Karen Valentine fondly reminisces about the challenging journey that led her to her award-winning role as a student turned teacher in the renowned TV series Room 222.
The show, which aired nearly 50 years ago, propelled her into stardom and remains a cherished part of her life. In contrast, her appearance on The Dating Game was an “awful” experience that she recalls with no fondness.
Before attaining fame, various celebrities like Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Leif Garret, and Farrah Fawcett appeared on The Dating Game, the inaugural dating reality show that not only inspired countless similar concepts but also served as a launchpad for emerging actors.
Karen Valentine, already a star after her appearance on Chuck Barris’ TV series Dream Girl of 1967, received an invitation to participate in the dating show, which Barris also created. As a former teen beauty queen, Valentine was given the opportunity to interview three eligible bachelors who remained hidden behind a dividing wall.
Initially thinking it would be harmless fun, she admits that her choice made it a terrible experience. She explains, “That was awful because the guy thought that this was really going to be a date, right? The Dating Game became more serious later on, where people would be sent on trips.” Valentine, now 76, shared with 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. We went to dinner and then to a show, which was the prize I won, but the guy thought it 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 regret behind her, Valentine went on to be cast in the TV movie Gidget Grows Up (1969), which eventually led to her starring role in the hit TV series Room 222 (1969 to 1974). The groundbreaking show revolved around a black high school teacher, portrayed by the award-winning Lloyd Haynes (1934 to 1987), who aimed to teach tolerance to students. Created by James L. Brooks, the visionary behind The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi, and produced by Gene Reynolds, one of the developers and producers of MAS*H, Room 222 garnered critical acclaim.
In 1970, Room 222 achieved significant success at the Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the title of Outstanding New Series. Valentine and Michael Constantine, also known for his role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002, both received awards for their supporting roles.
Valentine reflects on her first nomination and win, expressing, “It was kind of mind-blowing to have that happen so soon, so quickly. And to meet Carol Burnett and have her congratulate me… It was like, ‘Thank you.’ But the fact that Carol Burnett would know me? Just incredible.”
The young actress also recalls being starstruck when encountering another legendary actor. She recounts, “I remember I was taking singing lessons at the time, and I went to my singing class. Gregory Peck was also taking lessons there… 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 did I have the fortune to meet these stars and talented people from the get-go?”
According to Closer Weekly, Room 222 received critical acclaim. However, in the fourth season, ratings declined, and the show was abruptly canceled mid-season. Valentine reflects on the network’s decision, stating, “Why things changed, I have no idea.” Recalling the moment the cast was informed about the show’s cancellation, she adds, “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.'”
Following the cancellation of Room 222, Valentine starred in her own show, Karen (1975), which was created by Gene Reynolds. Unfortunately, due to low ratings, the show was canceled after only four months.
Describing the premise of Karen as “controversial political stories that were a savvy, humoristic reflection of then-current headlines,” Valentine mentions that the original opening titles were a clever homage to the film ‘Patton.’ However, they were never aired. She explains, “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 actor who has also appeared in Broadway productions, kept her career alive as a semi-regular on The Hollywood Squares (1971 to 1977) and appeared in episodes of TV shows like Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat.
Her final film was Wedding Daze (2004), where she co-starred with John Larroquette, and it was broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.
Reflecting on her experience with Room 222, which brought her success at an early stage of her career, Valentine expresses nothing but fond memories. She states, “Working with all of those people and having that kind of experience the first time out… The show just brings back the fondest and best memories in the world to me.” She further remarks, “It also kind of spoiled me because it set the bar really high. So when other opportunities came my way, I would think, ‘What is this?’ It was different, you know. But I was fortunate to receive material that was pretty fun and well done.”