Monday, April 12, 2010

Dixie Carter, R.I.P.




What sparked your interest in design? Perhaps it wasn't a "what" but a "who". For me, I credit Dorothy Draper and her how-to guides. Who wouldn't want to become a decorator (or a design hanger-on) after reading those. There was also my parents' decorator. He was an old-school decorator who talked about his opera pumps and who reminisced about dancing with Wallis Warfield as a young man in Baltimore. But there was also a bit of popular culture that helped to stoke my fascination with interior design, and that would be my all-time favorite TV show "Designing Women". When I learned yesterday that Dixie Carter, a.k.a. Julia Sugarbaker, had died, well, I felt like I lost a mentor.


Oh sure, even back then I knew that Sugarbaker Design was not your typical design firm. First, and let's be honest here, their offices were really not well-decorated. Editing was, perhaps, not part of the Sugarbaker lexicon. It was a mish-mash of "stuff", but the offices really weren't about antiques, bolts of fabrics, and random accessories. It was about the cast of characters. Of course, Julia Sugarbaker was the character many of us wanted to emulate. She could cut people off at the knees with her biting words, all delivered with that honeyed Southern accent (thanks to Carter's upbringing in Memphis) and a smile. Remember how she made mincemeat of Ray Don Simpson? It was something to aspire to, but something I've never been able to do. I just can't think on my feet that quickly.




Then there was Suzanne, Delta Burke's man eating femme fatale. Oh yes, I wanted to be her too. In fact, to this day I still never leave the house without eyeliner on both the top and bottom lids. Suzanne taught me to do that; she had that dark hair and those bright blue eyes just like me, and that combination looks great with heavily (or in my case somewhat heavily) made up eyes. I mean, you just can't go out without your face on because if you do, you might miss your chance at meeting your own Dash Goff...or a really wealthy old man ready to kick the bucket.




Mary Jo was not one of my favorite characters. Yes, Annie Potts' character was cute as a button, but who wants to be that? There just wasn't a lot of glamour there, but perhaps that's because she always wore those really low-heeled pumps. She was a little nerdy, a little awkward...and that's something that when it comes down to it most of us can identify with.



And Charlene? Well, we all have our blonde moments no matter what color our hair is. She was brassy, just slightly rough around the edges, and had a heart of gold. I never quite got the whole Elvis fascination, but I share her nostalgia for the WWII era.




So in honor of the late Dixie Carter and Julia Sugarbaker, I'm including one of Julia's most famous speeches- The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia. Click the arrow above to see why we all admired her. And now I'm gonna go fluff up my hair, paint my nails red, put on a jewel toned silk blouse replete with shoulder pads, and go knock someone down to size.

25 comments:

  1. Great post Jennifer ! I'm sure that Suzanne Sugarbaker would have a blog if she were still on...

    Thanks for this fun piece !

    A sad day for all, RIP Dixie.

    Dean in Florida

    ReplyDelete
  2. Here Here ! Great actress, class and inspiration. She will be sorely missed.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I adore this post .... am in London, on the way to Milan Fair & didn't know Dixie died ...... This New Yawker loved her too!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was so sad to hear that we had lost a fellow Southern Belle. She was the best.

    ReplyDelete
  5. J -- I think you really do have Julia's presence. For anyone who hasn't met you in person, I'll just note some similarities: being impeccably put together; looking great in jewel tones; the elegance and the whole classic Southern brunette thing :) Oh, and the intelligence obviously.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous9:51 AM

    my sister is half Julia
    half Suzanne

    you never know which one is walking into the room -

    lol

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh no, being from the wrong side of the pond I didn't know about Julia Sugarbaker. I do now! What a great tirade that is. I loved this post Jennifer, thank you.
    Incidentally, I found recently that many of my design references came from Pillow Talk. It's good to acknowledge one's inspiration.

    ReplyDelete
  8. And now I do, too. I think that I will store that speech for when I need to defend my honor. Thanks so much for making my morning. Yes, a light has gone out.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love, love, love your posting and loved Julia Sugarbaker! Thanks for the memories! Will

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh, I loved this show...through this show we were able to see successful, powerful women making it in the world :)

    Great post! Enjoy your shoulder pads and power ;)

    ReplyDelete
  11. What a lovely tribute to a wonderful person and actress. I was just starting my design firm while that show was running (near the end of the show). I must say among we designing we were very much like these girl's. We would all meet in the Boston Design Center,,,Then locate at 420 Boyalston St In The Back Bay section. We were so very supported of one another. Designing as we all know at times can be quite, hectic and a bit lonely. AS heading up two firms in Boston and Palm Beach. It was a huge and demanding job...Only made better by having great client, wonderful people whom works with you not for you. At last, we all so looked forward to *Show House* when we designers all united as one to help put together the best SH we can do...Our ego's were left at the door. May She Rest In Peace.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "I want to thank you, Ray Don..." oh so many good memories from that show.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I saw that Dixie had passed on in the news. Very sad,, yvonne

    ReplyDelete
  14. Such a great show - and WHO didn't love it when Julia decided that "she had something to say!"

    A sad for all of us in the design world that she is no longer with us . . .

    GREAT post - I even shed a little tear there . . .
    Scot

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous6:17 PM

    Extra credit:

    What was the name of Suzanne's ancient suitor (whom we never saw)?

    pt

    ReplyDelete
  16. What sad news. I remember her being a contributing writer for one of the design mag's back in the 80's/90's. Wish I could remember which one-maybe H&G? I'll have to dig around for the old articles, but they were real treasures. So sad that she's no longer around to share her southern graciousness....

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very sad to hear of her passing. She was a great actress and true southern belle. The characters she portrayed (and quite frankly the lady herself) were an inspiration to many, proving you can still be a lady (southern or not) and have the might to stand up for your convictions and be heard. Definitely not a shrinking violet, may she rest in peace.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'm with you Peak of Chic...Julia & Suzanne were both my favorites! Great Post!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Terrific post honoring the fabulously hilarious cast & in particular dear Dixie. This clip you posted was tremendous and so typical of Julia's fire and ability to cut a person off at their knee's with her tongue. I loved her,loved Dixe & my heart goes out to her daughters & her husband Hal. Now, if I could only get down that strut!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Very sad news, She will be missed. Thanks for sharing,
    Firoozeh

    ReplyDelete
  21. sherry10:42 PM

    I could go on and on about episodes of Designing Women, I LOVED it and the cast. I so appreciate your mentioning Dixie and the show, I think she had a big impact on the design world and on women. A wonderful post for a wonderful lady...

    ReplyDelete
  22. Anonymous1:39 PM

    Annie Potts was always and will always be the best. Loved her in everything.

    ReplyDelete
  23. As I began to read this post, I thought "I'm going to reference her 'The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia" flaming baton speech, but of course, as I scrolled down, you'd included it. I also loved the one where someone was selling her fruit still lifes to noveau riche people and calling them "Motel Motif"

    becky

    ReplyDelete