Karen Valentine talks about the challenging road she took to land the role of a student-turned-teacher on the critically acclaimed TV show Room 222.
In contrast to her time on The Dating Game, which she describes as a “awful” experience from which she has not recovered romantically, she still holds dear her affection for the show that launched her to fame over half a century ago.
The Dating Game was the first dating reality show, paving the way for hundreds of imitators and giving breakout roles to future stars like Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Leif Garrett, and Farrah Fawcett.
Karen Valentine was one of the stars who were invited to the dating program after appearing on Chuck Barris’ TV series Dream Girl of 1967.
Teen beauty queen Valentine was given the chance to meet three attractive suitors who were hiding behind a partition.
While she first thought the appearance would be “harmless fun,” she later admitted that she regretted her “choice” because of how bad it turned out to be.
“That was awful, because the guy thought that this was really going to be a date, right? The Dating Game got more serious later where people would be sent on trips,” Valentine, now 76, told Closer Weekly. “I only got to go 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 so sleazy. You’d go to dinner and then to a show, which is the prize I won, but the guy thought this was serious. I wanted to get out of the date. You know, ‘Save the money, who needs to go on a date? Let me do another show. Give me a shot at acting or something.’”
Putting that disappointment behind her, Valentine went on to star in the hit TV series Room 222 from 1969 to 1974 after appearing in the TV movie Gidget Grows Up (1969).
The groundbreaking series, which aired from 1934 to 1987 and starred Lloyd Haynes, focused on a black high school teacher who encouraged tolerance among his students.
James L. Brooks, creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi as well as the movies As Good as It Gets and Terms of Endearment, and Gene Reynolds, one of the creators and producers of MAS*H, worked together to make this show a reality.
At the Primetime Emmys in 1970, Room 222 swept the board, winning Outstanding New Series and bringing home supporting actor statuettes for both Valentine and Michael Constantine (who you may recognize from 2002’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding).
“It was kind of mind-blowing to have that happen so soon, so quickly,” said Valentine of her first nomination and win. “And to meet Carol Burnett and her saying, ‘Well, congratulations for this.’ It was like, ‘Thank you.’ But that Carol Burnett would know me? Just incredible.”
When the young actress met another Hollywood great, she was completely star-struck.
“I remember I was taking singing lessons at the time, and I went to my singing class,” Valentine started. “Also taking lessons was Gregory Peck… When he walked by, I was at the teacher’s piano and he saw me through the window and kind of mimed, ‘You did it!’ I was like, ‘Oh my God. It’s Gregory Peck!’ How was it that I had the fortune to meet these stars and talented people from the get-go?”
Critics praised Room 222 in the third season, as reported by Closer Weekly, however the show was discontinued in the middle of its fourth season due to falling viewership.
“Why things changed, I have no idea,” Valentine said, recalling when the network told the cast the show was cut. “But they did have the wherewithal to give us the word that it was happening, and it was sad … well, it’s always sad, but especially when you feel you have a good product and a good show, for it to be taken away. But in the end, the network made the decision to go in a different direction. That’s what they always say, ‘We’ve decided to go in a different direction.’”
After Reynolds terminated Room 222, she got her own program, Karen (1975), but it only lasted four months before being canceled owing to low ratings.
Valentine summed up the show’s premise as “controversial political stories that were a clever, humoristic mirror of then-current events,” adding, “The original opening titles were a take-off of the opening of the film ‘Patton.’ Instead of George C. Scott, you had me marching up to an American flag background. Really clever, but never aired.” She continued, “It was changed to me riding a bicycle around D.C. The network envisioned something softer, more romantic and personal, and not too complicated, as opposed to an issue-oriented drama/comedy in the political arena. I’d say it was ahead of its time.”
Actress Valentine, who has performed on both the West End and Broadway, kept her career going by guest starring on The Hollywood Squares (1971–1977) and guest starring on episodes of shows like Murder, She Wrote and The Love Boat.
Her final film appearance was in the Hallmark Channel movie Wedding Daze (2004), in which she co-starred with John Laroquette.
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Looking back on Room 222, that sprang success for her very early on, Valentine says she only has fond memories: “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.” She adds, “…It also kind of spoiled me, because it set the bar really high. So when other things come to you, you think, ‘What is this?’ It was different, you know. But I was fortunate that I did get material that was pretty fun and well done.”
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