“Blanche is dead!”
“Horrible! I’ve been upset ever since I heard!”
Early this morning, June 3rd, 2010, Rue McClanahan died after complications from a cerebral hemorrhage she’d suffered earlier this week. The actress was 76 years old. The death of Ms. McClanahan marks the third of the four “Golden Girls” to pass on, following the deaths of Estelle Getty in 2008 and Bea Arthur in 2009. Betty White, 88, is the only surviving member of the four. For my gay friends and I, we mourn yet another icon who’d been a big part of our own little pop culture history for more than twenty years.
“The Golden Girls” first debuted in September 1985 and was instantly a huge hit amongst audiences everywhere and gay men in particular. The show followed the lives of four women, each with their own distinct personality, and each with a pivotal role in the series.
Substitute teacher Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur), her mom Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), and St. Olaf, Minnesota native Rose Nyland (Betty White) have all rented rooms in the Miami home of vivacious widow Blanche Deveraux. The four women provided unbridled laughter that lasted for seven seasons and garnered a myriad of awards, including several Emmys, People’s Choice and Golden Globes. The show lives on in syndication everywhere.
Dorothy, Sophia, Rose and Blanche were four ladies who were especially endeared by gay men. With an affinity for larger than life female icons, gay people everywhere followed the lives and antics of these four “Golden Girls” every Saturday night, memorizing and repeating many of the memorable lines from the show.
“The Golden Girls” have long been a part of the register of my own gay friends, and such is the reason for our sadness at McClanahan’s passing. In an earlier piece (see Gayspeak: Is There a Gay Language?”), I’d discussed how many gay men take on female names that they use within their own circles. Three of my best gay friends have been “Golden Girls” for a very long time, and two of them are to this very day.
My friends were first christened with the names “Dorothy”, “Blanche”, and “Rose” for the personality connections each shared with their namesake on the show. “Dorothy” was the wise-cracking one, always eliciting laughter with her sarcastic wit; “Blanche” was the vivacious vixen, a Southern Belle who loved her men; and “Rose” was the simpleton, the one with the innocent charm who happened to be the butt of everyone’s jokes.
I wasn’t around at the time when these friends were given their “lady-names”, but when I think of these three, it’s “Dorothy”, “Blanche” and “Rose” that come to mind first. With the exception of “Dorothy”, who has since taken on another alter-ego, “Blanche” and “Rose” are still a part of our everyday vernacular.
So, so long Blanche! For me and my friends, today is a very sad day. We’ve lost yet another “Golden Girl” to Father Time. Rest in peace Rue McClanahan…Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty, as well! As for Rose, we’re glad you’re still around!