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Rue McClanahan, from theater to television and back again

June 3, 2010 | 10:34 am

RueRue McClanahan, who played the aging Southern belle Blanche Devereaux in the hit NBC comedy series "The Golden Girls," died Thursday at age 76. Reports said she passed away after suffering a stroke at a New York hospital.

The actress won an Emmy in 1987 for her role in "The Golden Girls," in which she co-starred with Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty. McClanahan's Blanche was an oversexed siren and proto-cougar who seduced men of all ages with her Southern charm. The show ran from 1985 to 1992 and continues to air in syndication.

McClanahan co-starred alongside Arthur in the CBS sitcom "Maude," from 1972 to 1978. She also had a recurring role in NBC's "Mama's Family" during the early '80s.

Culture Monster remembers that when she wasn't working in television, McClanahan often performed on stage, including theatrical stints on Broadway, off Broadway and in Southern California.

The actress won a scholarship to study at the Pasadena Playhouse early in her career. In her autobiography "My First Five Husbands ... and the Ones Who Got Away," McClanahan wrote that in her third year at the playhouse, she played the role of a more famous Blanche -- Blanche DuBois -- in a production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." She described the part as "a plum role I always wanted to tackle."

McClanahan later moved to New York where she studied with Uta Hagen and Harold Clurman. In 1968, she performed in the Broadway production of Murray Schisgal's "Jimmy Shine," which starred Dustin Hoffman. The actress won an Obie in 1970 for her performance in the off-Broadway production of "Who's Happy Now."

Soon, Hollywood beckoned and the actress began her career in television. But she would return to the stage in between her screen jobs.

McClanahan had a supporting role in a critically acclaimed revival of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" at the Old Globe in San Diego. The production was taped and later aired on PBS in 1983.

In 1985, McClanahan performed in a production of "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" at the Back Alley Theatre in Van Nuys. The actress told The Times that her housewife character "is obsessed with the afterlife and has taken to throwing herself into open graves: She jumps in, screaming 'Take me with you!'"

After "The Golden Girls," McClanahan performed twice on Broadway -- in the Roundabout's 2001 revival of "The Women," and in the hit musical "Wicked," in which she stepped into the role of Madame Morrible in 2005.  

McClanahan was born in Oklahoma and studied German and theater at the University of Tulsa. The actress was a breast cancer survivor and had undergone heart bypass surgery in 2009.

-- David Ng

Photo: Rue McClanahan. Credit: Mark Mainz / Getty Images

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