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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Legendary Performances

Two days ago I heard the sad news that one of the two surviving Golden Girls, Rue McClanahan, had died aged 76. The sadness of this announcement was inevitably intertwined with smiles for many people for whom Rue was inexorably linked with the self-absorbed, man-hungry Southern Belle that was Blanche Devereaux in the hit sitcom. All four primary characters in the Golden Girls have had a longevity that feels unending. As I writer I would love to create characters with such personality but good writing skills must be combined with the skill of some exceptional actors.

In honour of Rue – and Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty (not to mention Betty White who we should cling onto like crazy) – I thought I’d count down my favourite characters, sadly missed, who have had the impact on me that our Golden Girls had.

5. Dorothy Shaw (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
I have a thing for dry-witted women! Jane Russell’s portrayal as Marilyn Monroe’s best friend and chaperone in this musical is hilarious, though underrated by viewers who primarily gazed at Marilyn. Jane easily had some of the best lines of the film, my favourite being, ‘Now lets get this straight, Gus. The chaperone's job is to see that nobody else has any fun. Nobody chaperone's the chaperone. That's why I'm so right for this job.’ While trying to seduce an entire Olympic squad she falls for the private detective trying to frame her friend. And the rest – after a particularly sexy courtroom number – is history.

4. Julie LaVerne (Showboat)
Ava Gardner doesn’t get enough acting credit for my liking. Her role as Julie in Showboat, demonstrating the decline of a singer, stood out as one of the performances of the decade. Though she didn’t sing for herself in the film I still have to give her credit for the delivery of an epic character who never fails to enthral me.

3. Carol ‘Toddy’ Todd (Victor/Victoria)
Have I raved enough about this film lately?! I honestly can’t help it: the partnership between Robert Preston and Julie Andrews blows me away every time. This is easily Preston’s best role, blending comedic talent with a great delivery and a genuine rapport with Julie Andrews’ Victoria (but I’ve mentioned that recently!). The final number where Toddy saves Victoria’s relationship by doing a very bad impersonation of a woman is hilarious, touching and pure genius. I can’t watch it enough.

2. Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)
Predictable for me but what do I care? From the moment she fell into the pigsty I was entranced by Judy Garland’s Dorothy. The story is a fairy-tale, a fantasy, but usually the best stories are. What can’t be denied is the long-lasting effect Garland’s performance has had on popular culture. Clicking your heels three times, accepting you’re not in Kansas anymore; these have become recognisable staples of conversation.

1. Elsie Tanner (Coronation Street)
Perhaps an odd choice for the top of my list but Pat Phoenix was really the first actress who made me go… ‘wow’. I used to watch classic episodes of Corrie on what was then Granada Plus. Compared to contemporary Corrie in the nineties it was positively fantastic. Such legends as Hilda Odgen, Annie Walker and Ena Sharples were amazing to watch but Pat Phoenix shone above the rest. She gave Elsie, the tart with a heart, the biggest personality and the most shattering vulnerabilities I can ever remember seeing on the small screen. Her comic timing was impeccable, her tears real and her exit low-key but memorable. When asked if she’s going for a long trip Elsie replies, ‘Ah, now there’s a question’, before walking away from the street forever.

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