Intimate Portrait

Season 6 Episode 7

Rue McClanahan

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Aired Monday 7:00 PM Jan 01, 2000 on Lifetime
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Rue McClanahan
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Rue McClanahan: A Truly Golden Career To the world, Rue McClanahan will forever be Southern sex kitten Blanche. But more than that, McClanahan is a wife, an activist and a survivor. It was dance, not acting, that first lured Rue McClanahan into the spotlight. Born into a Midwestern blue-collar family (her father was a construction contractor and her mother, a homemaker), her parents wanted their children to experience the arts, so the young McClanahan got plenty of private dance lessons. Eventually, she taught ballet herself. But as a freshman at the University of Tulsa, the 18-year-old found a new love: acting. She immersed herself in all things theatrical during college, but was torn when a full scholarship to a prestigious dance company in Colorado came her way. Eventually, she turned it down, and graduated with highest honors and a double major in theatre arts and German. But Tulsa couldn't hold her. Her sights were set on New York. Initially, McClanahan kept busy acting in not-quite-Broadway shows, falling in love with fellow actor Tom Lloyd along the way. After a brief courtship, the couple married and had a son, Mark. Unfortunately, their marriage fizzled, and so did another (to Norman Hartweg) before McClanahan got her big break on the Broadway stage. In 1969, McClanahan was cast as one of the leads in Broadway's "Jimmy Shine," starring Dustin Hoffman. During this time, McClanahan met and married husband number three: fellow actor Peter DeMayo. But while her relationships were bumpy (this union ended in divorce as well), her career was hitting its stride. After "Jimmy Shine," she was cast as the lead in back-to-back hits: "Who's Happy Now," which garnered her an Obie award for Best Actress, and "Tonight in Living Color." Rue McClanahan: A Truly Golden Career No wonder McClanahan didn't have much time to wallow in her personal woes. Her day job on the soap opera "Another World" was followed by nightly performances on stage. By 1972, McClanahan was exhausted by the pace — just in time for famed TV producer Norman Lear to come calling. The producer remembered McClanahan from "Tonight in Living Color," and asked her if she'd appear as a guest on his new sitcom, "All in the Family." The next year, Lear called again about a bit part in a few episodes of his new show, "Maude," as the lead's eccentric next-door neighbor, Vivian. McClanahan was a huge hit and she signed on to the show as a regular. McClanahan relocated to Los Angeles, bought a home and put her son in private school. At the same time, friends introduced the newly transplanted McClanahan to Gus Fisher, a former actor who worked in the real estate business. After a few months of dating, McClanahan and Fisher tied the knot. Soon to follow: divorce number four. By 1983, five years after "Maude" was taken off the air, McClanahan returned to prime-time television in "Mama's Family." But her two years as Mama's sister were beset by health problems, including a severely infected gall bladder and respiratory problems, that landed her in the hospital. By the time she was healthy again, "Mama's Family" had been canceled and the actress was left with permanent damage to her vocal cords. Her personal life was equally iffy: McClanahan had reunited with her high school sweetheart, Tom Keel; the two married, but then divorced. In 1985, McClanahan was offered another TV role in "The Golden Girls." It was an instant hit with fans and critics, earning her an Emmy award in 1987 and three more Emmy nominations. In 1990, after seven years on the air, Bea Arthur left the show and "The Golden Girls" came to an end. Although McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty were cast in their own spin-off, "Golden Palace," the audience had moved on and the show was canceled within a year. McClanahan moved back to New York City and launched back into her old love: live theater. While rehearsing for a new show, she also met a new love, Morrow Wilson. He stayed by her side though a diagnosis of breast cancer in the late '90s. Today, she is in complete remission, actively working and still happily married. Lately Rue has just finished filming Miracle Dogs, which will air as a mini-series in 2003, and The Fighting Temptations which will be released in movie theaters in August 2003.moreless

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