Rue McClanahan shot into limelight with her performance in ‘The Golden Girls’, an epic sitcom telecast in 1985. ‘The Golden Girls’ was an instant hit, climbing to No. 1 position after its very first show. Rue McClanahan’s role, as a Southern belle Blanche Devereaux, played a key contribution in the immense popularity of the show. Other actors who played the Golden Girls were Ms. Betty White (Rose), Ms. Bea Arthur (Dorothy) and Ms. Estelle Getty (Sophia, Dorothy’s mother). With the passing away of Ms. McClanahan, only Ms. White (88) survives of the ‘eccentric four’.
She was born in Healdton, Oklahoma, on February 21, 1934. Her father was a contractor and mother a beautician. She grew up in Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana. Her debut as an actor came early when she played a part in ‘The Three Little Kittens’, a local production, at the tender age of four. She studied drama and German at the University of Tulsa and graduated in 1956. In her early career, she appeared onstage in New York on several occasions.
In her Broadway debut in Murray Schisgal’s ‘Jimmy Shine’, Ms. McClanahan’s played the role of a prostitute. She won Obie Award for her role of the father’s mistress in Oliver Hailey’s “Who’s Happy Now?”, an Off Broadway family drama. She also acted in sitcoms, ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Maude’.
However, it was her work in ‘The Golden Girls’ that brought her maximum fame. The sitcom, which is about four eccentric middle aged women, gained unprecedented popularity and won many Emmys. Ms. McClanahan captured this prestigious award for her outstanding performance as lead actor. Her role in the show was inspired by ‘Gone with the Winds’ actors, Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, she once said. On another occasion she remarked that ‘The Golden Girls’ brought out different layers that people go on adding as they age. The show reveals our child, adolescence as well as personality as mature women, she added.
Many industry critics believe that shows like ‘Sex and the City’, which is about four young funny women, take cue for ‘The Golden Girls’.
After “The Golden Girls” was discontinued in 1992, Ms. McClanahan acted in “The Golden Palace”, a spinoff. She also acted in movies and on Broadways. She was a passionate animal rights activist and delivered a lecture on ‘Aging Gracefully’.
Ms. McClanahan was married six times-Morrow Wilson, Tom Bish, Norman Hartweg, Peter D’Maio, Gus Fisher and Tom Keel- and titled her autobiography, which was authored in 1997, ‘My First Five Husbands … And the Ones Who Got Away.’