iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Vicki Abelson


Valerie Harper ~ The Will And Grace

Posted: 06/12/2013 7:28 am

Wrong show.

I know.

Photo by Sonya Sones

I loved Mary. And Phyllis, Sue Ann Nivens and Georgette... but I was, I am, a Rhoda. Through Rhoda, Valerie Harper gave me and countless other girls permission to be outspoken, opinionated, talk with a funny accent and dream of shining in a supporting role so brightly as to become a leading lady and a star, while remaining true to her essence.

A woman of grace, she's garnered nothing but praise, not only for the talent and the funny, but also for the person she is and has always been.

For a bossy yet sensitive Jewish girl from the Bronx, it's what I aspired to.

I met Valerie and her husband Tony Cacciotti last year right around the time her memoir, I, Rhoda, was dropping. I was immediately struck by the love, care and respect they share. I wanted what they were having. Warm and gracious, they patiently listened as I made my pitch for her to read at Women Who Write. Which takes place in my living room. On the other end of LA. Right in the middle of her fancy schmancy book tour.

I know.

Lest you judge, Carl Reiner, Garry Marshall, Micky Dolenz, Kevin Pollak, Jackie Collins, Marlee Matlin and Robert Morse are a few who've made the pilgrimage.

I know.

I continued my pursuit on The Facebook. But we weren't friends and you know where those messages go...

Me neither.

Fate stepped in to lend a miracle.

Pamela Cameron, a Women Who Write regular who works part time as a salesgirl, waited on Valerie a month or so ago and reconnected us. A few weeks and emails later, sans fanfare, Valerie and Tony arrived at my home in time to cheer on singer-songwriter, Cynthia Carle and writers Wendy Lawless and Judi Hollis. Cause that's the way they roll.

If I were told that my time was limited, how would I spend it? Dinner in Paris? Seeing every play on London's West End? Begging Ryan Gosling to sleep with me? What the hell was she doing readying to read to a roomful of mostly middle-aged women on a Tuesday afternoon, a schlep-and-a-half from civilization?

Valerie isn't living her bucket list. She's living her life.

Defying age and any inkling of illness, Valerie took to the podium with the feisty passion, enthusiasm and good humor of Rhoda Morgenstern. I swear there were moments she looked exactly like she did in the '70s and sounded precisely like one of the tribe.

She noted something specific and special about each of the performances, a gracious act of generosity, which dispelled any notion that her organ in question was firing on fewer than all cylinders.

She read a bit from her charming, funny, informative, I, Rhoda, something she doesn't usually do, but she wanted to honor our forum. She encouraged us to ask questions. She answered them dispassionately, rationally and without censor, about her symptoms, illness, diagnosis and spiritual beliefs.

She was calm and measured. We were a mess.

In spite of the only six day advance booking, and being packed to the kishkas, it was an almost effortless event. It flowed and was drenched with love. Just like Valerie.

They say we reap what we sow.

For the past two weeks people have been sharing their stories, one more extraordinary than the next. What's come through from all of them is Valerie's consistent, extreme kindnesses when no one's looking. Typified this day.

Not only was she determined to sign every book, she made sure to date each one as well, so they would have more value for the owner. She shared a hug, a few words, and took a picture with each and everyone... never stopping to eat, or drink, sitting in the most uncomfortable chair in my house to be more accessible, and staying way past her allotted time, causing her to have to rush like crazy to her next appointment.

What Valerie did for just about every woman in the room as Rhoda was magnified a gazillionfold that day... showing up for us, deeming us that important, exemplifying the true power of now, of sheer will and grace, and filling our hearts to overflowing. The day was a collective treasure. Goddess energy at its best. Valerie our queen. Long may she reign.

Valerie Harper is teaching me how to live.

I'm a Rhoda. I aspire to be... a Valerie.

