Five reasons we loved Rhoda, TV's best sidekick ever

Valerie Harper has had a star-studded, five-decade Hollywood career, winning Emmys and a Golden Globe, acting on Broadway, starring in "Valerie"/"The Hogan Family," and even popping up on "Desperate Housewives." But we're not going to lie -- to us, and to millions of viewers, she'll always be Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary's best pal on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and then returning to New York and marrying on the spinoff "Rhoda." Here are five reasons we loved that character so.

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    Image: Valerie Harper Book Signing For "I, Rhoda"

    Valerie Harper

    The Emmy Award-winning star of "Rhoda" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" boasts an acting career that dates back to the 1950s.

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    Actress and author -

    Valerie Harper, seen here signing her book "I, Rhoda" in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2013, announced in March that she has terminal brain cancer. "I've had a good run," Harper, 73, told People magazine. "What more could I ask for?"

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    Pinching a pal -

    Harper mugs with Cloris Leachman in 2011. The two actresses co-starred together on the 1970s hit "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," with Harper playing Mary Richards' best friend Rhoda Morgenstern, and Leachman playing landlady Phyllis Lindstrom.

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    Mary's gang -

    Harper and more members of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" cast reunited in 2008 when co-star Betty White, who played Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens, was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. From left, the cast members are Gavin MacLeod, Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore, White, Harper, and Ed Asner.

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    From one great ensemble to another -

    "Mary Tyler Moore" cast members MacLeod, Leachman, Moore, Harper, Georgia Engel and Asner present the award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series at the 2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. The award that year went to the cast of "The Sopranos."

    Mark J. Terrill / AP
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    Family affair -

    Harper starred on her own 1980s family-themed sitcom, which changed titles from "Valerie" to "Valerie's Family" to "The Hogan Family." Josh Taylor played her husband, a pilot, with Danny Ponce, Jeremy Licht and Jason Bateman as her sons.

    NBCU Photo Bank
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    Comedy crossing generations -

    In 1982, Harper posed with legendary comedian Red Buttons in Los Angeles.

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    Colorful and classy -

    Harper was long known for her colorful use of head scarves, as seen here in this image from her "Mary Tyler Moore" spinoff, "Rhoda," in 1975.

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    Name in lights -

    Harper, shown here in 1975 at the set of "Rhoda," began with the character of Rhoda Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in 1970. Her character, Mary's best friend, became so popular that from 1974-1978, she starred in the "Rhoda" spinoff, which took the character away from Mary in Minneapolis and back to her hometown of New York. Although Morgenstern was famously Jewish, Harper herself is Catholic.

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    Friends forever -

    Harper and Moore share a laugh in 1975. After Harper left for "Rhoda," she still made appearances on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." In 2000, the actresses revisited their characters for the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda." In the film, both women are single with college-age daughters and living in New York. Fans were critical of the movie because it barely referenced the universe of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

    CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images
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    All together now -

    The "Rhoda" cast featured Harold J. Gould and Nancy Walker as Rhoda's parents, Julie Kavner as sister Brenda, Harper, and David Groh as Rhoda's husband Joe.

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    Emmy winners -

    Harper and "Mary Tyler Moore" co-star Ed Asner won Emmys for best supporting actress and actor in 1971. Harper would also win the supporting actress Emmy in 1972 and 1973, and then the Emmy for lead actress in 1975 once she'd moved on to "Rhoda."

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1. Rhoda and Mary forever

How is this not the best female friendship ever depicted on TV? They fought at first, as New Yorker Rhoda's brashness clashed with Mary's Minnesota Nice. But in the end, no pals were better, no sidekick more entertaining. In an third-season episode where Rhoda plans to move back to New York (but changes her mind), Mary buys and returns three farewell gifts before confessing she can't find anything that's an appropriate farewell to her best friend. The room awwws, except for blustery newscaster Ted Baxter, who snorts "What a cheapo!"

2. Rhoda and chocolate

Back before the dieting woman was a cliche played out in "Cathy" cartoons, Rhoda handled her supposed weight problem (she always looked fine to us, if not as stick-thin as Mare) with aplomb. You've heard this line said a million times and seen it on greeting cards and magnets that are supposed to be funny, but it was Rhoda who said of a piece of chocolate, "I don't know why I should even bother to eat this. I should just apply it directly to my hips." Rhoda also informed Mary that "cottage cheese solves nothing, chocolate can do it all."

3. Rhoda and men

Rhoda and Mary fought the good fight in the dating world until Rhoda left for her own show and married Joe. But when they were single, they were an unstoppable pair. When landlady Phyllis once snotted at them, "I just thought I'd see what you swingin' singles do for fun," it was Rhoda who retorted with, "Same as you -- sit around and wonder what it would be like to have a happy marriage." 

4. 'Rhoda' opening credits

There's just something so Rhoda about seeing her booking it across town in her flowing wedding gown and veil, hiking up her skirt and swinging her tan purse over her shoulder. But the entire opening credit sequence is great, up to and including the childish "la la la LA la" theme song. They don't make TV openings like they used to.

5. Mary and Rhoda, reunited

Mary Tyler Moore made a guest appearance on a "Rhoda" episode where Rhoda and Joe had planned a weekend in Cape Cod. Rhoda was too kind to tell her Minneapolis friend that she couldn't stay and visit despite hubby Joe's wishes. Their fight resulted in a great scene where Rhoda went out on the balcony and screamed out her fury in silence, in a great pantomine scene that showed off Harper's acting skills. Sorry, Joe. You were always going to lose to Mary anyway.

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