: Behind Closed Doors.

“They had looked at so many actresses and they had almost decided on one and the casting director at CBS had been to see a show with an actress named Valerie Harper,” recalled Mary Tyler Moore, who was interviewed before her death in 2017.

But the part was not a lock for the future Rhoda star and competition for the role that would lead Harper to countless awards during her 50-year television career hung in the balance.

REELZ Reveals the Story Behind Valerie Harper Role as Rhoda in Tell-All Special
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“Valerie was not a huge star,” says TV biographer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. “She had been a dancer and she had done comedy. So she was quick on her feet but not a huge star in terms of television.”

“She came in and the first words that came out of her mouth were ‘This is gonna be my apartment!’ and it was read like nobody else had before her,” Moore continued.

Despite the universal love for Harper, she also faced challenges. Harper grappled with a very public contract dispute for the sitcom that bore her name, Valerie, which many believe tarnished her career.

Then in 2013, Harper revealed that she had terminal cancer and was told she had just months to live. Harper defied the odds, living six years longer than anyone had expected.

Natalie Morales hosts this special episode of Behind Closed Doors that reveals how Harper became one of the most popular television stars of all time. Those closest to Harper open up about how she persevered through personal tragedy with grace, positivity and a spirited will to live.

There is much more to find out as Morales hosts Valerie Harper: Behind Closed Doors, Sunday, August 30 at 8 ET/7 PT on REELZ.

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