Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

Rue McClanahan

Actress Rue McClanahan had a wide and varied career on stage, in film and on television, but she's most widely remembered for playing the vivacious and bodaciously lusty senior Blanche Devereaux in the sitcom The Golden Girls. With just the right blend of sass, sashay and Southern charm, McClanahan made Blanche into an icon of sexuality at a certain age, and endeared fans with her character's unashamed enjoyment of life and its, ahem, pleasures.

The Golden Girls was a well-loved and long-lived sitcom in its time, of course, but it has stayed popular among TV fans, including those well below retirement age. The show struck a chord because of how its characters both represented their age and transcended it. On the one hand, it was (and is) refreshing to see a group of senior women — second-class citizens on much of TV then and now — bickering, living and refusing to be invisible. And on the other hand, there's something universally appealing about the characters' insistence on owning their lives, their voices and their sexuality.

Like Sex and the City's characters later, their appeal was in their power to say whatever, do whatever — and in Blanche's case, do whomever — they wanted. And its hard to imagine the show without McClanahan's embodiment of Blanche's life force; it spoke not just to senior ladies but to young women, gay men and, for that matter, fans of strong characters whatever their own gender, sexuality or age. McClanahan's performance transcended her demographic niche, and it will surely outlive her death.

James Poniewozik

A version of this story previously appeared on on June 3, 2010.