Golden Girl goldWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a close friend who is incredibly difficult to shop for. He isn’t overly inclined to seek material things, lives in relative comfort and can provide for his needs and luxuries as the year rolls along. I see him as a great challenge, and there is a lot of fun in seeking a gift that will surprise him and show some initiative.
In an era of gift card efficiency, I enjoy hunting and gathering.
This year, as I began searching for a special gift, I stumbled across a news release that proclaimed, “‘Golden Girl’ Rue McClanahan’s personal property and show business memorabilia available to fans on www.estateofrue.com website.”
My friend, in addition to being an intelligent, professional and serious-minded man, is a huge fan of the ’80s show “The Golden Girls.” It’s a quirk, but he has every season on DVD and has watched them repeatedly.
I visited the website, and browsed through such sale items as McClanahan’s Emmy, her signed scripts and other neat items, all of which would have soaked up several years’ worth of my holiday budget. But my search was rewarded when I found three Christmas ornaments handmade by McClanahan, complete with not only certificates of authenticity but photos of her with each ornament.
I will probably give them to my friend, tell him I got them at an estate sale and watch him pretend to love them until I give him the full story of each item.
This seems like a unique, trendsetting idea in the world of pop culture, so I contacted Michael J. La Rue to ask him a few questions about the site.
“Rue loved to shop and to collect, and she did both her entire life,” La Rue said. “She had so many closets and storage spaces, I don’t think anyone knew how vast her collections had become. When I found her prom dress from 1949 though, I knew we were in for a big adventure. Despite holding successful auctions in New York City and Beverly Hills, we haven’t even put a dent in Rue’s treasure trove.”
La Rue said that “among the jewelry, clothing, artwork and household items on the site, there are many one-of-a-kind pieces that come directly from McClanahan’s professional life,” a six-decade career that included roles in nine series, more than 50 movies and 100 television shows and more than 200 theatrical productions before her death in 2010.
Toledo Free Press: Please talk about the initial project that brought you and Ms. McClanahan together.
Michael J. La Rue: I love when people ask how Rue and I first met because it is such a glamorous answer: We met at Studio 54! However, this was years after the debauchery it is known for, after it had been converted to an events space, and we were both there attending a fundraiser for an animal shelter — not quite as exciting as what one can image, but still, we did meet there. I had just begun work on a charitable coffee table book — “NYC Pet Project” — and the powers-that-be at Barnes & Noble advised me to get some celebrities involved.
When I saw Rue, I introduced myself and asked if she had a pet. She told me she did, so after explaining what I was doing — creating a book with portraits of people and their pets, with love letters from them to their animals, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to animal shelters that had “no kill” policies — I asked if I could come over and shoot a picture of her with her cat, Miss Bianca. She and I really seemed to hit it off during the shoot — it felt like when you’re hanging out with an old friend you’ve known since you were kids — but come on, she was Blanche!
She ended up hosting the book launch party for “NYC Pet Project” at Planet Hollywood in Times Square when it was released a year later. Then, years after that, I ended up writing and producing a musical adaptation of her memoir “My First Five Husbands … And The Ones Who Got Away.”
TFP: Having “Rue” in your name didn’t hurt.
La Rue: Rue asked me to marry her three times over the years, but on questioning was forced to admit that part of the reason was she just wanted to be Rue La Rue!
TFP: So selling her estate was in her will?
La Rue: Rue had 23 beneficiaries in her will — with 11 of those being animal charities. She made it clear to both me and her son Mark Bish that — after he removed any items of sentimental value or things that he wanted to keep from the estate — she wanted all of her personal property and show business memorabilia to be made available to her fans. Rue often said, “I get to live this glamorous lifestyle because of the love and loyalty of my fans — that and the residual checks, of course.” So, last year, Mark and I had auctions in New York City and Beverly Hills, but they didn’t even put a dent in the inventory. Rue loved to shop and she was a lifetime collector of many things. Rue had actually suggested a website before she passed, and so when the fans started asking for a way to acquire a piece of memorabilia directly, we created estateofrue.com.
TFP: Where are the proceeds from the sales going?
La Rue: Rue made provisions for her son, her sixth husband, nine of her relatives and 11 animal charities in her will. Rue specifically left her personal items and show business memorabilia to her son Mark, that way he could see to it her wishes for everything to be made available to her fans were followed through with.
TFP: What is the oddest item up for bid?
La Rue: There are so many unique items on the site, I think the 1957 birthday card to Rue from her Grandma Fannie with a 1935 $1 silver certificate inside is cool; it is amazing that Rue hung onto it for over 50 years, and particularly amazing considering she was a broke actress for decades and she never spent that buck! Also, Rue loved to craft; she’d heat up the glue gun and go to town on projects — she called it “flousing things up.” We put a vintage toaster she’d “floused up” on the site and it is definitely odd.
TFP: Talk about the rare opportunity for fans to own some of these items, such as an Emmy.
La Rue: Rue was the only one of “The Golden Girls” to have a provision built into her contract allowing her to keep her character’s wardrobe. As a result, we have over 200 “Blanche” pieces that are going to be posted on the site.
Also, many other one-of-a-kind items like: Rue’s 18-carat gold Cartier bracelet, one of which was given to each of “the girls” after the final episode was filmed by the producers of “The Golden Girls”; the actual prop calendar “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” from the iconic “’Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” episode; Rue’s original “Golden Girls” contract; and we even have her Emmy on the site.
Truth be told, we’d never sell the Emmy, so we listed it for $1 million (and if some billionaire did buy it, we’d do a PayPal refund). We posted it because we knew Rue’s fans would want to see it.
TFP: How has fan feedback been? Any criticism?
La Rue: We also administer “The Official Rue McClanahan Memorial Facebook Page” and the fan feedback to estateofrue.com has been 100 percent positive.
Many fans were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford anything, so we are doing our best to keep a wide range of price points posted. Remember, all of Rue’s personal property is going to show up on the site too, so even if a fan can’t afford a rare piece like “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir” calendar, they could hopefully get Rue’s bathrobe or some throw pillows from her living room couch.
People have raised eyebrows over the intimacy of certain items — like her prescription bottles or childhood photos — but we just remind them that this was Rue’s wish. She didn’t want her things to end up moldering in a box in someone’s basement, or worse, in a Dumpster, which is the normal fate of the vast majority of anyone’s things after they pass.
Personally, I love the idea that these things of Rue’s that we’re shipping off — and we’ve already sent items to 10 different countries and many more states — these items are likely going to be prized possessions of the purchasers, and therefore Rue’s things will be preserved, loved and taken care of for many years to come.
TFP: How long will items be available?
La Rue: Since Rue loved to shop and collect, and she saved everything, this is a big job. Rue’s son Mark has stated, “My mother gave me a secure and beautiful life, and I intend to see her final wishes carried out no matter how long it takes.”
Looking at the rate of sales and then to the pile of sequined and marabou-feathered treasures, I believe it is going to take us at least another two years to get all of Rue’s things distributed to her fans.
TFP: Was anything given to museums or Smithsonian-type places?
La Rue: There is a gentleman who is curating a collection of television memorabilia with the intention of creating a museum, and he has been acquiring pieces for years and safely storing them so they aren’t lost forever.
The producers of “The Golden Girls” gave him a few of Blanche’s famous outfits directly — one was the red sequined number from the scene when Blanche sang “I Wanna be Loved by You” on top of the piano at the “Rusty Anchor” — and he was the highest bidder on a few other outfits at Rue’s Beverly Hills auction.
But, again, since her things are going to fans all over the world, we have no doubt they are going to be safely preserved for generations to come.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at mmiller@toledofree press.com.