'Golden Girls' leading lady Rue McClanahan dies at 76
Rue McClanahan, who died Thursday, won the Emmy Award in 1987 for starring as the vivacious Blanche Deveraux on the classic sitcom "The Golden Girls." As the man-eating Southern vixen, McClanahan found the leading role of a lifetime after decades as a supporting player.
As McClanahan discusses in the TV academy archive interview below, she was approached to play the naive Rose, but she and Betty White swapped parts before the first table read. McClanahan was instrumental in convincing her pal Bea Arthur to play the tart-tongued Dorothy while stage vet Estelle Getty was cast as Dorothy's diminutive but domineering mother, Sophia.
"The Golden Girls" was an instant hit when it debuted on NBC in fall 1985 and won best comedy series at the Emmy Awards in 1986. That night nominees Arthur and McClanahan watched as White won the lead actress Emmy. McClanahan would be the victorious one among the three the following year with Arthur finally winning the race in 1988.
As Getty also prevailed in the supporting race in 1988, "The Golden Girls" became only the second TV show -- after "All in the Family" -- to have an entirely Emmy-winning cast. ("Will & Grace" would become the third such show when Debra Messing finally won her Emmy in 2003.)
The three leading golden girls were all nominated again in 1990 but lost to Candice Bergen, who picked up the first of her record five Emmys for "Murphy Brown." Only White would continue to contend for the last three years of "The Golden Girls." The show, which had repeated in the top race in 1988, lost its following four bids for best comedy series.
McClanahan first came to fame in the 1970s as the dim-witted Vivian on "Maude" opposite Arthur in the title role. After Arthur ended that show in 1978, McClanahan starred that fall in "Apple Pie" -- another creation by her good pal Norman Lear -- which was canceled by ABC after only two airings. She had a recurring role on "Mama's Family" for several years before "The Golden Girls" came along.
After the end of that series after seven years when Arthur again bowed out, the remaining trio starred in "The Golden Palace," but the magic was gone and the show was axed after one season in 1993. Since then, McClanahan guested on various TV shows and returned to her stage roots, earning acclaim for appearances in a revival of "The Women" and in the long-running hit tuner "Wicked."
Photo: Rue McClanahan in "The Golden Girls." Credit: NBC.