The Ladies of 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' on 'Hot in Cleveland' Stint: 'We Don't Have to Fake It'

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"Hot in Cleveland" star Betty White reunites with former co-stars from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on April 4, 2013 for an upcoming episode of the TV Land sitcom. From Left to Right: Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White and Georgia Engel.
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It has been 36 years since the ladies of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" last worked together as a quintet, but it was immediately obvious when Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Georgia Engel, and Betty White walked into the room -- coincidentally around the corner from where they filmed the iconic series from 1970-77 -- that love is still all around them.

They laughed. They cried. They reminisced about the good old days, complimented each other profusely when they weren't gently teasing one another, and reveled in their reteaming on an upcoming episode of White's TV Land sitcom, "Hot in Cleveland." And that range of emotions was just at the press conference they held last Thursday on the CBS Radford lot in Studio City, Calif., to promote the reunion they all said was an emotional roller coaster.

"Working on the show has been great. Did you ever laugh 'til you cried? That's been happening a lot," said Harper, 73. "It's been so full of life, joy and love. And fun!"

Without missing a beat, Leachman deadpanned, "and heartbreak, sadness, need, loneliness, torment."

Although the 86-year-old was going for a joke, one can't help recognizing the kernel of truth wrapped in sarcasm, given Harper's announcement last month that she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given three months to live.

[Related: Harper on Cancer Diagnosis: 'I Don't Know What's Ahead, But I'm Ready For It']

A self-described "cockeyed optimist," White, 91, eschewed the doomsday diagnosis. "My beloved husband, Allen Ludden, kept positive, which gave us two years we didn't expect. Well, I gotta tell you, Miss Positive here with her wonderful upbeat stuff, I won't buy any of those silly things they tell her."

Harper, for her part, was energized and vivacious. "I don't have a lot of symptoms. They may be down the road, but I'm not thinking of down the road. I'm thinking just of today, this moment, and getting my lines right so I support my fellow players and serve the audience who are going to see this really funny show."

The episode, which is set to air Sept. 4 and takes its title, "Love Is All Around," from the theme song and first "Mary Tyler Moore Show" installment, finds Elka (White) and Mamie Sue (Engel, 64) attempting to get their bowling team back together. GLOB, the Gorgeous Ladies of Bowling, had a falling out decades ago after a championship season went to their heads.

"There's no bowling. Just us talking about our championship season," said Harper, adding that there are nods to their "MTMS" characters throughout the episode. "I'm wearing a very loud shirt and big earrings so it's Rhoda. Mary's coiffed, terrific, and smart."

[Related: How Gary Portnoy Made 'Cheers' the Place 'Where Everybody Knows Your Name']

Moore, 76, felt the group's chemistry picked up right where they left off in 1977. "Even though we are playing different people, we interact as only you can when you have been together for a long, long time. We don't have to fake it."

The ladies, who have stayed friends throughout the years, talk on the phone and go out to dinner regularly; they have also reconnected on TV periodically. They presented at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2007 and were guests on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2008. Most of them attended White's televised 90th birthday party. Some of them have even paired up professionally. Moore appeared on a Season 2 episode of "Cleveland," while Engel has a recurring role. Moore and Harper worked together in the TV movie "Mary and Rhoda," reprising their trademark TV roles in 2000. "Over the years we've been together at those kind of events, and it's always fun," Harper explained. "But working together is even more fun. It heralds back to the days when we would pore over scripts and try to get stuff right."

Because they obviously enjoy one another's company and still love acting, it begs the question: Why did it take this long to gather all the troops?

"It's not like we don't speak. We love each other, and we've always gotten along," White said. "It's tough when we are coasts apart and all busy working, to get a schedule that allows for geographically and workwise getting together no matter how much we want to do it."

[Related: 'M*A*S*H': The Inside Story Behind the Most-Watched TV Episode of All Time]

Leachman hypothesized that Harper's disease might have lit a fire under some writers' bums. "They had the good idea, and then they wrote this amazing script. It is so funny and entertaining. We were almost in tears we were so thrilled."

It was unclear whether their male "MTMS" counterparts, Gavin MacLeod and Ed Asner, were asked to participate. Harper said, "They wanted to keep it really high estrogen."

Which is also fitting considering what Harper said she learned from her "MTMS" experience while pointing at Moore. "[Rhoda] taught me to thank your lucky stars for a fabulous friend and to know the value of [friendship]. That relationship on the show was so incredible."

So incredible that Moore admitted that a side effect of hanging out with Rhoda once again made her wish she had a little more of it in her real life. "It's wonderful, but it makes me sad too. It makes me feel like why don't I have this in my current life? Where are all these friends, co-workers, and people who loved each other?"

[Related: TV Land's 'Kirstie's New Show' Adds Xosha Roquemore to Cast]

White, on the other hand, is very aware of how much good casting luck she has experienced in her long career. "After 'The Mary Tyler Moore' group and the 'Golden Girls' group, I'm thrilled to get another group of women who aren't just making it work [but] adore each other. You wind up with friendships that are lifelong, and there's nothing like it."

Season 4 of "Hot In Cleveland" returns with a live episode June 19 at 10 pm on TV Land.