Follow Vicki on Twitter here:
Follow Vicki on The Facebook
More Vicki click here
Contact Vicki here
Join Vicki Abelson's Women Who Write Facebook Group here
Join Vicki Abelson's Women Who Write Meetup here

To watch Women Who Write celebrity readings and performances click here.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Loading Slideshow...
  • The Disney Princess

    <strong>Who:</strong> Ann Sweeney (53) <strong>Why:</strong> In a world where young girls dream of being like Cinderella, Snow White, and Jasmine -- we can't help but think how cool it is that there's a new Disney princess to look up to: Ann Sweeney. As the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney-ABC Television Group, she is a woman in a predominately male business. Sweeney uses this platform to work in organizations such as Cable Positive - a group of CEOs that work with the media's resources in the fight against AIDS. Photo: Getty

  • The Fashion Icon

    <strong>Who:</strong> Grace Coddington (70) <strong>Why:</strong> The Creative Director for U.S. <em>Vogue</em> stole the show in the 2009 documentary "The September Issue" where she fearlessly goes head to head with <a href="" target="_hplink">"ice-queen"</a> Anna Wintour. It goes without saying, her trademark hair is pretty amazing, too. Photo: Getty

  • The Philanthropist

    <strong>Who:</strong> Wallis Annenberg (72) <strong>Why:</strong> She's not your average philanthropic socialite! The heiress publisher-turned-public benefactor donates her time and money to making cities like Los Angeles well rounded and beautiful. Bob Colacello's portrait of Miss Annenberg for <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Vanity Fair</a></em> is one of our favorites. Photo: Getty

  • The California Girl

    <strong>Who:</strong> Dianne Feinstein (78) <strong>Why:</strong> In many ways, it seems the San-Francisco born Feinstein has been a heavy-hitter since the day she was born. The former (and first-female) San Francisco Mayor is a California girl thru-and-thru who has survived divorce, death, and even representing the Democrats in the Senate. Photo: Getty

  • The Empowerer

    Who: Oprah Winfrey (57) Why: Oh Oprah, how do we love thee? Let me count the ways... besides being "arguably the world's most powerful woman," according to <em><a href="" target="_hplink">TIME</a></em>, Oprah has a philanthropic compulsion to match her monetary earnings. Through her <a href="" target="_hplink">Angel Network</a> and <a href="" target="_hplink">Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy</a>, she has supported women's shelters, built youth centers and homes, created academic scholarships and established more than 50 schools around the world. Photo: Getty

  • The Zen Master

    <strong>Who:</strong> Donna Karan (63) <strong>Why:</strong> The international wellness crusader started her <a href="" target="_hplink">Urban Zen Foundation</a> (UZF) in the months following her husband's death to cancer. The UZF and the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy programs strive to integrate of yoga, meditation and aromatherapy into conventional treatment regimens. Photo: Getty

  • The Resilient Author

    <strong>Who: </strong>Joan Didion (76) <strong>Why:</strong> After the literary icon behind "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" and "Play It As It Lays" endured the deaths of both her husband and daughter - she gave us the gift of "The Year Of Magical Thinking". "Blue Nights," Joan Didion's memoir about her daughter, Quintana, will be released on Nov. 1, 2011. Photo: Getty

  • The Reinventor

    <strong>Who:</strong> Maria Shriver (55) <strong>Why:</strong> After experiencing public betrayal, Shriver really showed her grace. She's won a Peabody Award and two Emmys for her broadcast journalism, but she's won the heart of her fans through her empathy and reliability. Post-scandal, she's back on the saddle again -- Shriver <a href="" target="_hplink">interviewed</a> Wallis Annenberg for <em>Los Angeles Magazine</em>'s inaugural "Women's Issue". Photo: Getty

  • The Go-To Girl

    <strong>Who: </strong>Barbara Walters (82) <strong>Why: </strong>She's undeniably the queen of interviews having questioned the likes of Monica Lewinsky, Hugo Chavez, Anna Wintour, Katherine Hepburn and Anwar Al Sadat -- to name a few. Now holding the reigns on <em>The View</em> she's as strong as she's ever been. Photo: Getty

  • The CEO

    <strong>Who:</strong> Indra Nooyi (55) <strong>Why:</strong> The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo was the 2011 <a href="" target="_hplink">BlogHer</a> Keynote speaker and blew the crowd away. Business Week quoted Roger Enrico as saying, "Indra can drive as deep and hard as anyone I've ever met, but she can do it with a sense of heart and fun." Photo: Getty

