Dixie Carter, the lovely and elegant star of Designing Women, died yesterday at age 70. I am a huge fan of the show and its portrayal of successful, independent, outspoken women who shared a deep and loyal friendship as well as a thriving business. The show addressed many controversial topics during its run including one of the first sympathetic depictions of a gay man with AIDS as well as many variations of the ups and downs of male-female relationships, aging, loss, family, and racism. It was a rare program set in the urban South. Its theme song was “Georgia on My Mind.”
Carter played the oldest of the group, Julia Sugerbaker, sister of the self-involved beauty queen played by Delta Burke as Suzanne. Carter was known for her outspoken rants on liberal subjects, though Carter herself was quiet and conservative. Her real-life husband, the distinguished actor Hal Holbrook, played her boyfriend in many episodes. Here is one of my favorite moments on the show, where Julia, despite her misgivings about the superficial and undignified aspects of beauty competitions, comes to her sister’s defense.
Some of my other favorites included the women’s impulsive trip to Graceland and the time they came up with an exceptionally clever way to stop the local construction workers from taunting and insulting them as they walked by. And I quote this line quite often:
Carter was also a cabaret performer and appeared on stage. I was privileged to meet her once at a Broadcast Film Critics Association event and it was an honor to be able to tell her how much her performance on “Designing Women” meant to me. She was every bit as gracious and kind as I could have hoped.