1980: Producer Don Adams had a lot of rules to follow, while timing out The Ten O’Clock News, but one rule was etched in stone. One rule could not be broken under any circumstances: the show must end on time. It could not run long, not even by two seconds. Not even when Liberty City was burning during the riots of May 1980! Rules were rules, after all.
There was a reason for this. The Ten O’Clock News, which was an hour long in those days, was a low-rated show. The program that followed it, reruns of Maude, brought in better numbers -- and as a result, was a more valuable property. Even though we put our blood, sweat, and tears into our nightly newscast, management put more stock in the syndicated rerun, since… well, to put it bluntly… they could charge more for commercials. And that, in a nutshell, is what it was all about to them.
I thought of this on Thursday, after hearing of the death of Maude co-star Rue McClanahan. Long before she found greater fame on The Golden Girls, McClanahan did her thing opposite Bea Arthur in the Norman Lear comedy. I may have resented Maude during those nightly news days, but I watched the show during its original run, and thought McClanahan, in particular, was a standout. One day I decided to write to her, and let her know that she had a fan in Miami.
Usually when you write to a celebrity, you’re lucky to get an acknowledgment. Maybe they’ll send you a picture, and maybe they’ll take the time to sign it. Rue McClanahan was one of the rare ones. She not only sent me a signed picture, and a signed dinner theater program, but she wrote me a personalized letter that showed she took the time to read every word I had written. That meant a lot to me, as a teenager back in 1975. It still does.
Click images to view them full size.
McClanahan’s passing won’t get nearly as much ink as other high-profile deaths, such as Gary Coleman or Dennis Hopper. You won’t see many marathons of her work, and in time she’ll become just another footnote. But in our age of plastic celebrities whose only talent is being bombastic or showing off their booty, I thought you’d like to know what Rue McClanahan was like. How she appreciated her fans. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: they don’t make ‘em like her anymore.