  • The Funny Girl

    <strong>Who:</strong> Ellen Degeneres (53) <strong>Why:</strong> The 13-time Emmy winner has more than a fantastic sense of humor going for her. Not only did she risk <em>everything</em> to come out and conquer LGBT issues, she consistently supports the charitable efforts of the <a href="" target="_hplink">American Red Cross</a> and the <a href="" target="_hplink">Farm Sanctuary</a>. Photo: Getty

  • The Rockstar

    <strong>Who:</strong> Bonnie Raitt (61) <strong>Why:</strong> The best-selling, classic blues-playing rockstar follows in rebel music history with her long-standing political activism. She frequently speaks out against politicians she doesn't support and just as often she praises those she admires. In 2000, she was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame - for a game that mostly men play - but we aren't knocking her dad, John, because we loved him too. Photo: Getty

  • The Academy Queen

    <strong>Who:</strong> Meryl Streep (62) <strong>Why:</strong> Not only does she have 16 Academy Award nominations and 25 Golden Globe nominations, but she often has won these accolades playing roles that defy the gender roles assigned to women. Streep plays Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming film, "The Iron Lady". Photo: Getty

  • The Peacemaker

    Who: Hillary Clinton (63) Why: The current Secretary of State is no stranger to gossip. She has always risen above adversity with dignity and style. Not only was she an active First Lady, but she did as we know, run for President herself. No shame in that! Photo: Getty

  • The Power Player

    Who: Diane Sawyer (65) Why: The former host of <em>Good Morning America </em>and current anchor of <em>ABC World News</em> has interviewed famous people such as Robert McNamara, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Madonna, and Roman Polanski. She was one accused of being "Deep Throat" and has fought the "Mommy War" rumors with ease. Photo: Getty

  • The 'Leading' Lady

    <strong>Who:</strong> Angela Merkel (57) <strong>Why:</strong> The current Chancellor of Germany has epitomized a female in a position of leadership. <em><a href=",28804,2066367_2066369_2066098,00.html #ixzz1bTuNodMU " target="_hplink">TIME Magazine</a></em> once said, she has "a spirit of compromise in the service of a genuine ambition -- and fed by a desire for openness." According to <a href="" target="_hplink">ABC News</a>, Merkel is the "undisputed leader of the EU." Not bad. Photo: Getty

  • The Pioneer

    <strong>Who:</strong> Jill Abramson (57) <strong>Why:</strong> We call her "The Pioneer" because Jill Abramson is the first female editor of the <em>New York Times</em> in the newspaper's history. Some rumors have her as difficult to work with and others proclaim her dedication to NYC based on the subway token tattoo she has on her right shoulder (via <em><a href="" target="_hplink">Forbes</a></em>). Either way you swing it, she's a woman who is revolutionizing the way women are viewed in media and publishing. Photo: Patrick McMullan

  • The Helper

    <strong>Who:</strong> Condoleezza Rice (56) <strong>Why:</strong> The former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor did not forget the importance of strong educational roots. After her time concluded at the White House, Rice returned to Stanford as a Political Economy Professor in the Graduate School of Business. Rice has been prolific in female society roles. She is on the Board at both the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Photo: Getty

  • The Girl's Girl

    <strong>Who:</strong> Gloria Steinem (77) <strong>Why:</strong> As the leader of the Women's Liberation Movement, Steinem has been at this for a while -- and she's not backing down. She co-founded the Women's Media Center, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and <em>Ms. Magazine</em>. She is writing a book about her activism, with the working title of "Road to the Heart: America As if Everyone Mattered." Photo: Getty

  • The Movie Star

    <strong>Who:</strong> Michelle Pfeiffer (53) <strong>Why:</strong> The one-time Cat woman has shied away from press in the past, but her recent cover for <em>Elle Magazine</em>'s "Women In Hollywood 2011" issue has reminded us all that she never really left the limelight. Photo: Getty


Follow Vicki Abelson on Twitter: