About Rue McClanahan
McClanahan was born on Feb. 21, 1934 in Healdton, OK to her father William, a building contractor, and her mother, Dreda Rheuna-Nell, a beautician. Stage struck from an early age, she headed to New York after graduating cum laude from the University of Tulsa. Small roles followed in theater, as well as parts in low-budget features like "Walk the Angry Beach" (1968). McClanahan also enjoyed stints on such soap operas as "Another World" (CBS, 1964-1999) and "Where the Heart Is" (CBS, 1969-1973). A part in the Broadway production of "Jimmy Shine," starring Dustin Hoffman, was followed by an OBIE-winning part in an episode of "Great Performances" (PBS, 1972- ) called "Who's Happy Now?"
After more than a decade as a working actress, Hollywood began taking notice of McClanahan's unique delivery and screen presence. She won small roles in several feature films, including "The People Next Door" (1970) and "The Pursuit of Happiness" (1971). In a moment that would change both her life and career, the actress caught the attention of legendary TV producer Norman Lear who cast her as friend and neighbor to Beatrice Arthur's "Maude" (CBS, 1972-78). McClanahan's role of Vivian was a bit of an ditz, but endowed with a mature sexuality that matched perfectly with Arthur's acerbic Maude. Following the cancellation of the beloved and controversial sitcom, Lear handed McClanahan the lead in "Apple Pie," a short-lived 1978 ABC series. Out of weekly work once again, McClanahan began appearing in a series of TV movies including "Rainbow" (NBC, 1978) and "Sergeant Matlovich vs. The U.S. Air Force" (NBC, 1978) in which she was the mother of gay activist Leonard Matlovich. McClanahan also joined "Mama's Family" (NBC, 1983-84) as Aunt Fran, the spinster sister of Mama (Vicki Lawrence). Unhappy with the role, McClanahan left the series after one season.
When the production company, Witt-Thomas-Harris was preparing a pilot for NBC about three ladies of a certain age living in Miami, FL called "The Golden Girls," McClanahan was offered the role of the dim-witted Rose Nylund. At the same time, fellow sitcom veteran Betty White had been offered the role of Blanche Devereaux, the man-hungry vixen. Both women felt they were better suited for each other's part, so with the network's approval, switched roles. McClanahan became Blanche, the honey-talking, seductive, vain, self-absorbed, man-prowling, but lovable landlord of the Golden Girls who never failed to bring every conversation around to something sexual in nature. For her work, McClanahan snagged an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1987.
With the surprise success of "The Golden Girls," McClanahan's popularity soared and she found herself in demand for parts in numerous TV movies. By the late 1980s, she was starring in one and often two TV-movies a season, including "Liberace" (ABC, 1988) as the performer's mother, and "Take My Daughters, Please" (NBC, 1988) as a woman who attempts to find mates for her girls. In 1990, McClanahan created the role of Margaret Hix Becker in "Children of the Bride" (CBS, 1990) as a woman who marries a younger man. She reprised the role in two sequels: "Baby of the Bride" (CBS, 1991), in which she found herself pregnant, and "Mother of the Bride" (CBS, 1993), in which she coped with her daughter's impending marriage. She also appeared in the miniseries "Innocent Victims" (ABC, 1996) as the mother of a man (John Corbett) accused of murder.
When "The Golden Girls" ended its run with the departure of Arthur, McClanahan joined the other regulars by moving to a new format on CBS' "Golden Palace" (1992-93) which failed to capture the popularity of the original series. Returning to her theatrical roots, McClanahan co-starred in the musical "Nunsense" and its sequel "Nunsense 2" (A&E, 1995). The same year, she returned to the New York stage to co-star with Barbara Barrie in Anne Meara's "After-Play." McClanahan left the role when the production transferred to a larger venue to accept a role in an English production of "Harvey." She jump-started her feature career in 1997 with roles as the shrewish mother of possibly incestuous twins in the noirish indie, "This World, Then the Fireworks" (1997) and as a wealthy socialite on a cruise who takes dance lessons from faux teacher Walter Matthau in the genial comedy, "Out to Sea" (1997).
