Rue McClanahan

Rue McClanahan

McClanahan at a book signing for her book My First Five Husbands, May 17, 2007
Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan
(1934-02-21)February 21, 1934
Healdton, Oklahoma, U.S.
Died June 3, 2010(2010-06-03) (aged 76)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death Cerebral hemorrhage
Education Ardmore High School
Alma mater University of Tulsa
Occupation Actress, Comedian, Author, Fashion Designer
Years active 1957–2009
Television Maude,
Mama's Family,
The Golden Girls,
The Golden Palace
  • Tom Bish (m. 1958; div. 1959)
  • Norman Hartweg (m. 1959; div. 1961)
  • Peter DeMaio (m. 1964; div. 1971)
  • Gus Fisher (m. 1976; div. 1979)
  • Tom Keel (m. 1984; div. 1985)
  • Morrow Wilson (m. 1997; d. 2010)

Rue McClanahan (born Eddi-Rue McClanahan, February 21, 1934 – June 3, 2010) was an American actress and comedian best known for her roles on television as Vivian Harmon on Maude (1972–78), "Aunt Fran" Fran Crowley on Mama's Family (1983–84), and Blanche Devereaux on The Golden Girls (1985–92), for which she won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1987.

Early life

McClanahan was born in Healdton, Oklahoma, on February 21, 1934.[1][2] She was the daughter of Dreda Rheua-Nell (née Medaris),[3] a beautician, and William Edwin "Bill" McClanahan (July 4, 1908 – February 20, 1999)[4] a building contractor.[1][5][6]

She was raised Methodist and was of Irish and Choctaw ancestry.[6] Her Choctaw great-grandfather was named Running Hawk according to her autobiography My First Five Husbands... and the Ones Who Got Away (2007). She grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma; she graduated from Ardmore High School.[7] A National Honor Society member, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Tulsa, where she majored in German and Theater, and joined the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.[1]

Early career

A life member of the Actors Studio,[8] McClanahan made her professional stage début at Pennsylvania's Erie Playhouse in 1957, in the play Inherit the Wind.[1] She began acting off-Broadway in New York City in 1957,[9] but did not make her Broadway début until 1969, when she portrayed Sally Weber in the original production of John Sebastian and Murray Schisgal's musical, Jimmy Shine, with Dustin Hoffman in the title role.[2]

Her role as Caroline Johnson on Another World (from July 1970 to September 1971) brought her notice. On the show, while taking care of twins Michael and Marianne Randolph, Caroline fell in love with their father, John, and began poisoning their mother, Pat. The short-term role was extended to more than a year before Caroline was finally brought to justice after kidnapping the twins. Once her role on Another World ended, McClanahan joined the cast of the CBS soap Where the Heart Is, in which she played Margaret Jardin.[5]

Primetime success


On Maude, broadcast from 1972 to 1978, McClanahan played Maude's (Bea Arthur) best friend, Vivian Harmon, wife of Dr. Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain).

Mama's Family

On Mama's Family (198390), McClanahan portrayed uptight spinster sister Fran Crowley to Mama Harper (Vicki Lawrence), who was also a journalist for the local paper. McClanahan appeared on the series for two seasons before the show was revamped.

The Golden Girls

On The Golden Girls (1985–1992) and the short-lived successor The Golden Palace, McClanahan portrayed man-crazed southern belle Blanche Devereaux, owner of a house in which she lived and rented out to her three roommates and best friends: Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), Rose Nylund (Betty White), and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty). McClanahan received an Emmy Award in 1987 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her work on the show.

The handprints of Rue McClanahan in front of The Great Movie Ride at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park, 2007.

Other work

She also appeared as a leader of Al-Anon in a 1970s informational film called Slight Drinking Problem, in which Patty Duke played the enabling and eventually self-empowered wife of an alcoholic. In feature films, she appeared in The Rotten Apple (1961), as well as Walk the Angry Beach (1968). She played a vicious fag hag in the film Some of My Best Friends Are... (1971), which was set in a gay bar. She appeared in the Walter Matthau-Jack Lemmon comedy Out to Sea (1998).

