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Rue McClanahan, best known for playing Blanche Devereaux on TV's The Golden Girls from 1985 until 1992, is on her sixth husband and about to shoot a comedy for Here TV, in which she'll play a free-spirited grandmother. She looks back on her love life and acting career in theater, film, and TV in My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away (Broadway Books, 352 pages, $24.95).
How much do you have in common with Blanche Devereaux? I always say she was a glamorous, oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern belle from Atlanta--and I'm not from Atlanta!
Why do you think gay men love Blanche Devereaux so much--aside from the glamour and her way with men? She always bounced back from disappointment very quickly. I think that's why a lot of people loved her. Underneath she was insecure, or she wouldn't have been so man-crazy. It wasn't a driving physical need for her, but she sure did love sex. She might take sex as meaning love; it's not the best way to find love.
In your personal life what role has been the biggest stretch for you? It was revealing myself. In my 40s, I remember thinking, what I really want is a relationship with someone I could show my ugly parts to, someone I didn't have to be on best behavior with. I found that in my 60s with my current husband. Two weeks after we met, I found out I had cancer, and he said he wanted to be with me throughout the experience. By then, I wasn't afraid to reveal myself. But it takes practice.
You had your big TV breaks at ages 38 and 39 with All in the Family and Maude and your biggest role in your 50s with The Golden Girls. How did you buck the ageism that plagues so many actresses? If you don't base your self-confidence on looks or another quality that gets weaker with age, but you base it on a really strong belief in your ability to portray characters--your talent, in other words--then you just get better and better.