Legendary Golden Girls actress Rue McClanahan said she struggled a lot early in her career. Producers weren’t hiring her for the jobs she wanted, and she felt like a failure. But she persisted.
That’s the advice she would give to aspiring actors — don’t give up. In an interview with The American Academy of Television, McClanahan said the only way to “make it” in the entertainment industry is to be tenacious.
“Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance,” she said. “You’ve got to hang in there. Because you’re going to get rejected so much, and you’re going to get disappointed so badly. If you really want this career, you got to fight for it and fight for it, and I don’t mean fight other actors. I mean fight the sense of failure that you may be feeling. Fight the ‘Will I ever get hired?’ I went through a lot of that in the beginning and then ‘Will I ever get the role I want?’ and then ‘Will anyone ever see me who’s really gonna matter?’ You know, perseverance.”
Rue McClanahan’s career stretched on for more than five decades and included a string of successes such as The Golden Girls and Maude. There were tough times though, and it would have been easy to become jaded or cynical. But she said that kills careers.
She remembered something Laurence Olivier once said about how actors should be courageous.
“You’ve got to be very brave to be a very good performer,” she said. “Anybody can be a sort of good performer and play it easy, play it cagey, play it safe. Don’t play it safe, play it unsafe.”
‘Golden Girls’ Producers Wanted McClanahan For Different Role
“I said this is going to be a hit,” the actress recalled telling herself when she opened the folder with the pilot in it. The title of the show and even the font the writers chose spoke to her, she said.
“I felt this is a winner,” McClanahan said. “I can’t wait to read it.”
When she did, it was even better than she’d hope. She called her agent and said she was in, but there was a problem. The producers of The Golden Girls wanted her to play dimwitted Rose. They wanted Betty White, who would go on to play that role, for the bawdy Blanche Devereaux.
McClanahan’s agent told her it was Rose or nothing. She begrudgingly auditioned for Rose, but during the reading for The Golden Girls producers, she caught a lucky break. The director asked her to read Blanche’s lines too. A few days later, producers called McClanahan and White into a meeting and told them they would swap parts.
“I didn’t know how to play Rose,” McClanahan said. “It would have been painful to have to go to work every day and play Rose.”