Thursday, June 3, 2010

R.I.P, Rue McClanahan

Actress Rue McClanahan, a television icon remembered for her supporting roles in the hit sitcoms Maude and The Golden Girls, has taken her final bow after suffering a massive stroke early this morning. She was 76. McClanahan’s health had been particularly dicey for quite some time, having suffered a minor stroke earlier this year after recovering from bypass surgery.

Rue started her show business career in 1957 in New York and won acclaim in 1969 with her Broadway debut in Jimmy Shine, a musical that also featured a young Dustin Hoffman. She also found work in motion pictures, appearing in such stirring films as The Grass Eater (1961), Five Minutes to Live (1961; aka Door-to-Door Maniac), Five Minutes to Love (1963), How to Succeed with Girls (1964) and Angel's Flight (1965). Her later film appearances include The People Next Door (1970), The Pursuit of Happiness (1971), They Might Be Giants (1971), Dear God (1996), Out to Sea (1997) and Starship Troopers (1997).

Television, however, proved to be McClanahan’s métier. From initial roles in soap operas like Another World, Love of Life and Where the Heart Is to guest appearances in shows like All in the Family (the classic “The Bunkers and the Swingers”), Rue became a major presence on the boob tube, culminating with a supporting role on the situation comedy Maude. McClanahan played Vivian Cavender, the ditzy sidekick to Maude Finlay (Beatrice Arthur)—who was romanced on the series by Maude’s stuffy next-door neighbor, Dr. Arthur Harmon (Conrad Bain). Vivian and Arthur later were married on the program that ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978.

McClanahan and Arthur would later work together on the show that for many fans remains the program with which Rue would forever be identified: The Golden Girls, the popular NBC sitcom which began a seven-year-run on the network beginning in 1985. (McClanahan was also a cast member of the Golden Girls spin-off, The Golden Palace, which lasted a single season on CBS.) As Blanche Devereaux, an aged-in-the-wood Southern doyenne who’d been around the block a time or two, McClanahan was part of a formidable ensemble of female comic actresses that included (in addition to her pal Arthur) Betty White and Estelle Getty. Getty passed away in 2008 and Arthur died last year, which leaves White as the only surviving “Golden Girl.”

Other television series that featured McClanahan include Apple Pie (a Depression-era comedy which lasted six minutes on ABC in 1978), Safe Harbor and Mama’s Family, on which Rue played Aunt Fran on the program’s early years. She could also be glimpsed in frequent guest-star roles on series as varied as Mannix, Lou Grant, Trapper John, MD, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Newhart, Murphy Brown, Murder, She Wrote, Touched By an Angel and King of the Hill.

I grew up in front of a television set watching Rue McClanahan, and hearing of her passing has affected me as though I’ve lost a family member or lifelong chum. R.I.P, Rue…thank you for being a friend.

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1 comment:

Stacia said...

Oh, no :( We were just talking about her at length on another forum for the last couple of days, with many asking how her health was. This wasn't the answer we were looking for.