Obits

Remembering Rue McClanahan, Who Had The Toughest 'Golden Girls' Job

Rue McClanahan Portrait Session And Book Signing At Book Soup

Actress Rue McClanahan poses at a book signing for her book My First Five Husbands in May 2007. Mark Mainz/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Mainz/Getty Images

Rue McClanahan, who passed away today, had the toughest role on The Golden Girls. Most of the sly punch lines went to Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and Sophia (Estelle Getty); Betty White's Rose got all those delightfully daffy little asides, all those opportunities to tell winding tales of St. Olaf.

Blanche didn't get the best jokes, really; much of the humor there was in the sheer relish with which McClanahan played her. She was charged with being a woman of a kind we are still socially unskilled at handling: a sexually confident and aggressive woman over 50.

If you play that role, and you blink, you turn into a clown. You cannot back away from it, and you can't apologize for it. Blanche is only funny if she means it. She's only funny if she's genuinely, squirmingly, palpably lusty all the time. It can't be a put-on, or she's just a raunchy grandma doing vaudeville jokes.

Check out her voice in this clip (which I've referenced before, because it is an absolute favorite). The way she chirps "Isn't Danny Thomas one?" could not be more perfect. But after that, it gets much funnier. On the page, all you have is "Lesbian. 'Lesbian.' LESBIAN?" The number of syllables and sounds in that last word is 100 percent Rue McClanahan, and it's one of the funniest moments the show ever had. There is so much energy in her voice; there's so much ... whiskey, you know?

YouTube

That's why I always thought Blanche was so funny; she was that southern girl who still called her father "Big Daddy," and she was that flirty single woman, but at the core, there was something made of iron, just like there was with all of them.

Remembrances sometimes reduce me to frustratingly simple sentiments, and here's one: I really, really miss these ladies.

YouTube

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.