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A long and winding Rhoda

Ironically, for an actor so indelibly identified by her distinctive voice, Julie Kavner remains adamantly unwilling to talk.

Ironically, for an actor so indelibly identified by her distinctive voice, Julie Kavner remains adamantly unwilling to talk.

Kavner has, for the past 20 years, preferred to let her animated alter-ego Marge Simpson do all the talking for her, eschewing public appearances, and refusing to be videotaped or photographed at work.

She is so notoriously press-shy — she once snuck out in the middle of an ensemble interview on Inside the Actors Studio — she has been branded a virtual recluse.

And yet, here she is on the phone — and there is no mistaking that throaty rasp, which has been described, not inaccurately, as the sound of “honeyed gravel.”

“It’s true,” she concedes, “I tend not to like (being interviewed). But this was something I really wanted to talk about.”

“This” being the long-overdue DVD release of the seminal ’70s sitcom spinoff Rhoda. The first-season set hit stores yesterday, to coincide with the show’s 35th anniversary. “It was about time,” Kavner complains. “I mean, they put everything else out there ...”

Though her Simpsons success has guaranteed financial security for several lifetimes — last year she and her castmates negotiated a per-episode pay bump to $500,000 — Rhoda remains closest to her heart. “It gave me my life, it gave me my career, it gave me the love of my life, David Davis.”

Davis, with whom she has lived since the ’70s, was also responsible for kick-starting her career, calling her in “as a favour to a family friend” to read for a one-shot role as Rhoda’s sister on Mary Tyler Moore. She didn’t get it. “A year later,” she says, “they spun off the show, and David remembered me and brought me back in.”

This time, Kavner won the role of Brenda Morgenstern, the sitcom poster-girl for low self-esteem ... initially, both on and off screen, having suddenly found herself surrounded on all sides by seasoned television professionals. “Valerie Harper and Nancy Walker and Hal Gould and David Groh ... and (behind the scenes) David Davis and James L. Brooks and Lorenzo Music and Allan Burns ... I was the new one. It was my first paying job. “But they couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. It was always, always about the work ... none of that, you know, diva bulls---.”

Rhoda earned Kavner the first of two Emmys (the second was for The Simpsons), and yet, when it was cancelled after four and a half seasons, she found herself slumming it on the dinner-theatre circuit, including a fondly remembered tour of Western Canada. In the early ’80s she had a guest shot on Taxi as yet another sitcom sister (Tony Banta’s, played by Tony Danza), and then five years later made an extraordinary leap to the big screen and her first Woody Allen film, Hannah and her Sisters.


 
 
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