Karen Valentine describes the difficult road that led to her award-winning portrayal as a student turned teacher in the hit TV show Room 222.
The show that catapulted her into popularity and aired almost 50 years ago is a love she still holds dear, unlike her stint on The Dating Game, which she acknowledges was a “awful” experience with no love lost.
Before becoming famous, superstars such as Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Leif Garret, and Farrah Fawcett appeared on The Dating Game, the first dating reality show that not only generated hundreds of similar concepts in the future, but also served as a launchpad for new actors.
Karen Valentine was one of those stars who, after appearing on Chuck Barris’ Dream Girl in 1967, was invited to the dating show founded by Barris as well.
Valentine, a former teen beauty queen, was sent to interview three suitable bachelors who were placed behind a dividing wall.
She admitted that she assumed the appearance would be “harmless fun,” but that her “choice” made it a nightmare.
“That was terrible, because the guy thought this was going to be a date, right?” Later on, The Dating Game became more serious, with people being taken on excursions,” Valentine, now 76, told Closer Weekly. “I only went to the Ambassador Hotel to see a show, but the guy thought we were going to make out in the limo, and it was like, ‘You know this is a first date, right?’” It was filthy. You’d go to dinner and then to a show, which was the reward I got, but the guy took it seriously. I wanted to cancel the date. “Save the money, who needs to go on a date?” Let me try again.
Leaving that sorrow behind, Valentine was cast in the TV movie Gidget Grows Up (1969), which led to her main part in the hit television series Room 222 (1969–1974). The avant-garde TV drama revolved around a black high school teacher–played by the award-winning Lloyd Haynes 1934 to 1987–who attempted to instill tolerance in his students.
Brooks–the mind behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, as well as films like As Good as it Gets and Terms of Endearment–and Gene Reynolds, one of MAS*H’s developers and producers.
Room 222 won Outstanding New Series at the Primetime Emmy Awards in 1970, while Valentine and Michael Constantine, who both appeared in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002, won supporting roles.
“It was kind of mind-blowing to have that happen so soon, so quickly,” Valentine said of her first nomination and victory. “And meeting Carol Burnett and hearing her say, ‘Well, congratulations for this.’” It was as though she was saying, ‘Thank you.’ But Carol Burnett would recognise me? Simply incredible.”
When she met another great actor, the young actress was starstruck.
“I remember at the time, I was taking singing lessons, and I went to my singing class,” Valentine said. “Gregory Peck was also taking lessons… I was at the teacher’s piano when he passed by, and he spotted me through the window and mimed, ‘You did it!’ ‘Oh my God,’ I thought. Gregory Peck is here!’ “How did I get the chance to meet these stars and talented people right away?”
According to Closer Weekly, critics praised Room 222, but viewership plummeted in the fourth season, and the show was cancelled mid-season.
“I have no idea why things changed,” Valentine remarked, recalling when the network informed the actors that the show would be cancelled. “But they did have the foresight to let us know what was going on, and it was sad… well, it’s always sad, but it’s especially sad when you feel you have a good product and a good show and it’s taken away.” However, the network ultimately decided to proceed in a different way. ‘We’ve decided to go in a different route,’ they always remark.
When Room 222 was terminated, she featured in her own show Karen (1975), which was produced by Reynolds, but it was scrapped after four months due to low ratings.
Valentine described the show’s premise as “controversial political stories that were a savvy, humoristic reflection of then-current headlines,” adding, “The original opening titles were a parody of the opening of the film ‘Patton.’” Instead of George C. Scott, you had me walking up to a backdrop of an American flag. Really smart, but it was never broadcast.” “It was changed to me riding a bicycle around D.C.,” she continued. As contrast to a political issue-oriented drama/comedy, the network envisioned something softer, more romantic and intimate, and not overly convoluted. It was, in my opinion, ahead of its time.”
Valentine, a stage actor who has also been on Broadway, kept her career going as a semi-regular on The Hollywood Squares (1971–1977) and in episodes of TV shows such as Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat.
Her most recent film, Wedding Daze (2004), in which she co-starred with John Laroquette, was shown on the Hallmark Channel.
Valentine has only pleasant recollections of Room 222, which generated success for her very early on: “Working with all of those people, and to have that kind of experience first time out-the show just brings back the fondest and best memories in the world to me.” “…It also kind of spoiled me, because it set the bar really high,” she continues. So when other things happen, you wonder, ‘What is this?’ It was unique, you know. But I was lucky to have content that was both entertaining and well-executed.”
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