Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dixie Carter

Dixie Carter (born May 25, 1939) died today. The cause of her death has yet to be released. She was most famous for her long-running role in the sitcom Designing Women (1986 - 1993), and was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Desperate Housewives in 2007.

Carter was born in McLemoresville, Tennessee,and spent many of her early years in Memphis. She attended college at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College). She is a graduate of Memphis State (now University of Memphis) with a degree in English.
At school, she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. In 1959, Carter competed in the Miss Tennessee pageant, where she placed first runner-up to Mickie Weyland.
She made her professional stage debut in a Memphis production of Carousel then moved to New York City in 1963 and got a part in a production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.
After an eight-year hiatus from acting, she returned to the craft in 1974, when she filled in for actress Nancy Pinkerton as Dorian Cramer on One Life to Live, while Pinkerton was on maternity leave. She subsequently was cast in the role of Assistant D.A. Olivia Brandeis "Brandy" Henderson on the soap opera The Edge of Night, on which she appeared from 1974 - 1976. (She went along with the show when it switched from CBS to ABC.) Carter took the role even though some advised her that doing a daytime soap might negatively affect her career. However, it was with this role that Carter was first noticed, and after exiting The Edge of Night in 1976, Carter relocated from New York to Los Angeles, and pursued prime time television roles.

She appeared in series such as Out of the Blue, (playing Aunt Marion) On Our Own, (playing publishing executive, April Baxter) Diff'rent Strokes, (playing the first Maggie McKinney Drummond) and Filthy Rich (1982), in which she played the snooty Carlotta Beck (also featured future Designing Women cast member Delta Burke).

She married for the third time on May 27, 1984, to Hal Holbrook (14 years her senior), who is most noted for his appearances as Mark Twain.

Carter's appearance in Filthy Rich paved the way for her best known role, that of interior decorator Julia Sugarbaker in the 1980s/1990s television program Designing Women, set in Atlanta, Georgia. Filthy Rich had been created by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who went on to create Designing Women. The show enjoyed a seven-year run and made Carter a household name. Hal Holbrook, her real-life husband, had a recurring role as Julia's beau, Reese Watson; and her daughters, Ginna and Mary Dixie also had guest star roles as Julia's nieces, Jennifer and Camilla Sugarbaker, the latter niece, Camilla, acted exactly like Julia, whilst her sister, Jennifer, acted in a similar manner to Julia's sister, Suzanne (Delta Burke).
In a twist of irony, actress Mary Ann Mobley, who had replaced Dixie as Maggie on Diff'rent Strokes, also guested on Designing Women playing a snide Historical Society representative named Karen, whom Julia found aggravating, especially after she exaggerated her family's history and outright suggested that her male partner, Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor), dress in a slave costume.

From 1999 to 2002, she portrayed "Randi King" on the legal drama Family Law, portraying a lawyer for the first time since she was Brandy Henderson on The Edge of Night. In 2004, she would later make a guest appearance on Law and Order: SVU, playing a defense attorney named Denise Brockmorton in the episode called Home, in which she defended the paranoid mother of two children (Diane Venora) who had manipulated her older son to kill the younger son, after breaking her home rules. (Coincidentally, Carter's longtime Designing Women costar Annie Potts also has a recurring role on Law and Order: SVU as another defense attorney.)
She also starred in several Broadway musicals and plays, She appeared on and off-Broadway as well, most recently portraying diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's Master Class, a role created by Zoe Caldwell. (Faye Dunaway sought to purchase the film rights to the play, but no film has been made as of 2007)

Carter is noted for her portrayals of Southern women and is known for her Southern pride, which is evident in her product endorsements, like her appearances in commercials for Southern Bell (later BellSouth).
In 2006 and 2007, Dixie Carter found renewed fame with a new generation of fans as the very disturbed and disturbing Gloria Hodge on Desperate Housewives, earning an Emmy nomination for her work on the series. Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry started out in Hollywood as Carter's assistant on the set of Designing Women.

In 1996, Carter published a memoir entitled Trying to Get to Heaven, in which she talked frankly about her life with Hal Holbrook, Designing Women, and her plastic surgery during the show's run. Carter was also a registered Republican who described her political views as libertarian. She was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly along with Pat Boone at the 2000 Republican National Convention. This affiliation often put her at odds with what she was expected to say as Julia Sugarbaker during her years on Designing Women.

Julia, her Designing Women character, was nicknamed "the Terminator" for her cutting tirades. Many of the earliest monologues were witty and full of common sense, and Julia espoused very liberal ideals. This became reinforced as the series progressed, and she even toasted Bill Clinton in one episode. Carter, who had established a singing career and been featured as the headliner in many concerts, made a deal with the show's producers that for every liberal tirade, she'd get to sing a song in an upcoming episode. Carter once kiddingly described herself as "the only Republican in show business" a reference to Hollywood's purported political slant.

To quote Dixie Carter, “I will not do humor that is derived from private parts or going to the bathroom. I won't do anything that involves making fun of people.”

Good Night Ms. Carter

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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