THE SCENIAC: Rue McClanahan - ‘Golden’ with the gays

(Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
Deborah Netburn, Times Staff Writer

Scientific tests would surely reveal that it is humanly impossible not to love “The Golden Girls"--the ‘80s era show about four older women who share a home in Miami--and for a certain type of gay man it is practically a prerequisite.

So it should come as no surprise that when Rue McClanahan did a book signing at A Different Light, the gay themed bookstore in West Hollywood, the line of “Golden Girl” devotees was so long it spilled out of the store and stretched a quarter block down Santa Monica--even at lunchtime.

McClanahan played the vivacious southern belle Blanche Deveraux on the beloved show, a character who batted her eyes at paunchy old men who would be lucky to have her and fell in love with someone new every episode. As the title of McClanahan’s new autobiography “My First Five Husbands…And the Ones Who Got Away” suggests, her real life was as full of vigor and romance as her iconic character.

McClanahan’s voice is now huskier than it was when she was playing Blanche and she’s gotten broader as she’s aged, rather than gaunt. Her vanity is intact: she took her reading glasses off for every single fan photo.

There wasn’t much time for chit chat since the 200 people who crowded into the store came armed with books, DVDs, and t-shirts to be signed (the shirts, on sale at the store read, “Thank You For Being a Friend”). But before the signing got underway she did have a chance to answer a few questions.

How long has she been with her current husband? “Ten years this Christmas,” she said in that warm southern voice. “He’s lasted longer than any of the others.”

Had she ever seen “The Q Guide to The Golden Girls"--a book about the show and it’s impact on gay culture. “No I haven’t. Is it naughty?”

After that the book signing got underway. A young man from McClanahan’s hometown in Southern Oklahoma (and with her accent) told her he was practically raised by her best friend from high school. A librarian from the West Hollywood branch confessed he had taken the day off from work to meet her. And 22-year-old Bryttanie Say, all done up in two-tone Pamela Anderson hair and bright red lipstick, said she dragged her boyfriend from their home in Rancho Cucamonga to the signing after she heard about it on the radio. “I’m obsessed with ‘The Golden Girls,’” she said. “I watch them every day.”

(According to McClanahan’s book, “The Golden Girls” is playing somewhere in the world every hour of every day. “I’m from the jungle of Borneo and we got ‘The Golden Girls’ there,” said event coordinator Billy Avarathar.)

Waiting patiently at the end of the line was Huston Curtis, a formerly handsome man dressed in a smart suit with the beginnings of a blank look in his eye and a bluish undertone to his skin. He was the best man at McClanahan’s third wedding and had known the actress for 30 years. A former television writer who had tried to develop shows for McClanhan back in the late ‘60s. He’s now a novelist and wanted to talk to the actress about playing the lead character in the film adaptation of his as yet unpublished work.

“It’s called ’50 Rooms of Love,’ and it’s about a woman who has been married for 50 years and still has a sexual appetite,” he said.

His companion, a stylish older woman with dark curly hair and enormous sunglasses, laughed loudly. “That’s Rue!” she said.