My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away

My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away

by Rue McClanahan

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Rue McClanahan, best known for her portrayal of Blanche Devereaux on the Emmy-award winning series The Golden Girls reveals her life in and out of the spotlight in a laugh-out-loud funny memoir about love, marriage, men, and getting older that is every bit as colorful as the characters she played.

Raised in small-town Oklahoma in a house “thirteen telephone poles past the standpipe north of town,” Rue developed her two great passions—theater and men—at an early age. She arrived in New York City in 1957 with two-weeks worth of money in her pocket, hustled her way into a class with the legendary Uta Hagen, and began working her way up in the acting world against the vibrant, free-spirited backdrop of the sixties. That’s when she met and married Husband #1—a handsome rogue of an aspiring actor who quickly left her with a young son. Still, she was determined to make it on the stage and screen—and in the years that followed, rose to the top of the entertainment world with a host of adventures (and husbands) along the way.

From her roles on Broadway opposite Dustin Hoffman and Brad Davis, to her first television appearances on Maude and All in the Family, to the Golden Girls era and beyond, My First Five Husbands is the irresistible story of one woman’s quest to find herself. Rue is proof that many things can and do get better with age—and that, if she keeps her wits about her, even a small-town girl can make it big.

People always ask me if I'm like Blanche. And I say, 'Well, Blanche was an oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern Belle from Atlanta—and I'm not from Atlanta!’” —Rue McClanahan

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767927796
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 04/10/2007
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 4,358
File size: 27 MB
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About the Author

Rue McClanahan was born in Healdton, Oklahoma, and graduated cum laude in theater from the University of Tulsa. Most noted for her role as Blanche on The Golden Girls, McClanahan has had a number of well-known starring roles in television and on Broadway. In addition to her work as an actress, McClanahan spoke regularly for breast cancer awareness and prevention of cruelty toward animals. She lived in New York City with her husband, Morrow Wilson, and her cat, Bianca, until her death in 2010.

Read an Excerpt


How the hell did we end up here?”—Christopher Columbus

My mother, Rheua–Nell, was five feet and one half inch tall. She always included that one half inch. (Hey, if you got it, flaunt it.) Bright and talented in music and dance, she won a Charleston contest when she was sixteen. Had she been younger, I suspect, my grandfather, Pee–Paw, would’ve soundly whipped her with his razor strop. He raised his family in a strict Southern Baptist tradition; no dancing allowed. Shortly thereafter, still sixteen, she graduated valedictorian of her high school class and went off to Dallas to study cosmetology to become a beauty operator. Four years later, she was working in Mrs. Rose’s beauty parlor on Main Street in Healdton, Oklahoma, when she met my father, Bill, who had hurt his back in the construction trade and was managing a billiards parlor a few doors down.

Six weeks later, they married. Ten months after that—February 21, 1934—I was born. The doctor nicknamed me “Frosty” because I had a full head of white–blond hair, but when Mother saw me, she burst into tears. I’d been taken with forceps after she labored (at home, of course) for thirty–some hours, so my head was elongated and blue and apparently quite alarming to behold. I soon rounded out and pinked up to her satisfaction, however. Mother thought I was adorable and took photos like they were going out of style.

When she was pregnant, Mother had been approached by Aunt Wenonah Sue, my father’s sister, begging to let her name the baby. Mother acquiesced, but only if she could name Wenonah’ s firstborn, to which Wenonah agreed. Frankly, I wouldn’t let anyone name my firstborn. But my mother was a sweet and compliant young lady of twenty, Wenonah’s junior by a couple of years, and somewhat under the thrall of this enthusiastic and insistent sister–in–law. My father’s name was William Edwin. So when, in the fullness of time, I was born, Wenonah brought forth her marvelous name: EddiRue, a little composite of both my parents’ names.

Everyone just loved it. It was so cute! It had a hyphen.

“Eddi–Rue,” my aunt Nonie has been heard to say, “I think you have one of the prettiest names in the family.”

Then Wenonah Sue married a fine fellow named Earl and had a daughter whom Mother dubbed Earla Sue—no hyphen—who wisely dropped the “Earla” when she was fourteen. Because of the “Eddi”— which people always misspelled “Eddie” like a boy—I was sent a man’s handkerchief as a high school graduation gift from Daube’s Department Store, along with the other male graduates. I also received a draft notice, inviting me to come down for a physical exam. I’ve always thought maybe I should’ve gone for that physical. Some childhood friends still call me “Eddi.” People who knew me as a baby call me “Frosty.” My friend Lette called me “Baby Roo,” my friend Jim Whittle called me “Rutabaga,” Betty White calls me “Roozie,” and my friend Kathy Salomone calls me “Rue-Rue.” The staff at Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center call me “Mrs. Wilson.” And my husband calls me “Darling.” I like them all. Each name brings forth its own era and memories.

