Friday, January 10, 2020

Top TV Moments: Karen Valentine

What’s fascinating to me about Karen Valentine is how her career parallels that of Mary Tyler Moore…until it doesn’t. 

Both were young, attractive brunette ingénues when they were cast in a hit television series – Moore in The Dick Van Dyke Show, Valentine in Room 222. Both shows featured outstanding writing and remarkable ensemble casts. And both Moore and Valentine earned Emmy Awards for their work.

After that, Moore would be given her own series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And Valentine would be given her own series, Karen. Moore’s show became an Emmy-winning classic that secured her place as one of television’s most beloved stars. But Karen, despite being created by such esteemed talents as Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds and Carl Kleinschmitt, was canceled after 13 episodes.

What happened? Depends who you ask. But because of that second classic show Moore is rightly recalled as one of the first ladies of television despite several later, failed attempts at another hit. And while Valentine still worked steadily, It was mostly in made-for-TV movies that were out of circulation for years before YouTube.

What a difference those 13 episodes could have made.

The Ed Sullivan Show (1964)
I have not seen Karen Valentine’s TV debut, for which IMDB has her listed only as singer/dancer. But I always like to list a star’s first appearance. It would be fun to track down the footage from this episode, which also featured Harry Belafonte.

Dream Girl of ’67 (1966)
Valentine’s first series was this now-forgotten, year long beauty pageant created by Chuck Barris. 

A celebrity panel put five contestants through their paces in each episode, with different girls winning the title of ‘Dream Girl’ of the day, the week, the month, and ultimately the entire year. Karen Valentine replaced original hostess Beverly Adams (both were billed on the series as “Resident Dream Girl.”)

Room 222 (1969)
From the moment those school bus doors closed on student -teacher Alice Johnson, Karen Valentine became one of those America’s Sweetheart TV stars that people just loved to watch. 

Teaching at Walt Whitman High was a challenge for even more experienced educators like Pete Dixon. But in episodes like “Alice in Blunderland” viewers watched Alice struggle to learn the ropes and persevere. She was naïve and nervous, but never dumb – this was not a series that would portray a teacher that way. My favorite Alice episode is “Write On, Brother,” in which students launch an underground newspaper. Alice’s support for the effort is tested when the paper does a hit piece on her.

Gidget Grows Up (1969)
Karen Valentine starred in more than 20 made-for-TV movies – this was the first. When we meet Gidget here she’s a college dropout who moves to New York to become a guide at the United Nations. There, she catches the eye of an Arab sheik, a hotel busboy, and a (much older) ambassador’s aide. 

As in the 1965 series, Gidget narrates much of her own story, and Valentine’s vocal inflections sometimes recall those of series star Sally Field. Paul Petersen plays Moondoggie, who is now in the military, and Bob Cummings plays her wise, understanding father (and is surprisingly good in the role Don Porter owned). Paul Lynde delivers some laughs as Gidget’s eccentric movie buff landlord, but somehow the whole thing doesn’t come together. Maybe Gidget without the beach is like Emma Peel without London.

Hollywood Squares (1970)
Valentine spent seven years and more than 170 episodes on this popular daytime and nighttime game show, including some in the famed center square. She was one of the better panelists at making a phony answer sound authentic.

The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972)
Produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, two names famed for escapist TV, this is a delightful movie starring Buddy Ebsen as a Wyoming widower trying to bring his three adult daughters back to his ranch. When all three prefer to stay in the city, he recruits three wayward women to take their place – a hooker (Lesley Anne Warren), a con artist (Karen Valentine) and a pickpocket (Sandra Dee). 

They’re all “bad girls” but in the wholesome TV movie way, and Valentine in particular is a hoot as her character tries to adjust to frontier life. An already stellar cast is further buoyed by Jack Elam, for once not playing a crazy old coot.

The Girl Who Came Gift-Wrapped (1974)
A magazine publisher (Richard Long) receives a bikini-clad girl (Karen Valentine) as a birthday present. Sounds like a set-up for a skit on Love, American Style. But there’s a lot more going on in this surprisingly touching (and funny) TV movie with a wonderful cast – Farrah Fawcett, Tom Bosley, Dave Madden and Reta Shaw. This may be the best remembered of Valentine’s TV movies – and that’s not a bad choice if it is. 

Karen (1975)
A time slot where the lead-in was Hot L Baltimore didn’t help. The recasting of Denver Pyle with Charles Lane was a sign that the cast chemistry wasn’t coming together. And when two of the first three scripts were scrapped before going into production, warning bells were likely sounded. But audiences really liked Karen Valentine, so there was still confidence this series would work. She played Karen Angelo, a lobbyist in Washington DC. Some reviews were positive, but others were merciless. The website TV Obscurities has a great article with more details about the show and why it didn’t click with viewers. 

Starsky and Hutch (1977)
The plot of “Fatal Charm” predates the film Fatal Attraction – Hutch meets Diane, an attractive nurse, and some casual flirtation leads to spending the night together. Valentine plays the troubled young lady, whose behavior grows more and more erratic. The climax offers a gender switch on Psycho, with Hutch as the victim in the shower and Diane as the knife-wielding maniac. 

Muggable Mary, Street Cop  (1982)
Here is yet another enjoyable TV movie now available to watch again thanks to YouTube. Valentine plays Mary, a single parent in New York City who joins the police force not because she wants to protect and serve, but because they have a great medical plan that will help her son, who was born with a medical condition that requires several surgeries. To the surprise of everyone, including herself, she excels at the job. 

She couldn’t count on ‘cute’ anymore as she did in earlier bits of fluff like Coffee, Tea or Me (1973), but here Valentine excels as a flawed adult who, like Alice Johnson, is still finding her way in the world. And bonus points for not overdoing the New York accent.


  1. Your link to TV Obscurities had some extra characters on it, so it didn't work. I found the article here:

    The opening of KAREN reminds me of an MTM sitcom, w/ the lead going all over the city where the show is set. Maybe this could've worked if produced by MTM.

    I know this is outside the scope of your page, but Ms. Valentine also had some good starring roles in a couple of late-1970s Disney movies, "Hot Lead & Cold Feet" and "The North Avenue Irregulars" (where Cloris Leachman also did a great job). Unfortunately this is about the time when Disney gave up on family-friendly G-rated movies for the most part.

  2. Mr. Hofstede, have you seen the 1982 TV movie "Money on the Side"? Karen Valentine, Jamie Lee Curtis, Linda Purl, Christopher Lloyd, and Susan Flannery were all in it.

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for a great piece on Karen Valentine. Sure did love Karen on 'Room 222', it was a Friday night staple on our tv for 5 years. I follow this guy on youtube 'Visiting gravesites with Steve', and just a week or so ago he visited Lloyd Haynes grave & asked if anyone remembered his Pete Dixon role. Anyway, glad to see Karen is still with us :)