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Valerie Harper Savors Her Victory

September 19, 1988|DIANE HAITHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Twenty-four hours after her court victory, actress Valerie Harper sat beaming in the living room of her Beverly Hills home. The doorbell rang; in came a pastel flower arrangement, congratulating her on winning her bitter lawsuit against Lorimar Television. She put it across from another congratulatory bouquet. The sun streamed in. Calls of congratulations punctuated the morning.

"I don't know what today would be like had I lost the case," Harper said.

Harper's mother, bedridden with cancer, also happily pored over press reports of her daughter's exoneration. Harper's young adopted daughter frolicked through the house clutching a colorful bunch of helium-filled balloons.

Clearly, Valerie Harper and her husband, Tony Cacciotti, could sit back, relax and savor the moment for the first time in more than a year . . . for the first time since her legal battle had begun with Lorimar Television over her role in the NBC television series "Valerie."

On Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ended their 12-month legal dispute and three-week court battle with the unanimous decision that Harper was wrongfully fired from her role as homemaker Valerie Hogan on Lorimar's "Valerie" series last fall. The jury awarded Harper $1.4 million compensation for lost wages, as well as $220,000 to Cacciotti, formerly an executive producer on the show, and profit participation that could total $15 million.

"My major plan, desire, wish was that the truth of the situation be exposed and be exposed broadly," she said happily. "There were so many half-truths, and out-and-out untruths about me, my performing, about my stability as a person, my psychological state. It's so nice to see wrongfully fired after all I've seen is fired, fired, fired."

The money, she said, was not as gratifying as the chance to clear her name.

Harper hopes that her victory will lay to rest what she calls Lorimar's "twisted and exaggerated" portrait of her as "a hellish demon" who sought to "submarine the show."

"I have a sense that winning the case has been an extraordinary panacea in the eyes of the public, in the eyes of the media and in the eyes of the industry," she said. "The things about my being disruptive and difficult and all of those things--I've worked with too many people for that to hold any water. Nobody has ever said that I was troubled or had a drug problem or an alcohol problem or anything like that."

The case came to a head in the summer of 1987 when Harper and Cacciotti moved out of their offices on the Lorimar lot after a contract dispute in which she sought more money. Harper did not show up to shoot the first "Valerie" episode of the season because of the dispute. After what appeared to be a resolution of differences between her and Lorimar, Harper returned to the set to tape the next episode.

After that episode, Lorimar dismissed Harper and announced that the first episode of the season would explain that Valerie Hogan died in an accident. Sandy Duncan, as Valerie's sister-in-law, Sandy Hogan, replaced Harper as caretaker of the three Hogan boys, including teen idol Jason Bateman. The show was retitled "Valerie's Family." (This season it is being retitled again--to "The Hogan Family.")

Things got ugly. Lorimar sued Harper for $70 million for breach of contract, saying her erratic behavior, unreasonable financial and creative demands and threats to walk off the show had forced the company to replace her. In turn, Harper sued Lorimar and NBC for $180 million for breach of contract, saying she was ready, willing and able to perform in the series.

"I was willing to come back at any point," she said Saturday. "There still could have been a sister-in-law. Do you know what I'm saying? But the desire to hurt was so great, I think they wanted their retribution."

Harper also demanded that NBC stop using the name "Valerie" in the title of the show. NBC won the right to continue to use the title "Valerie's Family" for the rest of the 1987-88 TV season by agreeing to a speedy court date for the breach-of-contract suits.

Lorimar's charges that Harper's behavior bordered on insanity were widely publicized; company executives said that Harper had threatened she would walk off the show if her creative and financial demands were not met and that they feared she was nearing a nervous breakdown that might render her unable to perform.

"Things in print have a great deal of power," Harper said, thoughtfully. "Only time will tell (if there has been any permanent damage to her career). There are probably people who still believe that here is a greedy actress who quit her show."

Although Harper said she doesn't believe that she's been blackballed in Hollywood for suing a production company, she acknowledged that the litigation affected both the public's and the TV industry's perception of her while she awaited trial. "It's good copy, a hysterical woman--particularly with the sexism that's rampant out there," she said.

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