Actress Dixie Carter passed away on April 10, 2010, at the age of 70. She is survived by her husband, actor Hal Holbrook, and two daughters. Though she's starred on Broadway and was nominated for an Emmy for a guest appearance on Desperate Housewives, she'll most likely be remembered for her signature role of outspoken Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women.
Dixie, as her first name implied, came by her Southern accent very naturally "“ she was born and raised in Tennessee. She'd co-starred on several daytime dramas after graduating from Memphis State, but her big prime-time break came when she landed the role of aerobics instructor Maggie McKinney during the fifth season of Diff'rent Strokes. She then co-starred with Delta Burke on a short-lived sitcom called Filthy Rich, which was produced by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. After that show was cancelled, Bloodworth-Thomason cast the two women in her new project, Designing Women, along with Jean Smart and Annie Potts.
Action on the Set
Dixie Carter married Hal Holbrook (her third husband) in 1984. Holbrook played the recurring role of Reese Watson, Julia Sugarbaker's long-time beau, on DW. Chemistry must have flying every which way on that set. Delta Burke later married Gerald McRaney, who played Suzanne Sugarbaker's ex-husband Dash Goff, and Jean Smart married Richard Gilliland, who was cast as Annie Potts'/Mary Jo's boyfriend J.D. Shackelford. Maybe that's why all the grousing and sniping that often occurred when the men and women got together as a group seemed so realistic, like in this scene from "Reservations for Eight."
Julia Sugarbaker was a staunch liberal who never hesitated to launch into one of her Terminator Tirades if someone got her dander up. Dixie Carter, however, was a registered Republican and sometimes felt a little uncomfortable with Julia's politics. She reached a compromise with series creators Linda Bloodworth"“Thomason and her husband (who were close friends of Bill and Hillary Clinton): for every instance where Julia was required to spout off on a pet topic, Dixie (who'd had years of professional vocal training) would get to sing a song in a later episode.
While you remember your own favorite Julia moments, I'll leave you with one of mine. It's Julia's classic response to Ray Don Simpson, the IRS agent who, uninvited, offered to join the girls at their restaurant table:
"Oh, there's no need for introductions, Ray Don. We know who you are. You're the guy who is always wherever women gather or try to be alone. You want to eat with us when we're dining in hotels. You want to know if the book we're reading is any good or if you can keep us company on the plane. And I want to thank you, Ray Don, on behalf of all the women in the world, for your unfailing attention and concern. But read my lips and remember, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes we like talking just to each other, and sometimes we like just being alone."
And we viewers would like to thank you, Dixie Carter, for many years of laughter, tears and inspiration.