When I was in my late twenties, I bought eight used dining room chairs for a dollar each (yes, a dollar!) and set about removing the old varnish. As I applied the varnish remover, a vivid visual memory flashed into my mind: I was almost eight months old, sidestepping along the front of the sofa, holding on for balance, looking up over my left shoulder at my mother and Aunt Irene standing in the doorway making vocal sounds.

“Iddle bongingferd da wondy,” said Mother.

“Bid gerpa twack kelzenbluck,” replied Aunt Irene.

“Ferndock bandy,” Mother replied. “Critzputh.” And they laughed.

I realized they were exchanging thoughts with those sounds. Oh, I thought, I’m brand new here. Soon, theyll teach me to do that, too. What an exciting thought!

Smells are strong memory–triggers. Mother and Irene must have been using varnish remover that day in 1934, and the odor of it in 1963 popped out this early memory, crystal clear. My next memory is of Christmas when I was ten months old: a circle of uncles and other adults winding up a little red rocket that chased me from one side of their circle to the other, everyone laughing. But I was truly terrified, running frantically from the noisy thing and wondering why they thought it was so funny.

Mother gave me my first perm when I was eleven months old, under one of those old stand–up octopus–armed permanent wave machines. Mother was movie–struck, you see. She kept the beauty shop stocked with current movie magazines, was nuts about Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple, and wanted me to have a full head of bouncy sausage curls, just like Little Miss Broadway. And I never existed without a perm until I was well into my forties.

“Why do you keep a perm in your hair?” my beautician asked me one day.

“Can you exist without one?” I responded, utterly amazed.

This revolutionary concept had never occurred to me. Wouldn’t my hair just flail about wildly? Like Albert Einstein’s? I gave it a try, and from that day to this, I’ve lived quite happily without a perm. And learned that I have a natural wave to boot.

Aunt Irene, my mother’s seventeen–year–old sister, moved in to take care of me while Mother worked in the beauty parlor, but I wanted to be downstairs in the shop. It was lonely upstairs, and boring, and Irene was hot–tempered and brusque, while Mother was jolly fun. It’s hard to remember her without a smile. I was allowed to play in the shop from time to time, as long as I sat under the counters and didn’t ask too many questions. It was fun under the counters. Legs coming and going, chatter, things happening. To help keep me quiet, I was allowed to nurse my bottle until I was over three. It was bolstered with Eagle brand, a thick, sweet canned milk, because I’d been born a bit scrawny and, on doctor’s orders, Mother was trying to fatten me up. She used to send me up the street to the five–and–ten store to buy my own rubber nipples. I remember standing at the cash register getting change.

Mother had also been taking me to the movies since I was a babe in arms, wearing PJs under my street clothes. One night as I sat in the row behind her, waiting for the picture to begin, I tapped on the back of her seat, saying, “Mama?”

She turned and said, “Eddi–Rue, you’re too old now to call me ‘Mama.’ From now on, call me ‘Mother.’ ”

. I was so chagrined to be reprimanded in front of everyone, I wanted to crawl under my seat. I never called her Mama again. Mother and Bill expected me to behave like an adult, and I was dead set not to disappoint them. I never went through a rebellious period and was terribly stricken whenever I accidentally lost or broke something. They worked so hard for their money, and I knew this, though I don’t recall being at all aware of the Depression. Mother had plenty of customers, we went to the movies every time we turned around, I had a new doll every Christmas, a new birthday dress every year, plus a birthday party. However, I do remember pinto beans every night for supper; I never ate a supper without pinto beans until I went to college, where I was astonished to learn that you didn’t have to have them on the table. I’d assumed it was some sort of rule. On the rare nights Mother was too tired to cook a meal, we had corn bread crumbled in a glass of sweet milk, which I considered a big treat.

But it was probably because of the Depression that my father had to go off to the oil fields to get construction work. He was called “Bill” by everyone, including me. (Just in case an old girlfriend showed up, he joked.) He left before I woke in the morning, came home long after I was asleep, and didn’ t toss me around like my uncles did. He wasn’t a hugger. His mother, Fanny, was the only daughter in a family of four boys, forbidden to have a doll (her father even burned a corncob dolly her mother made her, the old buzzard) or to show physical affection. She, in turn, didn’t hug her four children. Still, she made me an adorable new outfit for every birthday and taught me to sew on her big treadle sewing machine. She was a loving, kind person—just not one for hugging. So my father never learned how, I guess.

