Rue McClanahan: Man-mad Blanche Devereaux in 'The Golden Girls'

Worldwide fame came to the American actress Rue McClanahan when she played Blanche Devereaux, a nymphomaniacal Southern belle living out her twilight years in Miami with three other women, in the groundbreaking American television sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92).

The man-mad merry widow, who took mouth-to-mouth resuscitation classes because she liked kissing, owned the house they shared. She was joined by the acid-tongued divorcée Dorothy (played by Bea Arthur), the dippy but lovable widow Rose (Betty White) and Dorothy's outspoken mother, Sophia (Estelle Getty).

Susan Harris, who created The Golden Girls, previously wrote scripts for the sitcom Maude (1972-78), starring Arthur in the title role of a four times-married feminist and liberal, with McClanahan as her unliberated friend and neighbour, Vivian Harmon, in the New York suburbs. Like Maude, The Golden Girls tackled taboo subjects such as gambling and homosexuality. It was the first American television series to boast an all-female starring cast.

The comedy came from the banter and, sometimes acerbic, wit among the four women, as well as the poignancy of the relationships. Blanche was forever looking for a man, but she never found lasting love and had to settle, perhaps reluctantly, for friendship with her housemates.

"I think she has an attitude toward women that's competitive," said McClanahan of her character. "She is friends with Dorothy and Rose, but if she has enough provocation she becomes competitive with them. I think, basically, she's insecure."

The actor was born Eddi-Rue McClanahan in Healdton, Oklahoma, in 1934, to a building contractor and a beautician. By her final year at Ardmore High School, she was running a dance school. After gaining a degree in German and theatre arts from the University of Tulsa, McClanahan moved to New York City, where she trained as an actor with Uta Hagen and Perry Mansfield, and shortened her first name to Rue.

Her professional stage debut came with the role of Rachel in Inherit the Wind, at the Erie Playhouse, Philadelphia (1957), where she met her first husband, the actor Tom Bish. However, the marriage ended soon after the birth of their son, Mark, and McClanahan opened her own acting and dance school in Ardmore.

Later, she returned to New York City and, in 1964, made her Broadway debut as Hazel in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Players Theatre). Her other Broadway roles included Sally Weber in the musical Jimmy Shine (Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 1968-9), starring Dustin Hoffman.

On television, McClanahan was cast as the villainous Caroline Johnson (1970-71) in the daytime serial Another World. A second soap opera role, as Margaret Jardin (1971-72), followed in Where the Heart Is. Then came the part of the scatterbrained Vivian in Maude, offered to the actor by the producer Norman Lear, who had spotted her as the mistress Faye Precious in the off-Broadway stage play Who's Happy Now? (Village South Theatre, 1969), a performance that won her an Obie award.

McClanahan had another regular television role, as the uptight spinster Aunt Fran, in Mama's Family (1983-84), until the programme – which also featured Betty White – was cancelled, although it later returned, with cast changes.

In the meantime, the two actresses were auditioned for The Golden Girls, with McClanahan reading for the role of Rose and White for Blanche – but, on hearing them, the director switched them round. McClanahan won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (1987). In 1992, Bea Arthur announced that she was leaving, so McClanahan, White and Estelle Getty were spun off into the short-lived series The Golden Palace, with their characters running a Miami Beach hotel.

McLanahan continued to appear on television, with guest roles in programmes such as Murphy Brown (1997), Columbo (1998) and Law & Order (2009). She was also a regular in Sordid Lives: The Series (2008), playing the matriarch Peggy Ingram who gives refuge to a bar singer and arsonist released from prison, a character played by Olivia Newton-John.

Although she was best known on television, McClanahan's film roles included Nancy Stringer in the romantic comedy musical The Fighting Temptations (2003), alongside Cuba Gooding, Jr and Beyoncé Knowles.

Having survived a 1997 diagnosis of breast cancer, McClanahan underwent triple-bypass heart surgery last year. She suffered a minor stroke while recovering and eventually died from another stroke and a brain haemorrhage.

The six times-married actress's autobiography, My First Five Husbands... and the Ones Who Got Away, was published in 2007.

Eddi-Rue McClanahan, actress: born Healdton, Oklahoma 21 February 1934; married 1958 Tom Bish (divorced 1959; one son), 1959 Norman Hartweg (divorced 1961), 1964 Peter D'Maio (divorced 1971), 1976 Gus Fisher (divorced 1978), 1985 Tom Keel (divorced 1986), 1997 Morrow Wilson; died New York City 3 June 2010.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Female PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Teaching Assistant - Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Shropshi...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits