By Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley
The first time Rue came to ZACH she called us from the Driskill Hotel to get tickets for I Hate Hamlet where she was seated next to Karen Kuykendall and John Whisenhunt. Rue was also here to look for a house for her son Mark, and of course you couldn’t sit next to Karen for two hours without falling in love with her and enlisting her as your real estate agent and that is exactly what happened. Karen found the perfect home for Mark and a good friendship ensued. The next night they were laughing uproariously at Boyd Vance in Shear Madness together. A couple of seasons later she was my date for the opening of Gospel At Colonus, which she especially loved, as she loved the gospel music combined with an ancient Greek tale.
Over the years Rue visited many times staying with dear friends Steve and Judy Franden and Dr. Francis McIntyre and she always made coming to ZACH part of her frequent Austin stays. On her final trip here last year my partner Tony and I had a wonderful time with her on the Franden’s brick patio with supper on our laps. Rue was developing a musical for herself called My Last Five Husbands based on her autobiography and we were hashing out some structural things about the piece she was struggling with. She had asked me to take a look at the script and meet with the producers on my next NYC visit to see if it might be a good fit for me to work with her collaborators. Her subsequent by-pass surgery and health concerns tabled all of those conversations.
When Ann Richards died Rue sent a tree to ZACH to be planted in Ann’s memory because she so admired Ann. They had met through Karen, of course, and Rue knew that Ann was also frequently in the ZACH audience. There is a plaque at the base of the tree which reads “For Governor Ann Richards, this tree is planted in loving memory by Rue McClanahan.” The tree is just outside my office window so I pass it every single day and I always think of that trio of outstanding and memorable women. When Karen passed, Rue became a contributor to the Karen Kuykendall stage in ZACH’s new Topfer Theatre.
Rue was a true woman of the theatre, and even though she had an extraordinary TV and film career, the theatre in all its forms was her passion, with a particular fondness for musical theatre. She had this great way of sizing up a person or a comment through her half-closed gaze that fully relished the person and what was being said, savoring every detail. She was smart, quick-witted, thoughtful and completely genuine — an Oklahoma gal who maintained the honesty and hard work values of her roots. She was extremely proud of her son Mark, a musician and music instructor here in Austin, and he is one of the great joys of her life. I’ll miss her charm and intellect and joie de vie.
Three years ago when Rue was on her book tour she came to Austin and was our guest at our Red, Hot & Soul gala when Karen made her last cabaret appearance. The next day Rue delighted ZACH’s audience who packed the Kleberg Stage SRO in an interview I conducted on the set of Take Me Out. When asked by an audience member if she was like Blanche she responded, “Well, Blanche was an oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy, vain Southern Belle from Atlanta — and I’m not from Atlanta!” Golden indeed.