She garnered fame for her portrayal of the much-loved Jewish New Yorker Rhoda Morgenstern on “Mary Tyler Moore,” and now Valerie Harper will take on the role of yet another strong Jewish woman, Golda Meir. Harper is starring in the film adaptation of William Gibson’s Broadway play “Golda’s Balcony,” which featured Tovah Feldshuh in the lead role and, with 493 performances, was the longest running one-woman show in the history of the Great White Way. Like the play, Gibson’s screen adaptation, directed by Jeremy Kagan, follows the span of Meir’s life and career. Harper plays all the roles in the film. Although Feldshuh was nominated for a Tony and won a Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Meir on Broadway, Harper was not shy about making the role her own.
“I know Tovah, and I love her. She’s a really gifted actress, [but] I used Golda much more than Tovah in my preparation for the role,” Harper told The Shmooze. “I think that Golda herself was the appeal.”
Harper, who is not Jewish but because of her Rhoda days is commonly mistaken for a member of the Tribe — “I have the neshoma, I’ve been told” — did extensive research on Israel’s first female prime minister in preparation for her performance. She originally appeared in the play’s national tour following its Broadway run. “I felt a huge responsibility, because [Meir] is so wonderful and I wanted to honor her life and her very being in a way that was appropriate,” she said. “It’s a really important story, especially right now.”
She added, “I’ve been a Zionist all my life, before I even knew the word for it.”
“Golda’s Balcony” will be released in New York on October 10.
This story "From Rhoda to Golda" was written by Sarah Kricheff.