Good-night, Dixie Carter, and Thank You

Oh man, this is sad: Dixie Carter, TV Actress, Dies at 70 – Obituary (Obit) – NYTimes.com.

I knew Carter from “Designing Women.” That was pretty much it. I understood that she’d had a long career before it, and that she continued to work after it, but for me, she was Julia Sugarbaker — and Julia Sugarbaker was about everything I wanted to be when I was a kid. Smart, sassy, funny, and always ready to challenge injustice through action and with a sharp tirade.

She was also extraordinarily loyal to her friends and, yes, even to her sister, a character who was sometimes hard to love. Here she is, defending Suzanne after she’s been heartbreakingly ignored by the current Miss Georgia:

The text of her rant is available at YouTube.

I remember bonding with my mother over “Designing Women” and Julia Sugarbaker in particular. We both loved her, found her fearless and compelling and funny, and I think we both (in our own ways) wanted to be more like her.  I think she was the example my mother used when trying to explain to me the difference between aggressive and assertive behavior.  Julia, she said, was assertive, someone who got angry when the situation called for anger, certainly, but most of the time was just making sure that her rights, and those of the people she cared about, weren’t trampled.

More than paving the way for some dinner-table discussions of feminism at my house, Julia Sugarbaker, the character, certainly paved the way for many of the female leads that are admired today — though I’m hard pressed to think of a female character on any currently popular show who’s successful both professionally (she owned her own upscale, doing-very-well business, after all) and personally (Reese, played by her real-life husband Hal Bolbrooke, clearly adored her).  Those kinds of success allowed Julia to be a plausibly confident woman, and made her a role model both for the other women on the show — how many times did Charlene or Mary Jo lament that they couldn’t be more like Julia? — and for those watching at home.

I know that Dixie Carter’s death isn’t really the death of this character. Dixie Carter, in fact, was not Julia Sugarbaker — their political views were apparently starkly different. Still, I certainly mourn her passing, because without her fantastic work — just look at the facial expressions in that clip! All the work she does with her eyes! — Julia Sugarbaker could have easily been a one-sided ranting character instead of the complex, vibrant woman that she was.

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2 Responses to Good-night, Dixie Carter, and Thank You

  1. Kristen says:

    I think my mom and I had some of the same conversations and bonding over this show. Julia Sugarbaker and Dorothy Zbornak are the kind of older woman I want to be!

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