I was shocked and surprised to learn that Dixie Carter died on Saturday.
Soap fans saw Dixie on The Edge of Night and One Life to Live, and she’d been in many TV shows, from Filthy Rich to Family Law to Diff’rent Strokes. But to me, she was always – indelibly – Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women.
Julia was one of the first Southern women portrayed on TV that wasn’t painted as a hillbilly or a tart. She could win at work and still have a great relationship with her son and, later, her boyfriend Reese. It was great to see that a woman on TV who didn’t have to be a cold-hearted bitch (a la Alexis Carrington) to succeed.
And more than anything, it was Julia’s eloquence that made me watch Designing Women. It’s remarkable that the episode that many of us so clearly remember – the “Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia” speech – was the SECOND episode of the series. I can remember watching that with my best friend in 1986 – and both of us with our mouths open in shock afterwards. “Did we just SEE that?”
Julia was the result of a beautiful partnership between writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Dixie Carter. Dixie was the perfect choice to play Julia, and the perfect person to deliver Julia’s cool, contained arias of rage and dismay.
People think I’m joking when I say it, but I actually based some of my writing style – particularly those moments of contentious debates – on the Julia Sugarbaker method of debate. Julia, as the old saying goes, was able to tell people to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the journey.
I doubt Dixie’s journey is headed in that direction. And it was heartwarming to see, in post after post on Facebook and Twitter, a massive wave of love and affection for her and for Julia. May they both rest in peace.