The Maude episode, “Vivian’s First Funeral”, aired the day I was born. There they were, two girls that were indeed golden, seamlessly bouncing lines off each other as if it were in their very bones…which of course, it was.
Vivian, played by the incomparable Rue McClanahan, had never been to a funeral and it was left to Maude, the inimitable (except by great drag queens) Bea Arthur, to allay her fears and get her through. Of course, after it is realized that Vivian’s broach that she leant to Maude was now on the deceased, hilarity ensues.
Years later, living in McLean, Va, a 13 year old boy, unable to untangle the feelings deep within, would every Saturday sit at the foot of his parent’s bed, eating Hawaiian pizza, Doritos, drinking Coke, and watch The Golden Girls.
I was drawn to the four “girls” in a way that could not be explained But it didn't matter. I loved them. I loved them so much and knew that, in a way, they could untangle the feelings and quiet the noise within me if they only knew me. Sure, I knew it was fictitious, and sure I knew that they were just characters. But they were characters that spoke to me. And at that point in my life there was nothing more comforting than knowing that on the other side of that screen in my parents' bedroom there were four broads that had my back.
I especially loved Blanche, the saucy, slutty, unapologetic Blanche that never backed away but beneath her vivacious façade was a tender, loving, compassionate soul. I adored her. I wanted to be her. I wanted to know what it was like to have so many vying for my affection. I wanted to know a man as Blanche knew men. She saw me through my secrets in my teen years. I imagined she held them as her own until I was ready, and courageous enough, to reveal them.
Therefore it should come as no surprise that when I heard that Rue McClanahan passed away I cried. Actually, to be honest, I bawled my eyes out. I cried for hours and did not leave my apartment. It was odd, really. I don’t recall ever crying upon learning of a celebrity’s death but Rue was different. When Rue left, she took a little part of me with her.
Which made this past Wednesday all the more magical. There I was, all 34 years old of supposed grown-up, standing in the Manhattan apartment of none other than THE Rue McClanahan! Sure, I had produced hundreds of book signings that included many of the most admired people in the world. I had met enough celebrities to fill ten lifetimes. But standing in Rue’s apartment was different. She was my golden girl and I was standing in her home.
A few weeks ago my friend Michael J. La Rue and I got to talking about things and we realized we had a mutual friend who had a connection to Rue. I then learned that not only was Michael one of Rue’s closest friends and the producer of her Broadway bound show “My First Five Husbands”, but he was also the person to whom Rue’s family had entrusted to settle her estate.
“You should come over sometime. I’m there all the time organizing her stuff and preparing most of it for auction”
Are. You. F’in. Kidding. Me!?!?!?!?! COME OVER???? Um, let me think about this
“I’d love to come over!”
And with that, a couple of weeks later, there I was in Rue’s east side apartment, having tea and conversation with Michael.
It was true. As Michael took me through her apartment and told me wonderful stories about Rue and each of her belongings, he also talked about the auctions. Plural.
I was there for a reason, of course, and it was not to drool over Rue McClanahan’s belongings. Michael enlisted my help in getting the word out about the auctions and the film (see below) given my background in publicity and marketing. I was there on business. Nevertheless, I drooled. A lot. But get the word out I will. My girl wanted it that way.
You see, Rue was adamant about a few things. One of those things was that there be no funeral. She believed that the funeral industry preyed upon the vulnerable in their time of need and she wanted none of it. It was her wish that she be cremated and that there be memorial services in her homes for her family. She also wanted all her belongings, from her costumes and wardrobe to her personal effects, save the things her family wanted, to be auctioned off. Just call her No to-do Rue.
So Michael plans on doing just that. “I’m going to have close to ten auctions throughout the country. I want as many of her fans as possible to come and, even if they can’t buy anything, at least see some of the great things she owned. You know she got to keep most of her wardrobe from Golden Girls? Actually she kept every damn thing she ever owned!” That was for sure. I saw the woman’s prom dress. Her prom dress! Which, by the way, is in mint condition!
As we toured her home, I realized how multidimensional this woman really was. In the music room that led to her bedroom were book shelves filled with the most diverse selection of books that you’d be hard pressed find anywhere. In her closets (and believe me, this woman had closets) were shoes from Golden Girls and Maude and Broadway as well as shoes she bought herself. In addition to clothes and shoes and books , Rue owned over a thousand pieces of jewelry, including the gold Tiffany’s bracelet that the producers gave the gals on The Golden Girls at series end that was engraved with the initials GG and inside the clasp was etched the number 7 for seven seasons.
Every last bit of it and more will be coming to a city near you in the near future. And, per Rue’s wishes, every last bit will be sold. And soon enough someone else will own her apartment. Also, be on the lookout for a documentary about Rue, produced by Michael, to be out in the near future. The documentary was originally intended to follow Rue and Michael through the preparations and production of the Broadway bound autobiographical “My First Five Husbands”. Sadly Rue passed before that dream was realized. However Michael is now using the footage as well as so much more for a documentary about Rue.
She’d have it no other way.
And neither would I.
The 13 year old boy was with me last Wednesday. And as we walked through Rue’s home, the 34 year-old on business and the wide-eyed boy on a dream fulfilled, that boy never imagined 21 years ago that he would be in the very home of the woman to whom he had entrusted so much yet never knew.
So thank you Michael. Thanks for letting me travel down that road and back again. Thanks for letting me say goodbye to Rue. Thanks for letting me be a part of this journey moving forward.
Thank you, most of all, for being both our friend.