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Television’s Last Sexy Lady: America Loses Rue McClanahan and Little Isis Loses a Childhood Hero

A TV heroine, Rue McClanahan, died today, and the world is a dimmer, sadder and more miserable place for it.

McClanahan, who played man-happy Blanche Devereaux on the still-popular ’80s sitcom Golden Girls, had suffered a minor stroke earlier this year while recovering from bypass surgery. Lawrence adds that at the time of her death Thursday, McClanahan “had her family with her. She went in peace.”

Words fail. Last summer, I read My First Five Husbands: And the Ones Who Got Away. Rue McClanahan was more than Blanche Deveruex from the Golden Girls, but she admitted that Blanche was a character she strongly related to.

Born in Healdton, Okla., Rue lived in six towns by the time she was 8. Her father was a road builder who moved from one project to another. She found solace in acting (“the only thing I ever wanted to do”) and after four years at the University of Tulsa moved to New York, where she worked as a part-time file clerk while trying to find jobs in the theater.

Rue went to Broadway with her parents when she was young, and knew instantly that this was where she belonged. She was one of the best actresses of our time but we all remember her as Blanche, one of television’s only truly sexy female characters. Not only confident and in touch with her sexuality but intelligent and optimistic, Blanche  was the last genuine man eater on TV who didn’t fit the bimbo stereotype that most proud sluts have to watch on cable today. Blanche was a feminist character, and growing up watching The Golden Girls in the midst of a broken home and a disorderly upbringing, I knew who I wanted to be when I was grown and middle aged and still fabulous: Blanche Devereaux.

RIP, Rue. May you find love in your journey to the Summerlands, and in the next life may you be rewarded for all the smiles and laughs you gave to so many young women and gay men.

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25 Responses

  1. We just watched the “lesbian” episode last night (for about the 8th time!) and Rue was sooooo freakin’ hilarious in it! “I don’t see what the big deal is….Danny Thomas is one.” OMG! The world truly is a dimmer place without her.

  2. Beautiful tribute. RIP, Rue. Long live the feminism of Blanche Devereaux. Somewhere in TVland there’s a table and she’s joined them to eat cheesecake and talk about her new boyfriend 😉

  3. Funny, I am not a television watcher, but I tuned in every single week to watch Rue, Betty, Bea and Estelle – and I was furious when the series ended – how could they stop one of the best things television every did?
    Rue was brilliant. It was her time, and my wish to her family is peace and the continuation of that wonderfully irreverant sense of self and humor.
    Thank you littleIsis for recognizing the brilliance of this woman when so many others are trashing the contributions of the feminine majority.

    • The Golden Girls was a feminist show at a time when feminist shows were hard to come by.
      There is an episode of The Golden Girls playing somewhere in the world 24/7.

      • Golden Girls premiered when I was around your age Isis. I didn’t watch the series much, but feminism was stronger then than it is today imo, sadly. Thanks for the post. RIP, Rue McClanahan.

  4. I loved Golden Girls.
    Great tribute, LI. We’ll miss her.

  5. Nice tribute. RIP Rue McClanahan

  6. Thanks, LI. I found myself watching a marathon of Golden Girls reruns on Mother’s day weekend. I was surprised at how easy it was to watch one after another and not want to stop.

    • It never gets stale or outmoded. They could run the entire series today, and it would still be relevant. I wonder why the networks concentrate on the youth, and totally ignore that vast untapped group of women who are older – those with a sense of history and an appreciation of irony and snark.
      Even in my youth, I never related to the programs that were popular. It took Maude and the Golden Girls to capture my attention.

      • Networks focusing more on the youth is a trailing mindset among TV programmers from the decades when boomer youths had more disposable income and size. Not anymore, and the youth today don’t even watch TV. Networks haven’t adjusted very well, and they are going out of business. The Obama election is an example. Obots aren’t necessarily “upwardly mobile” and they are watching less advertising. It’s funny watching Bravo trying to adjust in this recession.

  7. Awesome tribute, LI. I have to go to imdb and try to figure out what Rue did before GG, because I remember hearing somewhere that Betty White was originally supposed to play Blanche and Rue was supposed to play Rose, but Betty didn’t want to be typecast as Sue Ann Nivens and Rue didn’t want to be typecast as the sweet dippy characters she’d played before, so they switched.

  8. God, I am not yet over Bea (who looks and sounds *exactly* like my late, beloved grandmother, who hated it when we called her “Maude”). So sad.

  9. Thank you, littleisis for this wonderful tribute to Rue. I watched The Golden Girls as I entered into middle age and it gave me hope for life after fifty, I loved all the ladies and am so sad that three of them are gone. I hope that Rue felt well enough to enjoy Betty White’s triumph on SNL,

    May Rue’s peignoirs live forever!

  10. Blanche proves to Rose that her body can defy age, gravity…and Dade County.

    • The Golden Girls – Lesbian Lovers of Miami

      Dorothy and Blanche agree to go on a TV show as a favor for Rose, who misunderstood the concept of the program.

  11. Golden Girls “Condom” Skit

    A hilarious episode of “The Golden Girls” where Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose buy condoms at a local grocery store. They have never been more embarrassed in their entire lives! “Condoms, Rose, CONDOMS, CONDOMS, CONDOMS!.”

  12. From Season 7, Episode 2 of ‘The Golden Girls’ entitled ‘The Case of the Libertine Belle’. The girls attend a murder mystery weekend, during which Blanche shares with Dorothy And Rose her views on flirting.

    • Gosh, these gals are just great…LMO…

      You are an Ole Gal at heart Little One.

      • lol… maybe. I’m the youngest of four and I’ve spent most of my life around people who are older than me, even in high school, so maybe that has something to do with it.
        I just love the Golden Girls. At least Betty has this resurgence in her career. I can’t wait ’till The Cleveland Show premiers.

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