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Rue McClanahan

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Also Known As: Eddi-Rue Mcclanahan Died: June 3, 2010
Born: February 21, 1934 Cause of Death: Stroke
Birth Place: Healdton, Oklahoma, USA Profession: actor, producer, playwright, dancer, songwriter

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Able to alternate between comedy and melodrama, portraying everything from vixens to suffering mothers, Rue McClanahan became a fixture on television from the moment she landed the role of Vivian Harmon, best friend to Bea Arthur's titular character, "Maude," in 1972. Flirtatious and a bit ditzy as Vivian, McClanahan upped the flirt quotient considerably more than a decade later when she created the role for which she was most recognized, Blanche Devereaux, the self-proclaimed middle-aged sex goddess on "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992). With her Southern charm, Blanche enchanted viewers with her comic timing but also proved to a sometimes puritanical society that sexual appetite - whether quenched or not - knew no age.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,...

Able to alternate between comedy and melodrama, portraying everything from vixens to suffering mothers, Rue McClanahan became a fixture on television from the moment she landed the role of Vivian Harmon, best friend to Bea Arthur's titular character, "Maude," in 1972. Flirtatious and a bit ditzy as Vivian, McClanahan upped the flirt quotient considerably more than a decade later when she created the role for which she was most recognized, Blanche Devereaux, the self-proclaimed middle-aged sex goddess on "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992). With her Southern charm, Blanche enchanted viewers with her comic timing but also proved to a sometimes puritanical society that sexual appetite - whether quenched or not - knew no age.

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.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Back to You & Me (2005)
2.
 Fighting Temptations, The (2003) Nancy Stringer
3.
 Lugosi: Hollywood's Dracula (2000) Narrator
4.
 Moving of Sophia Myles, The (2000) Mary Margaret
5.
 Saintly Switch, A (1999) Fanny Moye
7.
 Columbo: Ashes to Ashes (1998) Verity Chandler
8.
 Annabelle's Wish (1997) Voice
9.
 This World, Then The Fireworks (1997) Mom Lakewood
10.
 Out to Sea (1997) Mrs Carruthers
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1957:
Made her professional stage debut as Rachel in "Inherit the Wind" at Erie Playhouse in Pennsylvania
1960:
First appeared on TV in the series, "Malibu Run" (CBS)
1961:
Made feature film debut in the low-budget, "Walk the Angry Beach"
1963:
Played 'Poochie' the girl from the shack, in the low-budget exploitation film, "Five Minutes to Love"
1964:
Made her Broadway debut, playing Hazel, in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"
1965:
Portrayed a sleazy starlet in low-budget feature, "Hollywood After Dark"
1967:
Played the female lead in the satirical play, "MacBird"
1968:
Portrayed Sally Weber in the original Broadway production of "Jimmy Shine," with Dustin Hoffman in the title role
1970:
Cast as the maniacal nanny Caroline Johnson on NBC's "Another World"
1971:
Joined the cast of the CBS soap, "Where the Heart Is," as Margaret Jardin
1972:
Played Maude's (Bea Arthur) best friend, Vivian Harmon, in the CBS series, "Maude"
1975:
Recreated the stage role of Faye Precious for the TV version of "Who's Happy Now"
1978:
Starred in the short-lived ABC series, "Apple Pie"
1983:
Portrayed Aunt Fran on NBC's "Mama's Family"
1985:
Played man-crazed Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on "The Golden Girls" (NBC)
1991:
Co-executive produced and starred in the CBS TV-movie, "Baby of the Bride"
1992:
Reprised role of Blanche on the short-lived, "Golden Palace" (CBS)
1993:
Starred in the CBS TV-movie, "Mother of the Bride"
1993:
Starred in the TV version of "Nunsense" for Arts & Entertainment Channel
1995:
Returned to the New York stage for the world premiere of "After-Play"
1997:
Had small roles in the films, "Out to Sea" and "Starship Troopers"
1999:
Cast as Grandma Loring in the WB series, "Safe Harbor"
2001:
Returned to the New York stage for the Broadway revival of "The Women"
2003:
Appeared in the musical romantic comedy, "The Fighting Temptations," with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles
2005:
Replaced Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical, "Wicked"
2007:
Published her autobiography, <i>My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away</i>
2008:
Starred in the short-lived series, "Sordid Lives" on the Logo network
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Ardmore High School: Ardmore , Oklahoma - 1953
University of Tulsa: Tulsa , Oklahoma - 1956
University of Tulsa: Tulsa , Oklahoma - 1956

Notes

As a teen-ager, McClanahan spent two summers dancing at the prestigious Jacob's Pillow festival in the Berkshires. She later decided she could not just be a "mute performer". --New York NEWSDAY, January 31, 1995

"I was -- am -- a serious actress. I decided when I was 13 and in the sixth grade what I wanted to do. It just hit me then. Like an epiphany." -- Rue McClanahan quoted by Patricia O'Haire in New York DAILY NEWS, January 25, 1995

McClanahan produced and wrote (including the music and lyrics) the stage musical "Oedipus, Shmedipus, as Long as You Love Your Mother".

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Morrow Wilson. Actor, producer. Married on December 25, 1997; sixth husband; met in NYC; born c. 1940.

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Edwin McClanahan.
mother:
Dreda Rheuna-Nell McClanahan.
son:
Mark Thomas Bish.

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