Actress Valerie Harper is under attack by a Broadway playwright for not disclosing to him that she was suffering from brain cancer. According to reports, the beloved 74-year-old star of the iconic 1970s comedy series, Rhoda, had signed on to headline in the Broadway production Looped, written by playwright Matthew Lombardo. Harper is being sued by Lombardo, who is claiming the actress hid her diagnosis and ruined his show.
Back in 2010, Harper had signed on to play the lead role of “Tallulah Bankhead” in the production, which was scheduled for a Broadway run and a subsequent national tour. A box office bomb by Broadway standards, Looped played just 27 previews and 25 performances before the final curtain. Despite the poor attendance, Harper received a Tony Award nomination for her work in the play.
The lawsuit is brought against Harper and her husband, Tony Cacciotti, who was also a producer of Looped. Court papers claim that during rehearsals in preparation for taking the play on the road, Harper had been excessively flubbing lines and ultimately bowed out of the production soon after revealing that she was terminally sick with brain cancer. Now gone from the production, Harper and Cacciotti sued Lombardo for not paying out the remainder of her contract. Lombardo’s counter suit alleges that the actress, who was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, and her husband had plenty of time to reveal her sickness long before the cancer had spread to her brain in 2013. According to papers filed in a Manhattan federal court, Lomabardo is seeking two million dollars in damages from Harper, 500 thousand dollars to recoup losses following the leading lady’s departure, and another 1.5 million dollars in punitive damages.
No longer hiding her illness, Harper went public with her diagnosis back in March of last year, claiming she had a mere three months to live. The star made numerous TV appearances and magazine covers with the news of her terminal condition. Not long after undergoing treatment, Harper found herself as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars where she drummed up a lot of sympathy from viewers and was applauded for her fighting spirit and her will to live. Those closest to Harper say that being sued is a stress that someone battling cancer should not have had to endure. As for Looped, In true Broadway fashion, the show did go on. The national tour continued with actress Stephanie Powers replacing Harper, however the show did not perform to its expectations.
Harper has been an fixture in entertainment for over 60 years. The actress started performing as a chorus dancer on Broadway in the late 1950s and got her big break as “Rhoda,” the best friend and upstairs neighbor to “Mary,” in the 1970s classic sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore show. Harper remained a part of the series from 1970 until 1974, when her character was given a spin-off series, entitled Rhoda, that aired from 1974 to 1978. Harper would go on to win four prime time Emmy Awards and one Golden Globe Award for the role.
As for the current state of her health, Harper’s representatives say that the actress, while not cancer-free, has been in ongoing treatment and is responding well. At the moment, her cancer appears to be in remission as she now focuses on fighting a lawsuit brought against her for allegedly hiding her diagnosis.
By Hal Banfield