Also in 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer, from which she made a full recovery. She continued to work her magic in small roles on TV like on the sitcom "Hope & Faith" (ABC, 2003-06) and in movies like "Starship Troopers" (1997) and "The Fighting Temptations" (2003). She did an eight-month stint on Broadway as Madame Morrible in the smash hit "Wicked," as well as released her autobiography, My First Five Husbands to good reviews in 2007. Embraced as a gay icon, McClanahan took a major role on the cable series "Sordid Lives: The Series" (Logo, 2008), and publicly mourned the deaths of her longtime "Golden" co-stars Estelle Getty in 2008 and Bea Arthur in April 2009. Later that year, McClanahan was scheduled to be feted at "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" in San Francisco, but the event was postponed when the actress had to be hospitalized. She endured triple bypass surgery, then a minor stroke, but seemed to be on the road to recovery. As Betty White experienced a career resurgence based in part on warm public memories of "The Golden Girls," she spoke often and fondly about McClanahan and her improving condition. Sadly, McClanahan died June 3, 2010 of a stroke, leaving White the sole survivor of the famous cheesecake-loving clan.
|Gus Fisher. Married 1976; divorced 1981|
|Morrow Wilson. Married Dec. 25, 1997 until her death June 3, 2010|
|Peter DeMaio. Married 1964; divorced 1971|
|Norman Hartweg. Married 1959; divorced 1961|
|Tom Bish. Married 1958; divorced 1959|
|Tom Keel. Married 1985; divorced 1986|
|Ardmore High School, Ardmore , Oklahoma|
|University of Tulsa, Tulsa , Oklahoma|
|University of Tulsa, Tulsa , Oklahoma|
|Starred in the short-lived series, "Sordid Lives" on the Logo network|
|Published her autobiography, My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away|
|Replaced Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical, "Wicked"|
|Appeared in the musical romantic comedy, "The Fighting Temptations," with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles|
|Returned to the New York stage for the Broadway revival of "The Women"|
|Cast as Grandma Loring in the WB series, "Safe Harbor"|
|Had small roles in the films, "Out to Sea" and "Starship Troopers"|
|Returned to the New York stage for the world premiere of "After-Play"|
|Starred in the TV version of "Nunsense" for Arts & Entertainment Channel|
|Starred in the CBS TV-movie, "Mother of the Bride"|
|Reprised role of Blanche on the short-lived, "Golden Palace" (CBS)|
|Co-executive produced and starred in the CBS TV-movie, "Baby of the Bride"|
|Played man-crazed Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on "The Golden Girls" (NBC)|
|Portrayed Aunt Fran on NBC's "Mama's Family"|
|Starred in the short-lived ABC series, "Apple Pie"|
|Recreated the stage role of Faye Precious for the TV version of "Who's Happy Now"|
|Played Maude's (Bea Arthur) best friend, Vivian Harmon, in the CBS series, "Maude"|
|Joined the cast of the CBS soap, "Where the Heart Is," as Margaret Jardin|
|Cast as the maniacal nanny Caroline Johnson on NBC's "Another World"|
|Portrayed Sally Weber in the original Broadway production of "Jimmy Shine," with Dustin Hoffman in the title role|
|Played the female lead in the satirical play, "MacBird"|
|Portrayed a sleazy starlet in low-budget feature, "Hollywood After Dark"|
|Made her Broadway debut, playing Hazel, in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"|
|Played 'Poochie' the girl from the shack, in the low-budget exploitation film, "Five Minutes to Love"|
|Made feature film debut in the low-budget, "Walk the Angry Beach"|
|First appeared on TV in the series, "Malibu Run" (CBS)|
|Made her professional stage debut as Rachel in "Inherit the Wind" at Erie Playhouse in Pennsylvania|