Still, she's best known as sex-pot Southern belle Blanche Devereaux from TV's The Golden Girls. And, as often happens, many fans confuse McClanahan's on-stage persona with her real life.
"If someone has appeared nightly in the privacy of your bedroom, you must be intimately acquainted with her, n'est-ce pas?" the actress reasons. But her just-released book (available, yes, in large print) proves that Rue -- beyond the wisecracks, the multiple marriages and the six-decade career -- still has a trick or two up her silk-dressing-gown sleeve.
Rue-ing the day
Fact: McClanahan isn't much of a cook. She prefers New York to Hollywood, she's a vegetarian, and even though on New Year's Eve "we're all supposed to go mad with paper hats and razzy whistles," she always stays home and goes to bed early.
Fact: The actress is also a choreographer, tap dancer and short-story author (look for her upcoming collection, Bedtime Stories for Lovers and Other Insomniacs). She was never an Elvis fan (she prefers jazz). And, though it seems she's been around forever (her Golden Girls role established her as a "woman of a certain age" more than two decades ago), her career didn't really take off until she was well into her 30s.
"I wondered if, in fact, this was going to be some horrible dark, cruel joke life was going to play on me: Just load me down with talent, but never allow me to express it," she admits to Xpress. If that's a bit of a shock, coming from an Emmy winner, chew on this disclaimer from a supposedly unflappable character: "I'm not going to advise anyone to hang in there," says McClanahan. "It's too terribly difficult and sometimes the rewards aren't worth it."
Her advice to struggling artists: "It has to be a religious calling."
Husbands makes readily apparent the fervor with which theater gripped McClanahan, from her teenage dabbling in dance and drama to single motherhood where she was forced, time and again, to leave her young son behind while pursuing her career.
At times, the writer -- despite a quick wit and delicious cattiness -- comes off as unforgivably selfish. And yet that's part of the charm of Husbands. McClanahan unflinchingly confronts her past, for better or worse.
"I haven't heard from my fifth husband since the book came out," she confesses. "I think he's mad. I don't expect to hear from husbands three and four." Those unlucky fellows -- simply referred to as "The Italian" and "The Greek" -- are both squarely dissed.
But, despite the book's juicy title, don't expect too much man-bashing. McClanahan is a fan of the gender, going so far as to bawdily rate her former lovers. "I'll give the man a B for bumptious enthusiasm," she writes of one.
Yes, the author shares an erotic sensibility with her famed TV character ("All through the first season of The Golden Girls, Blanche was enjoying a wahoo sex life, but this gal's name was under 'celibate' in Webster's," she bemoans), though Husbands reveals that romantic love for McClanahan was intricately mixed with anxiety and loneliness, often serving as hurdles to her career.
It's worth noting that even now, at 73, the actress doesn't feel she's really made it. "I can say I'm well known, a lot of my work is appreciated, and I'm not overlooked anymore," she says. "But I still haven't done what I set out to do, which was become a true artist on the stage. I'd like to be called upon to do important plays."
Well, she does have a musical in the works. Seems like McClanahan is finally getting started.
Rue McClanahan reads from My First Five Husbands at Malaprop's Bookstore (55 Haywood St.) on Saturday, May 12. 7 p.m. Free. 254-6734.