Valerie Harper may return to the series scene this year — but it won’t be in a vehicle that’s mean-spirited toward the senior set. The four-time Emmy winner is awaiting word on two pilots and says, “I’d love to do a series again and stay on the West Coast, but it has to be right. I turned down two pilots last year because they didn’t feel right to me.”
She explains, “I’ve been offered things that kind of make fun of older people, but not in a humorous way. It’s almost like a bunch of young guys in a room said, ‘Oh, what’s funny about an old woman?’ And then it gets to be tiresome. You can be absolutely legitimately funny with older people. Phil Rosenthal, who wrote ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ — the older couple played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle in that show were hilarious. But it wasn’t vulgar about her wanting a boob job or this or that — stuff that isn’t real.”
Harper, who’s among the stars of Saturday’s (1/7) Hallmark Channel Original Movie, “Fixing Pete” — is certainly no prig. For instance, “I did ‘Sex in the City,’ which was a wonderful show,” she notes. “You could say it was vulgar, but it was vulgarity in the service of comedy.”
And of course, she was absolutely bawdy, naughty and witty as notorious 1930s actress Tallulah Bankhead (“I’m pure as the driven slush”) in Looped, the role that brought her a 2010 Tony nomination. “I think we’re going to tour that, but it’s hard,” she says. “The truth is, most of the touring companies now are musicals, but this, Looped, was so hilariously funny. Tony and I are talking about it. He produced it,” she says, referring to her husband of 24 years, Tony Cacciotti.
Harper says she didn’t hesitate when it came to joining the cast of the very light romantic comedy, “Fixing Pete.” Her newspaper editor-in-chief role was “different for me — to play that kind of power person. She has her eye on saving the paper. In this time of papers going under, she’s grasping. And she’s got this guy (Dylan Bruno) who’s a real mess but he’s popular and the sports pages are what’s keeping her circulation going.” Harper’s character assigns rising fashion editor Brooke Burns to give the manchild a makeover to make him more presentable before he goes out on a book tour, and a battle of the sexes ensues. “I thought it harkened back to Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Brooke and Dylan did a fun job,” Harper says.
The actress, whose other recent turns have included playing a judge on “Drop Dead Diva” and the boozy aunt of Teri Hatcher on “Desperate Housewives,” also has her work as a Screen Actors Guild board member keeping her busy these days — and she’s part of SAG’s taskforce to help returning veterans find jobs.
She comments, “The older I get, the more I like being a crone. You know, the crones were the wise old women of the village. I don’t have to be cute.”
MEANWHILE: Harper is looking forward to being on hand for Betty White’s 90th Birthday celebration on NBC Jan. 16. The two have remained friends since their “Mary Tyler Moore Show” days, and Harper admits she’s in awe. “Betty is just an incredible woman, still going strong and doing all her stuff for animals. We see each other, yes, and I often call her for advice. I’ll say, ‘We found a cat. Where do we take it?’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, Valerie, there’s a no-kill shelter not too far from your house…’ And she always knows. She’s so involved, so on top of it all.”
NO EXCUSES: The story of blind high school football player Travis Freeman is getting the movie treatment as “Sight Unseen.” The film is now planned to begin production in early April in Kentucky, where the real story took place in the 1980s and 90s. Patricia Clarkson and Dylan Baker are set to star, and the cast is being filled out. When he was 12, Freeman nearly died and lost his sight in a battle with bacterial meningitis — but that didn’t stop him from playing center for the Corbin High Redhounds. He claimed blindness could even be an asset, in that opponents couldn’t use visual techniques to fake him out. He ran sprints, thrilled and inspired his teammates with his willingness to try anything. Good story.
THE BIG SCREEN SCENE: Large guys rule in “Take Down the House,” a comedy feature now in preproduction that’s being referred to as a “revenge of the fatties.” It’s about four young overweight dudes glad to have left their high school bullies behind and moved on to college, only to find a frat pack waiting to humiliate them. But this time, they’re not taking it anymore.