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Valerie Angela Hogan (Harper), the manager of Forman-Lydell Antiques was married to Michael (Josh Taylor), an airline pilot based at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and the mother of three sons; man-about-town teen David (Jason Bateman) and twins Mark (Jeremy Licht) and Willie (Danny Ponce).
The Hogans lived on Crescent Drive in Oak Park, Illinois. Valerie and Michael had been married for 17 years when the series began.
Harper had won a raise in her Rhoda days after refusing to show up for work.
When she decided she deserved a bigger piece of the Valerie pie and tried the same strategy, NBC and Lorimar (the company that produced the show) shot an episode without her, then compromised and got her back on the set – for a week.
Then they fired her. The fight went public and got very ugly very quickly.
Producers spread the word that Harper quit because she was jealous over Jason Bateman’s growing popularity.
Bateman (who won the part of David Hogan after Kirk Cameron turned it down) just said he hadn’t been told anything about the situation.
As word of the fight and Harper’s subsequent dismissal got out, jokes made the rounds about what the show would be called without its titular actress. Where’s Valerie?, No Valerie and The New Valerie were suggested but those in charge decided on one nearly as poor – Valerie’s Family.
Valerie herself was said to be “back East,” and her character was eventually written out – killed off in a car accident.
Enter Sandy Duncan, who signed on as divorced Aunt Sandy (Michael’s sister) who took over the motherly duties. In June 1988, the producers excised all things Valerie and the show became The Hogan Family.
Sandy was first a guidance counsellor, then the vice principal of Colfax High School. She majored in psychology in college.
Duncan wanted everyone to know she didn’t have a hand in Harper’s departure and merely took the opportunity to star in an already established show.
“I made it clear that I did not want to be in the middle,” she said a few months after the final name change. “I would only accept if it was absolutely sure that Valerie was not coming back. It’s not true that the producers had me in the wings waiting while they got rid of Valerie.”
In the end, it seemed to work out for all involved. Lorimar had its show and sued Harper for breach of contract, whereupon she counter-sued and won, getting the last laugh.
Lorimar appealed, but settled out of court in an arrangement Harper’s attorney termed “very, very satisfactory.”
Valerie Harper passed away, aged 80, on 30 August 2019.