While it's hardly unusual for Hollywood actresses to lie about their ages, Rue McClanahan was one of the rare gems who actually feigned being a few years older just to get herself cast as one of the Golden Girls. "Rue told me when she saw that Golden Girls script, she had to be a part of it, even if she had to lie about her age," Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry, who worked as a staff writer on the 1985-92 sitcom about four sexually active Miami seniors, tells TV Guide Magazine.
The Oklahoma native, who succumbed to a severe stroke on June 3 at age 76 while recovering from a previous stroke and 2009 triple bypass surgery, was that determined to team up with her former Maude co-star Bea Arthur and Mama's Family colleague Betty White, both of whom were more than ten years her senior.
White had originally been cast as in McClanahan's Emmy-winning role as man-hungry Southern belle Blanche Devereaux, while McClanahan was to play dimwitted Rose — a role not unlike the Vivian Harmon part she'd already played on Maude. "So we switched roles and she took Blanche out into orbit where I never would have dared to go," White tells TV Guide Magazine.
McClanahan, who had spent the last several years in New York City, last spoke with White by telephone just last month when White was in town hosting Saturday Night Live. "She had lost her speech and was really bad, but when I spoke with her this last time I was thrilled," White says. "I said, 'How are you?' and she [struggled to say], 'Never better,' which was the clearest she was able to speak."
Encouraged that her pal would bounce back, White confides, "It came as a devastating blow when we lost her. We just adored each other and had such fun."
Like Blanche, McClanahan amassed her own impressive harem of men, marrying six times. White recalls attending McClanahan's book-signing for her racy 2007 memoir, My First Five Husbands...And the Ones Who Got Away. "I bought several books to support her, and when I got home and read the book I thought, 'Whoa,'" says White. "I had to think twice about which friends I could send the book to."
But that's where the comparisons to bombastic Blanche ended. "Ruesy was a very serious actress who took her work very seriously," says Cherry, remembering the comedienne as far more business-minded and intelligent than the overblown characters she played.
Behind the scenes, McClanahan and White were fond of playing games to pass time. "She was like a butterfly — such fun," says White. "We would play these alphabet games — coming up with 'automobiles' or 'animals,' during the show — sometimes even while we were waiting to make an entrance or passing each other as we exited." Another time, White remembers opening her doors to a huge box. "Inside was a big, beautiful stuffed pig," says White, with a laugh. "Rue knew how much I loved all animals."
During Golden Girls' run, McClanahan also wrote and produced a musical for herself titled, Oedipus Schmedipus, As Long As You Love Your Mother, which she performed in Los Angeles. "She was a woman of many talents," says Cherry, whose favorite Blanche moment was her mistaking menopause for a late-in-life pregnancy.
Says White, "Ruesy knew that Blanche thought she was the sexiest most beautiful person in the world, so Rue said, 'Well, if I look just like Blanche, then why don't I think of myself that way too!'"
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