One day when I was five, he came home from work earlier than usual. I was standing on the front porch as dusk settled over our neighborhood, and as Bill walked toward me, my arms and body ached so deeply for him to stop and hug me hello that my skin hurt. But he only said a weary, “Hello, Frosty,” and I said, “Hi, Bill,” as he trudged past me, leaving me feeling empty and alone. (Later, when I was in the ninth grade, I watched my friend Carol Ann Bristow hugging everybody and decided to learn to do it. It took courage the first few times, but I made it a habit. And it felt good! I’m a staunch advocate of hugging to this day.)

Aunt Wenonah always told me my father was a brilliant man.

“But strange,” she always added. “Not like the rest of us kids.”

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My First Five Husbands...and the Ones Who Got Away 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being a HUGE fan of the Golden Girls, I was very excited to hear about this book and went out and bought it right away. I went to the autograph signing and met her and she was just the sweetest lady. But during the Q & A portion, she mentions that while she loved playing Blanche Devereaux on TV, one of the reasons she wrote this book was so that people could get to know the real Rue and not just see her as 'Blanche.' Reading this book does just that: it is a comical, witty take on her life from birth to present day and keeps you at the edge of your seat with her 'don't-leave-me-hanging-like-that!' chapter endings. You feel like you are just hanging out with an old friend you haven't seen in a while and catching up on old times. She tells of her childhood, growing up in OK, her struggles to make it in Hollywood with and without her son, and the many men she 'fell in love with' before she met her true soulmate. It's a very heart-warming, comforting book that makes me no longer see her as 'Blanche' but as Rue McClanahan.
jeff092981 More than 1 year ago
I laughed I cried and took it in slowly so not to finish in a hurry Rue has lived and struggled and then came the "Golden Girls".
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of the Golden Girls since I was 13 and I was so excited to read about the real Blanche's life. She's a hoot. Rue is not exactly like Blanche, nor is she a 'slut' like the character, but Rue never lacked attention and affection of men. And there's nothing wrong with that. She is a beautiful woman and always has been. She seems like a truly wonderful person, and she has had an eventful life. Love you Rue!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finsished reading this book and would recommend it to anyone that is a fan of Rue or not! This one captured me at the start and kept me until the end. Kudos to Rue and her determination.
DivineMsMReader More than 1 year ago
Quick and fun read if you like Rue & the Golden Girls. Not challenging and not deep...perfect fun though!
Reviewqueen More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of celebrity autobiographies, mostly because I'm amused at how into themselves they can be. Rue masks her centric-focus, but it still spills forth, especially when her son is having rabie shots and she doesn't run to his side. Really! Overall, a candid look at the celebrity and the famous and not-so-famous people in her life. She tries not to reveal her dislike for certain directors and actors by excusing their behavior, but her dislike is evident. If you like autobiographies that are, if nothing else, honest - this will work for you.
Cozeck More than 1 year ago
A great read with lots of personal information about the life and loves of Rue McClanahan. There are so many little interesting stories and tid-bit's that grab your attention and keep you reading. This book left me wanting more from Rue. I would love to see an update or part two of what has happened in her life since she completed this book. Rue is not only an A++++ actress but a skillful writer as well.
Schmoopy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I expected to learn something from this book. Something like how tenacity and care pay off in the end or something about how to overcome situations in life which have dealt a person a great deal of strife. But instead, I learned how whiney and irritating Rue McLanahan is. It pained me! I really thought I'd fall in love with this endearing stage actress, but instead I found myself totally irritated by awkward and far too casual writing style she used. Also, she's not a very good person, in my opinion. I mean, props to the lady for coming clean about everything, including how she pretty much packed up her kid and moved him from her parent's house to whatever house she and her current husband were living in. The whole story is just a tad weird, but she never approaches the readers' doubts or concerns (which might be obvious to an editor). I didn't like it at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable and funny read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rue worked and played hard--but, always seemed to be flying by the seat of her pants. An interesting, chatty read-- but, in my opinion, an ultimately sad life story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rue was a great lady, whom I, unfortunately, never had the opportunity to know. This book is a great read for any Rue or Golden Girls fan.
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Great book. Very entertaining.
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yellowroseNC More than 1 year ago
Its a delight to give my "take" on this book; I read slowly as not to get finished too quick and have to say goodbye once again to Ms Rue. I laughed, and even cried, but enjoyed the book to the very end. Its so refreshing to read an autobiography of someone who can be honest..a bit irreverent..and funny all at the same time. The book gave me insight on how Rue/Blanche became one. Loved it!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago