Karen Valentine’s portrayal of a student-turned-teacher in the acclaimed television series Room 222 captivated fans. Karen Valentine recalls the difficult path she took to gain such distinction.
While her experience on The Dating Game was less than ideal, with no love lost, she still has a strong affinity for the show that pushed her to popularity.
Before becoming well-known, some notable celebrities, including Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Leif Garrett, and Farrah Fawcett, took part in The Dating Game, the first dating reality show.
Aside from its matching idea, the show acted as a springboard for budding actors. Karen Valentine was one of them, having landed a seat on Chuck Barris’ dating show after appearing on Barris’ 1967 television series Dream Girl.
Valentine, a previous beauty pageant champion in her youth, conversed with three attractive guys hidden behind a wall. Initially, she thought it was harmless fun, but her “choice” had turned it into something awful.
“That was truly awful because the gentleman seemed to believe it was a real date, don’t you think?” Valentine, now 76 years old, reflects.
“I had only intended to enjoy a show at the Ambassador Hotel,” she explained, “but he assumed we would engage in romantic activities during the limousine ride.” “I had to remind him that it was our first date.”
Despite her prize—dinner and concert tickets—, Valentine emphasizes that the other person took the incident far too seriously. She was dissatisfied with the dating scene and desired to pursue acting or any different path.
Fortunately, Valentine overcame the difficulties and landed a role in the 1969 television film Gidget Grows Up, which led to her breakout performance in the hugely successful television series Room 222 (1969-1974).
Notably, the show starred Lloyd Haynes (1934-1987) as a black high school teacher attempting to instill tolerance in his students through an experimental television program.
Room 222 was conceived by James L. Brooks, the man behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show and critically acclaimed films such as As Good as It Gets and Terms of Endearment. Gene Reynolds, a key member of the MAS*H team, contributed to the show’s conception and production.
Valentine and Michael Constantine won Outstanding New Series for Room 222 were nominated for supporting roles in the 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Michael Constantine won the 2002 Outstanding New Series award for performing in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Valentine says of her initial nomination and subsequent win, “It was truly mind-blowing to experience such success so quickly and unexpectedly.” Carol Burnett congratulated me on my achievement, which I recall vividly. It was as if she had said, ‘Thank you.’”
The young actress recalls with fondness a moment of wonder when she met another famous actor. “I was taking singing lessons and attending my class at the time,” Valentine explains. “Gregory Peck, to my amazement, was also present.
I played the teacher’s piano as he passed by, and he said, ‘You did it!’ through the window. ‘Oh my God,’ I thought, shocked. Gregory Peck has arrived! ‘How lucky am I to be able to meet these famous personalities and outstanding folks right away?’”
While critics praised Room 222, the show was canceled mid-season during its fourth season owing to dwindling numbers, according to Closer Weekly.
“I have no idea why things changed,” Valentine says after learning of the network’s decision to cancel the show. It was depressing since it’s always difficult to believe you have an excellent product and presentation only to have it ripped away.
However, I must give the network credit for providing adequate notice. Nonetheless, they chose a different path in the end.” She went on to star in Karen (1975), a show produced by Reynolds after the termination of Room 222, but it was canceled after four months due to low ratings.
Karen’s thesis, according to Valentine, revolved around “controversial political stories presented funnily and thoughtfully, mirroring the headlines of that era.” The show’s initial opening titles were a nod to the film ‘Patton,’ but were later changed to show Valentine riding a bicycle around Washington, D.C.
“Rather than a politically focused drama/comedy, the network envisioned a softer, more intimate approach, free of unnecessary complexities,” she continues. Karen was ahead of her time.
Valentine, a seasoned stage performer with Broadway credits, kept her career going as a guest star on The Hollywood Squares from 1971 to 1977 and in episodes of Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. Her most recent film, Wedding Daze (2004), broadcast on the Hallmark Channel and starred John Laroquette.
Valentine has only happy recollections of her time in Room 222, the show that catapulted her to early prominence. “Working with all those wonderful people and having such an incredible experience on my first endeavor are the fondest and most cherished memories I hold dear,” she recalls.
“It set the bar high and spoiled me in a way,” she continues. As a result, when confronted with new initiatives, I question, ‘What is this?’ It’s different, you know. But I’ve been fortunate to find some exciting and enjoyable things.”
Which Karen Valentine film or television show is your favorite?