The fabulous Rue McClanahan died 11 years ago today. So in honor of McClanahan and the Golden Girls, let’s glance back at the best moments of her career, the ones who made her fans the happiest.
First, make sure you put on something pretty. Blanche Devereaux also would want to play up her stunning smile, luscious lips and heaving bosoms. And if you’re not a good Southerner, at least pretend to be one in your head. Do it for Blanche. After all, she was a good Belle.
Rue McClanahan enjoyed her most significant career achievement in 1987. That’s when she won Outstanding Actress at the Emmys, beating her co-stars, Betty White and Bea Arthur, along with Jane Curtin and Blair Brown. The Golden Girls also won for Best Comedy against an all-NBC field of Cheers, The Cosby Show, Family Ties and Night Court.
Rue McClanahan stepped to the podium wearing an all-black gown adorned with lace and ostrich feathers. And in accepting the Emmy, she recalled a conversation she had with her mother back home in Ardmore, Oklahoma.
“Some agents just turned me down, saying I wasn’t photogenic and I’d never work on television,” Rue McClanahan told the audience that September night at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium outside Los Angeles.
She said the agents told her this in 1960. And her mother told her:
” ‘Oh, Eddi-Rue, for heavens sake, don’t you know every kick is a boost.” Then McClanahan soaked in more of the adoration from the crowd. “I’m not going to list the people who gave me a kick. you know who you are (long, dramatic pause) and you’ll be in the book.”
Rue McClanahan Wasn’t Kidding. There Was a Book
Rue McClanahan did write a book about her life, about growing up in Oklahoma and making it in Hollywood and New York. She used her luscious love life to tell the story. There was a lot of Blanche in McClanahan. She definitely enjoyed men. The title of her book was My First Five Husbands … And the Ones Who Got Away. And McClanahan married once more before she died to give her five exes and one true love.
In her book, McClanahan categorized her men as “hot dudes and duds.” She acknowledged she was old school about marriage. She didn’t believe in living with a man without the benefit of the ring on her finger and a marriage license in the lockbox. That’s why there were so many marriages.
Was Rue McClanahan really like Blanche? She said she was asked that question. A lot. And here’s her answer:
“Well, Blanche was an oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern belle from Atlanta,” she said. “And I’m not from Atlanta.”
So, How Did McClanahan Get Her Start in Acting?
Rue McClanahan loved the stage. She appeared in plays long before the TV screen. There were parts in soap operas like Another World and Where the Heart Is.
Then in 1972, Hollywood offered a precursor of what was to come. Rue McClanahan and Vincent Gardenia played a couple of swingers in an episode of All in the Family. And yes, McClanahan tried to seduce Archie Bunker.
A Fellow Golden Girl Helped Launch McClanahan’s Career
Rue McClanahan’s first big TV role quickly followed. Norman Lear cast her in Maude. She played Vivian, the title character’s best friend. Bea Arthur was Maude and the eventual Dorothy on Golden Girls.
Post Maude, Rue McClanahan joined the cast of Mama’s Family. That’s where she met Betty White, aka Rose.
By 1985, NBC began casting for the Golden Girls. But creator Susan Harris really wanted Arthur for the part of Dorothy. After all, the part was written with Arthur in mind. Rue McClanahan said she called Arthur to talk up the Golden Girls.
“I called Bea,” McClanahan said in a 2006 interview. “And I said what is the matter with you? This is the best script you’re ever going to read.”
She added: “The next thing I know, the three of us are being called in to read for the network. And, we wowed them. Oh, what a happy day, what a happy day that was.”
And what was McClanahan’s favorite episode of her run on the Golden Girls? She said it was the one with the “grand piano scene.” The episode ran Feb. 22, 1992. The Golden Girls series was in its final months. And in this episode, the girls visited Blanche’s favorite bar, the Rusty Anchor. She climbed on top of the piano and sang I Want to be Loved By You.
McClanahan died June 3, 2010. She needed heart surgery earlier in the year, but everyone thought she’d recovered nicely. McClanahan passed away of a massive stroke. That left Betty White as the only surviving Golden Girl.
“It hurts more than I even thought it would, if that’s even possible,” Betty White said of McClanahan’s death. “She was everything, as far as a friend is concerned.”
If you’d like to relive Blanche’s best moments, check out the video below.