On television, she appeared as Matilda Joslyn Gage, mother-in-law of L. Frank Baum in the made-for-TV movie The Dreamer of Oz (1990). She made guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote and Newhart. She voice-acted in cartoons, voicing Scarlett in the 1997 Fox Christmas special Annabelle's Wish. She played the role of Steve's grandmother in the Blue's Clues video Blue's Big Treasure Hunt (1999). On Spider-Man: The Animated Series, she appeared in the 1994 episode "Doctor Octopus: Armed And Dangerous" as Anastasia Hardy.[5] She voiced the role of "Bunny" in a 2007 episode of King of the Hill, "Hair Today, Gone Today". In 2009, she appeared in an episode of Law & Order as a woman who had an affair with John F. Kennedy.[5]

On Broadway, McClanahan replaced Tammy Grimes as "The Visitor from New York" (Hannah Warren) in the Neil Simon comedy California Suite from April 4, 1977 until the show closed on July 2 of that same year.

Later life

An animal welfare advocate and vegetarian,[1][10] McClanahan was one of the first celebrity supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).[1] She supported Alley Cat Allies,[11] a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to transforming communities to protect and improve the lives of cats, and appeared in a public service announcement for the organization in early 2010.

A Democrat, in December 2003 she wrote a letter informing Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry that his pheasant hunting had cost him her vote and respect.[1] In a July 2008 interview, she weighed in on the 2008 Presidential campaigns. Regarding Barack Obama, she said:

This is the damnedest election I've ever lived through, and Obama is the most amazing candidate I've ever bumped into. The man has unshakable integrity. He's the nearest thing to Lincoln we've seen.
Rue McClanahan, Interview at[12]

In 2003, she appeared alongside Mark Hamill in the two-hander Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami.[13] She chose not to continue with the production and was replaced by Polly Bergen for the Broadway performances.[14] The same year, she appeared in the musical romantic comedy film The Fighting Temptations as Nancy Stringer, which costarred Cuba Gooding, Jr., Beyoncé Knowles, Mike Epps and Steve Harvey. On Broadway, she replaced Carole Shelley as Madame Morrible in the musical Wicked on May 31, 2005. She played the role for eight months until January 8, 2006. She was replaced by Carol Kane on January 10, 2006.

Her autobiography, My First Five Husbands ... and the Ones Who Got Away, was released in 2007.[1][10]

In June 2008, The Golden Girls was awarded the 'Pop Culture' award at the Sixth Annual TV Land Awards. McClanahan accepted the award with costars Bea Arthur and Betty White.[15]

McClanahan's final acting role was in the cable series Sordid Lives on the Logo network, which premiered July 23, 2008, playing Peggy Ingram.

McClanahan was a supporter of gay rights, including advocating for same-sex marriage in the United States. In January 2009, she appeared in the star-studded "Defying Inequality: The Broadway Concert  A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights".[16]

Health and death

In June 1997, McClanahan was diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she was treated successfully.[17]

On November 14, 2009, she was to be honored for her lifetime achievements at an event "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, California.[18] The event was postponed due to McClanahan's hospitalization. She had triple bypass surgery on November 4. It was announced on January 14, 2010, by Entertainment Tonight that, while recovering from surgery, she had suffered a minor stroke. In March 2010, fellow Golden Girls cast member Betty White reported on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that McClanahan was doing well and that her speech had returned to normal.[19]

McClanahan died on June 3, 2010, at the age of 76, at New York–Presbyterian Hospital after she suffered a brain hemorrhage.[2][20][21][17][22] After cremation, her ashes were spread between her family farm and Central Park in NYC.[23]

Betty White, who co-starred with McClanahan on both Mama's Family and The Golden Girls, told Entertainment Tonight that McClanahan was a "close and dear friend".[24]

