Rue McClanahan's Changing Looks
She was 34 when she debuted on Broadway opposite Dustin Hoffman in the musical Jimmy Shine. (Judging by this risque shot, it appears that her role presaged the sexually adventurous part she'd later become known for.)
Rue's big small-screen break came in 1972, when, at 38, she was cast to play the ditzy best friend to Bea Arthur's Maude. "[Bea] taught me... to be outrageously courageous as a comedienne, to go out on a limb, to go farther than I've ever dreamed of going," she told Entertainment Weekly.
After Maude ended in 1978, creator Norman Lear conceived a star vehicle for Rue: A Great Depression-set series called Apple Pie in which she went very retro to play a lonely hairdresser in Kansas City in the 1930s; Dabney Coleman co-starred. The show lasted only eight episodes, but afterwards, Rue busied herself with spots on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.
In 1983, Rue won a recurring role (alongside future fellow Golden Girl Betty White) on comedian Vicki Lawrence's Mama's Family. She wore tightly-curled hair and high-necked, frilly blouses to play the title character's uptight sister, Fran.
With the 1985 premiere of Golden Girls, Rue--then in her early fifties--became a sensation; as Blanche, she favored oversized earrings, colorful, big-shouldered blazers, and frosted hair. Rumor has it that she was originally asked to audition for clueless Rose, but the director suggested that she and Betty White switch parts before the pilot.
Rue won an Emmy for her work on Golden Girls (she was nominated four times). At the 1987 ceremony, she set herself apart from her character by feathering her honey-hued hair, applying sexy, smoky-hued eye makeup, and donning a dramatic plumed jacket.
In 1992, Rue, Betty White, and Estelle Getty teamed up to appear in a short-lived Golden Girls spinoff,The Golden Palace. The show, which also starred Cheech Marin and Don Cheadle, was not a commercial success, but didn't Rue look great with hoop earrings and slightly longer, looser hair?
After appearing on Murphy Brown and in the sci-fi hit Starship Troopers in 1997, Rue was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she fought it, successfully, and returned to Broadway in 2005 for an eight-month run as Madame Morrible in Wicked. By 2007, she was promoting her autobiography, My First Five Husbands, (she was survived by her sixth), in a shining black jacket that complemented her equally sparkly blue eyes.