Literatzzi – My First Five Husbands…And the Ones Who Got Away by Rue McClanahan

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Published April 10, 2007

My obsession with The Golden Girls is no secret among friends.  It’s practically become part of my description, falling between “I love cats…” and “I once made an earwax candle…”.  But, for those of you who don’t know me:

“Hi!  My name is Heidi and I want to be a golden girl when I grow up.”

I began reading this particular book in desperate need of a change.  This is not to say that I found myself so desperate to read something different I picked up the first book that I saw and this was it.  No, I had this book in my crosshairs for some time.  My desperation came when it was clear I needed a break from my usual mystery/psychological thriller.  I was having bad dreams, in a foul mood, depressed…  I don’t care what anyone says; fiction or non, I think books can have a profound effect on a person’s outlook.

So, I finished a terribly depressing book (The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison, which I chose not to review on my blog because it’s just too damn depressing) and needed something refreshing.  I needed something lighthearted and something that didn’t take too much thought.  I know that sounds completely asinine, but it’s true.  I wanted a straight read with a feel-good story and happy outcome.  Enter Rue.

Summary (courtesy of Amazon.com):  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. Now happily married to her soul mate, Husband #6, 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.

My Thoughts:  I picked up this book to add a little fluff to my dreary reading routine.  But, I was surprised at how dark Rue’s life became at times.  Ever the optimist, she was always looking on the bright side and always managed to keep on trudging.  It was a little difficult at times to keep reading, knowing she was going to make another huge mistake in love and life.  And – in my opinion – she didn’t seem to sugar-coat it.  She made bad decisions and knew she made bad decisions, some even while she was making them.  I admired that, and my heart broke a little each time for her, monotonous or not.

Rue is wonderful and easy (both of these traits apply to her writing as well).  But, as absolutely charming as she was, I was surprised at how hard she had to work for so little and for so long before she finally “made it big”.  She does a very good job of tooting her own horn in this book, though, so maybe that’s why I’m so impressed with her résumé.  Whatever.  Toot away, girl.  You worked damn hard.

I also found myself sympathizing with her battle in love and loss.  I’m a bleeding heart and so is Rue.  Don’t get me wrong, there were many times I was shaking my head thinking, “how could she be so stupid”, or, “not AGAIN“!  But, there were many times I thought, “I’ve been there before…”.  No matter what, she stayed strong.  No matter how long it took her, she would finally come to her senses.  And – six husbands later – she finally got it right!

Conclusion:  Another reason I picked up this book is for my love of The Golden Girls.  I will warn you right now this is NOT a book about The Golden Girls.  I repeat: THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT THE GOLDEN GIRLS!!!!  This is a book about Rue, which – I think – is one of the reasons behind some of the not-so-great reviews.  People picked up this book and expected it to be a juicy, gossipy tell-all of The Golden Girls behind the scenes.  It’s NOT!!!  I also think another reason is that Rue was brutally honest about her love life, spilling very matter-of-factly all the juicy details about her romances.  One reviewer was quite offended.  Another said: “Rue spent a little too much time trashing herself recounting her sexual appetite. Who cares?”  Um, hello?  I don’t think this reviewer read the title of the book…  What the hell did they expect it to be about?!?!?!

In my opinion – for what it’s worth – this is a great read.  Honestly, as much as it is about her relationships with men, it’s about her journey and career as an actress.  Rue McClanahan is a legendary woman who helped revolutionize women in the entertainment industry.  I would recommend this book to anyone who asked about it, and even those who don’t.  Rue might not be in this world anymore, but she sure left an impression in it.

*Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book.*

“Some decisions actors have to make along the way are gut-wrenching.  The only thing that makes them possible is when the compulsion to become an actor is unshakable. Like an edict from God.  I don’t understand it, myself, but I experience it every time I walk out onto a bare stage in a dark, empty theatre.  It’s a religious experience for me.  I stand on that stage and feel complete, blessed, at home, where I belong.” (pg. 43, on the trials and tribulations of an actor)

“Life and gravity have a way of teaching us what we need to know, and in those years, I scaled a few forbidden fences and took a few hard falls myself.  And it wasn’t fun.” (pg. 105, on life)

“Soaps aren’t funny.  They’re soggy cereal.  Personally, I like snap, crack, and wit, fast-paced top-rate writing, brilliant costars, bravado challenges.  And, kids, there ain’t much of that in soaps.  Or anywhere else on TV, for the most part.  Top-of-the-line writing is extremely rare.” (pg. 163, on television writing)

“The bottom of my world had dropped out, and I fell through the hold into panic.  Grief doesn’t describe it.  Grief is painful, but it makes sense.  Panic is pervasive, unreasoning terror, and the dark of my panic had always been the fear of losing Mother.” (pg. 205, on the loss of her mother)

“It’s not easy to get through life without injuries – internal or external – and I’ve acquired my quota, but they’re just battle scars, mostly attributable to my own dumb mistakes.” (pg. 211, on life’s inflicted wounds)

“There are sea-change moments in a sitcom when cast members move on, writers move on, child actors grow up, or an older actor dies.  The little snow-globe world that was so carefully created over the years is suddenly shaken up.  The trick is knowing when to persevere through the ensuing blizzard and when to call it quits.” (pg. 228, on the ending of the TV series, Maude)

“Yep, nothing says “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” like a three-speed sex toy, right?” (pg. 264, on the tacky gift from her first husband)

“Blanche Devereaux is a masterful rebounder, never down for the count, always back up to fight again, to look again on the bright side.  I loved that about her.” (pg. 265, on here character from The Golden Girls)

“Four strong-minded, talented women tossed into the sitcom soup together.  Things got pretty spicy once in a while, but what mattered most to each of us indvidually and all of us as a group: the chemistry worked.  We were damn funny.  And we did it together.  That’s what counts at the end of the day.” (pg. 272, on her work on The Golden Girls)

“There were problems, of course.  Oh, boy, were there problems!  But who builds a house without problems?” (pg. 287, on building her dream home)

“(It’s been said that they call it menopause because “mad cow disease” was already taken.  And frankly, “spontaneous human combustion” doesn’t do it justice.)” (pg. 303, on menopause)

“Youth is not a time of life, it’s a state of mind.  It’s not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips, and supple knees, it’s force of will, quality of imagination, and vigor of emotions.  It’s the freshness from the deep springs of life, and the idea that every day is God saying to you, “May I have this dance?”” (pg. 334, on being young)

“Not all important people are famous, and not all famous people are important.” (pg. 325, on fame)

“All I know is that at this moment, I am happy.  I love my life as it now is.  I hate the madness going on in the world, but in my personal life, the beauty stays ahead of the ugliness, and in my professional life, good work hasn’t stopped coming my way, bringing joys and challenges.” (pg. 334, wrapping up her book)

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