Rue McClanahan is nursing her illness – an “indefinable something,” she determines – with a bowl of vegetable soup, which sounds pretty dull compared to the dish she serves to us (see accompanying story) and the quick rewind to The Gayest Show About Old Women, “The Golden Girls.”
What’s your relationship like with the other ladies from ‘Golden Girls’?
We have a professional relationship. I did (TV series) ‘Maude’ with Bea Arthur, and Betty (White) was an occasional guest – or she made an occasional appearance on ‘Mama’s Family.’ I knew them both professionally, but we worked together for seven years – and eight years as far as Betty was concerned, ’cause we did ‘Golden Palace’ after ‘Golden Girls’ without Bea.
We never had social lives together; all four of us had different groups of friends, came from different groups and at different times moved to California – or, in Betty’s case, grew up there. We had to be together constantly in all the dozens and dozens and dozens of public appearances we had to make that didn’t necessarily get televised. So we saw enough of each other – but we had very little in common.
In addition to the gay scenes on ‘Golden Girls,’ there was sex talk and there was even an AIDS episode. Why do you think the show got away with so much?
Because we were older. And because we had established ourselves as a group of friends who loved each other and really cared about each other … . Betty White always explained it (as being) older, we could get away with having those stories that, she thought, probably from younger actresses would have been taken the wrong way or frowned on. I never thought the subjects we touched were at all taboo; I thought they made a great deal of sense.
For the time, talking about gay people was pretty progressive in itself.
Blanche was a pretty outrageous character, being as freewheelin’ as she was about sex. She had absolutely no inhibitions about it – and that was very unusual – but to her, it was as natural as breathing. She was always looking for her true love since she’d lost George, her husband, but she was nevertheless unabashedly interested in sex itself and in men – and, I think, even those men she was dating that didn’t have any hope of becoming her next husband (laughs). She was just a little oversexed. She had to have sex.
She was one of my favorite characters ever – not ’cause I relate.
I think that anything that’s freeing is good for the audience. Anything that’s stepping on a taboo is good for the audience, because culture always follows art.
Now, you’re 74 years young, is that right?
I don’t ever discuss my age but –
Well, then, how long do plan on acting for?
I plan on acting as long as I enjoy it. I’m editing 12 short stories I wrote because my memoir (‘My First Five Husbands … And the Ones Who Got Away’) was such a success that it encouraged me to do more writing, and not about myself at all – fictional stories – well, some of them were taken from real life, and I like that a lot.
And I like acting a lot when I can do something as interesting as ‘Sordid Lives.’ I was in ‘Wicked’ on Broadway for seven months; I did not enjoy that. Someone’s writing right now, he’s putting together a Broadway musical based on my book, a one-woman show. And that would be fun to do because of the way he’s having it put together; it’s so unique and so brilliantly conceived, and we’re going to call it ‘My First Five Husbands … And the Ones Who Got Away.’
But I certainly do intend to go on working as long as I say, as long as I’m enjoying it – and such good things come along. I just did a Hallmark film with Ed Asner in April and it’s called ‘Generation Gap’ – and that was an enjoyable part and an enjoyable experience.
Is it gonna make me cry, Rue?
Parts of it will, and parts of it will make you laugh.