Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yay! I Finished Another Book - "I, Rhoda" by Valerie Harper

Regular visitors to this blog know that I'm not as much of a book reader as I would like to be.  My feature here entitled "Yay! I Finished Another Book" is certainly an infrequent one.  I started it as a challenge for me to tackle all those books that I buy, yet never to seem to crack. 

The pattern with me is very typical.  A book that intrigues me comes out.  I will have to buy it as soon as the ink is dry.  And, then, invariably, it sits on a shelf.  There have been times when I run out to buy the hardcover and then I don't even read it until the paperback version has been out for several months.

So, given my supreme interest in all things "Mary Tyler Moore Show," I was a natural buyer when Valerie Harper's memoir entitled "I, Rhoda" came out in January.  I bought it almost instantaneously.  And it then immediately went onto my pile of books that would gather dust for a while.

Two months later, the author goes public with the very dire and mind-numbingly sad medical prognosis of terminal brain cancer.  I was shaken by this news, especially in light of how positive and inspiring she has shown to be in light of the ultimate end of her life.

Suddenly, I am staring at "I, Rhoda" on my book shelf and I am fiercely driven.  I need to read this memoir now.  I feel committed to finishing it while Ms. Harper is still with us.  Why?  I have no clue.  I don't know her.  I have friends who do.  Heck, my terrific financial advisor played her son on her 80s sitcom.  I know the book will be one of those Hollywood autobiographies that are fairly typical.

"When I was eight, I..."

"When I was in high school, I...."

"After my show went off the air, I..."

Plus I know there probably won't be too much gossipy dirt revealed by Valerie Harper.  Except for a lengthy trial over some contract negotiation on the aforementioned sitcom, you never really heard anything bad about her.  She's only had two husbands.  In Hollywood, that's almost akin to being celibate.

But, still, I had to read this book now.

So, on my cross country flight two weeks ago, I did.  Most of these Hollywood memoirs are incredibly fast reads and perfect for the LAX-JFK air corridor, even if you have to get up repeatedly to stretch.

And, as predicted, there was nothing terribly revealing and compelling about "I, Rhoda."  Yes, I learned what she did when she was eight.  Yes, I read about her dance career after high school.  And what she did after "Rhoda" went off the air.

So nothing was interesting?

Umm, no.  Indeed, I got to spend some time with a damn good actress who apparently worked very hard at her craft and gave me and others some golden television moments.  She devoted time to the universe for some noble causes.  And she just seemed to live...well, a good life.

What the heck is wrong about reading that?

Oh, there are some fun little tidbits.  Like her story about a young carpenter working on her home renovations.  He falls, breaks his arm, and, oh, by the way, that guy's name is...Harrison Ford.  Or working as a young dancer behind Lucille Ball on Broadway.  Or relating a tale about a chance meeting with Shirley McLaine in a super market.

It's not titillating or salacious.  Probably a disappointment to lots of folks.  Not to me. 

One of the closing chapters is quite bittersweet.  Harper triumphantly tells the tale of her lung cancer surgery in 2009.  Never a smoker, she doesn't understand how this could have possibly happened.  But she takes you step-by-step through her treatment and recovery.  Of course, we now know that this little cancer cell is now likely what creeped into another part of her body.  You share the euphoria of the chapter, but are shattered because you know what it is come after the book's publication.

I think back as well to her life and mine. The very first spec script I ever attempted was an episode of "Rhoda."  How much time has passed since that day?  How much time is yet to come?  For Ms. Harper.  For us all.  She advises us in her book to live the good life.

And live well we should. 

Bravo, Valerie Harper.  Thanks for allowing me to spend some time with you on American Airlines Flight 118.  And keep up the good fight.

Dinner last night:  Steak, broccoli, and salad.

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