Rue McClanahan, the woman who famously portrayed post-menopausal sexpot Blanche Devereaux on the Golden Girls has died at age 76. Apparently she had a massive stroke. After the news broke, a good friend of mine said that, in her opinion, Golden Girls was in some ways racier than Sex and the City, and you know what, I agree.
A story about a four-way female friendship is pretty average as far as American pop culture goes, but a show about fiftysomething women (well, three fiftysomethings and an octogenarian) was something innovative in the mid-80s. What happened to divorced and widowed women once they crested 50? What was on the other side of “the hill”? According to the Golden Girls, life!
These vibrant ladies shared a house in Miami and had careers, boyfriends, and opinions about the world around them. The show dealt with issues from family feuds and infidelity, to Alzheimer’s and HIV. There were spats and jealousies, a gay brother and sex with an ex-husband. It was all funny and much of it hadn’t been done before in primetime.
I’ve seen it written that Golden Girls was the original Sex and the City, which I don’t entirely agree with. Everyone had already loved and lost their Mr. Rights and the Golden Girls wore sensible shoes, not stilettos. But, long before Samantha Jones was slinking around New York City wearing her sexuality like a merit badge, Blanche was flirting it up in Miami and seducing more than a few men. Dorothy could give Miranda a run for her money as a savvy, smart feminist, and much like Charlotte, Rose was sweet but stronger than anyone often acknowledged. Unlike Carrie, Sophia was hilarious, sarcastic, and always carried the same purse.
Sex and the City was certainly racy—I mean, there was a LOT of sex. And the characters were all successful women living glamorous lives. But the thing that was groundbreaking about the Golden Girls was much simpler. It showed that woman can have a second act. After the kids are grown and the marriages are over, women can live for something else—themselves. Now that is sexy.