‘Golden Girls’: Why Rue McClanahan Said John Ritter was a ‘Real Personality’ and a ‘Clown’

by Keeli Parkey

There are millions and millions of people who were – and are – fans of actor John Ritter. Among them was Rue McClanahan from “The Golden Girls.”

McClanahan is beloved for playing Blanche Devearoux on the famous sitcom about four older women sharing a home in Miami. She worked with John Ritter in the 1990 film, “The Dreamer of Oz.” In this project, Ritter was cast as L. Frank Baum. Baum, of course, was the man who created the world of Oz made famous by the film “The Wizard of Oz.”

According to IMDb.com, “The Dreamer of Oz” film was a biopic about Baum. In it, Ritter played the popular author. McClanahan played the character Matilda Electa Joslyn Gage.

During a 2005 interview with Broadway.com, “The Golden Girls” actress said the character she played in “The Dreamer of Oz” was “the prototype of the Wicked Witch.” McClanahan also talked about working with John Ritter on the film and on other occasions during the 2005 interview.

“Well, I did a play with John for PBS called ‘Who’s Happy Now?’ by Oliver Hailey, in which he plays a boy from 16 to 36. And working with him was just wonderful. I had just previously seen him at a little theater in California when he played the one that comes out of the stump in ‘The Tempest,’ and he was so funny and so convincing and so outrageous, I’d never seen it played like that before,” McClanahan reportedly said. “Then we did ‘Who’s Happy Now?’, then ‘Dreamer of Oz.’ And then I asked him to do the narration on ‘Nutcrackers’ by Danny Goggin the ‘Nunsense’ Christmas show. John took time out of his busy schedule and did the narration, a little funny piece of the play. And that was very shortly before he died.”

‘Golden Girls’ Actress Said John Ritter Was ‘Full of Energy’

While working with John Ritter on those projects, “The Golden Girls” actress came to respect him as a performer and as a person. Rue McClanahan saw Ritter be funny just as himself and as the character he was playing.

“He could be (as humorous off stage as he was on). He was sunny and up and full of energy and talk. A real personality. He was a clown, really a physical clown,” McClanahan told Broadway.com. “And he didn’t really get to tap in on that in ‘Three’s Company.’ But he had that talent, the physical, the body. Of course Tex Ritter (singing-cowboy movie star of ‘B’ westerns in the ’30s and ’40s) was his dad, and he was always kind of disturbed by that. He wouldn’t talk about that much. But really, John was an awfully good actor.”

Interestingly, “The Golden Girls” star gave the interview to Broadway.com while she was playing a character in a show based in Oz. That show was “Wicked,” which has been a hit on Broadway for years. During her run in the show, McClanahan played the character Madame Morrible.

“Oh, I’m having fun—not as much fun as a real play would be, you know, with a challenging role—but for a musical, it’s pretty spectacular,” McClanahan said about appearing in “Wicked” during 2005.