McClanahan was survived by her sixth husband, Morrow Wilson (from whom she separated in 2009); her son from her first marriage, Mark Bish of Austin, Texas; her sister, Melinda L. McClanahan, of Silver City, New Mexico; nephews, Brendan and Sean Kinkade, and nieces Marcia and Amelia.[25] There was no funeral service for McClanahan so her family created an official memorial page on Facebook,[26] and memorial services were held during the summer of 2010 in New York and Los Angeles.[25] On June 10, 2010, her New York apartment went on the market for an asking price of $3.95 million.[27][28]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Nominated work Result
1969 Obie Award for Best Actress Who's Happy Now Won
1986 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series The Golden Girls Nominated
1986 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1986 Golden Apple Award for Female Star of the Year Won
1987 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1987 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Won
1988 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1988 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
1989 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
2003 TV Land Award for Quintessential Non-traditional Family Won
2008 TV Land Pop Culture Award Won

Television work



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Rue McClanahan: Biography". TV Guide. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 Douglas, Martin (June 3, 2010). "Rue McClanahan, Actress and Golden Girl, Dies at 76". The New York Times. Retrieved November 15, 2013. Her manager, Barbara Lawrence, said Ms. McClanahan died of a brain hemorrhage at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She was treated for breast cancer in 1997 and had heart bypass surgery last year.
  3. "'Golden Girl' Rue McClanahan aimed to show 'that when people mature, they add layers'". The Christian Science Monitor. AP. June 3, 2010. Retrieved November 15, 2013.
  4. "William Edwin "Bill" McClanahan at Find a Grave". Retrieved January 20, 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Rue McClanahan profile". Film Reference. Advameg, Inc. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  6. 1 2 McClanahan, Rue (April 10, 2007). My First Five Husbands.. And the Ones Who Got Away. Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-7679-2779-6.
  7. "TV star Rue McClanahan in Chicago promoting her new book". WLS-TV. May 17, 2007. Retrieved March 18, 2014.
  8. Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 279. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  9. Triggs, Charlotte; Silverman, Stephen M. (3 June 2010). "Golden Girls Star Rue McClanahan Dies at 76". People. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  10. 1 2 Jooley Ann (April 27, 2007). "Austinist interviews Rue McClanahan". The Austinist. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  11. "I’m an Alley Cat Ally" Campaign
  12. "Rue on Obama, Boring 'Sex'". David Hauslaib. July 11, 2008. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  13. Jones, Kenneth (27 June 2003). "Rue McClanahan Bows Out of Bway's Six Dance Lessons; Hamill Ready to Dance". Playbill. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  14. Gans, Andrew (21 November 2003). "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks to Close Nov. 23". Playbill. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  15. "TV Land Awards Party Like It's 1979". E! Online. June 8, 2008. Archived from the original on July 31, 2008. Retrieved June 3, 2010.
  16. Gans, Andrew. "Prop 8 Musical Will Be Part of Star-Studded Defying Inequality Benefit". Retrieved January 26, 2009.
  17. 1 2 Itzkoff, Dave (June 3, 2010). "Rue McClanahan, Actress and 'Golden Girls' Star, Has Died". The New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  18. "Tickets for GOLDEN: A GALA TRIBUTE TO RUE MCCLANAHAN with Television Icon Live In Person!". TicketWeb. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  19. "Betty White on Ellen Degeneres".
  20. "Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan dies at age 76" New York Daily News, June 3, 2010.
  21. "Youngest Golden Girl Rue McClanahan dies of stroke". Hot Zone. June 3, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  22. "Rue McClanahan (1934 - 2010) - Find A Grave Memorial".
  23. "Rue McClanahan". Find a Grave. Retrieved October 18, 2010.
  24. Rue McClanahan death,; accessed August 23, 2016.
  25. 1 2 Nelson, Valerie J. (June 4, 2010). "'Golden Girl' Rue McClanahan dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 4, 2010.
  26. "The Official Rue McClanahan Memorial Page". Facebook.
  27. Rue McClanahan's Apartment Hits the Market
  28. "Rue Mcclanahan – Mcclanahan's Apartment Up for Sale". Retrieved June 13, 2010.
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