Karen Valentine remembers the difficult journey that got her to her acclaimed position as a student turned teacher in the popular television series Room 222.
Contrary to her time on The Dating Game, which she says was a “awful” experience with no love lost, the show that launched her into fame is a love she still cherishes.Celebrities including Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Leif Garret, and Farrah Fawcett participated in the first dating reality show, The Dating Game, before they were well-known.
The show also served as a launching pad for upcoming actors.
One of those celebrities, Karen Valentine, was invited to the dating program that Chuck Barris also founded after making an appearance on his television series Dream Girl of 1967.
Valentine, a former teenage beauty pageant winner, was offered the chance to speak with three available men who were hiding behind a partition.She acknowledged that she had assumed the appearance would be “harmless fun,” but said that her “choice” had made the whole thing awful.
“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, explained “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.’”
After putting that regret behind her, Valentine was hired for the 1969 television film Gidget Grows Up, which led to her main part in the popular TV series Room 222 (1969–1974). In the experimental television program, a black high school teacher who strove to instill tolerance in his students was portrayed by the award-winning actor Lloyd Haynes (1934–1987).
James L. Brooks, the man behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and movies like As Good as It Gets and Terms of Endearment, conceived the show, and Gene Reynolds, one of the MAS*H developers and producers, produced it.
Valentine and Michael Constantine, who were both nominated for supporting roles in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002, received Outstanding New Series awards for Room 222 in 1970. Michael Constantine also won Outstanding New Series for My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002.
“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 first met another renowned actor, she recalled feeling awestruck.
“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?”
Although Room 222 received high marks from critics, its fourth season saw a decline in viewership, leading to its midseason cancellation.
“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.’”
She starred in Karen (1975), a show Reynolds produced after Room 222 was canceled, but it was discontinued after four months due to low ratings.
Describing the show’s premise as “controversial political stories that were a savvy, humoristic reflection of then-current headlines,” Valentine said, “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.”
Valentine, a stage performer who has previously made appearances on Broadway, maintained her career as a guest star on The Hollywood Squares from 1971 to 1977 as well as in episodes of Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat.
Her most recent movie, Wedding Daze (2004), which aired on the Hallmark Channel, featured her alongside John Laroquette.
Valentine recalls Room 222, which brought her success very early on, with only good 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.”