I admit to being nuts about Dixie Carter. I’ve been her fan for years, and I mean YEARS. I recall, decades ago, seeing her on The Edge of Night, and wondering how the heck somebody that unique was ever hired in the cookie-cutter world of soaps. Carter spent only a few years in daytime before graduating to prime-time and Broadway roles. She had two failed marriages (including one to Broadway star George Hearn) before settling into one of the more stable Hollywood matches, with Hal Holbrook. Dixie found her metier in sitcoms, co-starring in the short-lived On Our Own with Bess Armstrong, and in Diff’rent Strokes, in which she created the role of Maggie Drummond (the role was later played by Mary Ann Mobley). Her appearance in another short-lived series, Filthy Rich (above),brought her in contact with two women who would figure prominently in her later career, Delta Burke and writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. The latter created the Sugarbaker sisters of Atlanta for Carter and Burke, and Designing Women was born. The show was often compared (usually unfavorably) to The Golden Girls, as their runs roughly coincided. Both shows featured four strong comic actresses, but otherwise, had few similarities.
It was through Designing Women that Carter became a star. Her characterization became famous for her lengthy and often hilarious diatribes on any number of issues. Here’s one of my favorite clips, in which Carter’s “Julia” is trapped on a jury, endangering her planned dinner with Jimmy Carter:
Dixie’s role on Designing Women was an avowed liberal, and her rants were often political in nature, a direct contrast to Carter herself, who describes herself as a “libertarian,” but is in fact a Republican. She had a deal with the show’s creators that, anytime she delivered a particularly left-leaning speech, she (the actress) would be rewarded with the chance to sing in another episode. (Dixie Carter is an accomplished singer, appearing in musicals throughout her career and headlining her own cabaret act.)
This week’s Dance Party is one of those “paybacks” from Designing Women. In the episode, a slightly tipsy Julia Sugarbaker dedicates a sweet song to her son on his wedding day:
Dixie Carter turned 70 years old this week.