August 16, 2012 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
Remembering Rue

The late Rue McClanahan with her gay best friend, Michael J. LaRue. (Photo courtesy Nik Pressley)

Some people can’t stand having stuff around they don’t use. Rue McClanahan was not one of them.

The “Golden Girls” actress, who died at age 76 in 2010 of a brain hemorrhage, wanted fans to have a chance to have her many personal belongings. Her best gay friend, Michael J. LaRue, has organized her items in a series of sales. The two met at Studio 54 of all places (for an animal charity event) about 10 years before she died and quickly became the closest of friends, LaRue says.

“For some reason, we could just crack each other up all the time,” LaRue says. “We just became really good friends. She always joked about marrying me so she could be Rue LaRue, but of course that wouldn’t have worked.”

LaRue, who was collaborating with the actress on a stage adaptation of her memoirs, says McClanahan was a keeper and collector.

“Let me tell you, that woman was a shopper and she saved everything,” he says. “She had this sprawling urban oasis in mid-town Manhattan … she had 13 closets in the house and five external storage areas and you couldn’t fit a paperclip in any one of them.”

As per McClanahan’s instructions, after family and friends had their pick, the rest goes to auction. Some was sold in Beverly Hills. A large sampling, including several scripts, costumes and collectibles from “The Golden Girls,” are available for purchase at estateofrue.com. The items are direct purchase and some are available for about $100.

“She really wanted the fans to have a chance to have what they wanted,” he says. “This isn’t about generating a zillion dollars. It’s about getting the stuff out there.”

LaRue says he’s “not a stuff person.” He has a drawing McClanahan made for him, her ashes and her Emmy. Her only child, her son Mark who lives in Texas, also took many items he wanted. In all, McClanahan named 22 beneficiaries in her will.

LaRue says McClanahan was a great pal. In addition to the work on the autobiography adaptation (“It was tight and really coming together when she got sick,” he says), a film crew followed the actress around for two years while she worked on it. Of the 150 hours they shot, a documentary is being made LaRue hopes will be finished within 18 months or two years.

LaRue says McClanahan was completely unguarded with him and had high regard for her fellow actresses, Betty White and the late Bea Arthur, though Arthur didn’t particularly care for White.

“Betty and Rue were friends and Rue and Bea were friends, and they all loved Estelle (Getty),” he says. “Susan Harris told Rue, ‘Thank God you’re here to play mediator. This show would never work without you.’”

The actresses, though, were always professional with each other, LaRue says. On taping nights, they would wait until all four were ready to go to the commissary. A reunion in which their segments were filmed separately was done because of logistics, not animosity LaRue says.

“She used to say she was nothing like Blanche, but that was such bullshit,” LaRue says of his pal. “I mean come on, she had six husbands … she was like Blanche in a lot of ways.”

The ultimate, LaRue says, was watching “Golden Girls” reruns with McClanahan, who also had starring roles on “Maude” and “Mama’s Family” in addition to the 70 movies and 250 theatrical plays she was in over her lifetime.

“We’d sit there watching and she’d say, ‘Listen to that, listen to that.’ It wasn’t about her performance. She was always pointing out how brilliant the writing was.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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