Julia Sugarbaker was my favorite Designing Woman. How could she not be? She was smart, fierce and unfailingly loyal. She could put anyone, anyone, in his or her place. She was a feminist icon, a liberal icon, an intellectual icon. The original Alpha Bette. She was the definition of a strong woman, right down to the enormous shoulder pads. As a former shy kid (who still reverts back now and then), I’ve dreamed of executing a verbal smackdown with as much passion, precision, eloquence and righteous indignation as The Terminator.
Now I know Dixie was not Julia (reality/fiction – most days I try to keep a somewhat more than tenuous grasp on the two). In fact Dixie was a Republican (albeit an open-minded one), who was much more traditional in her views. But she believed in gay rights and called so-called reparative therapy “insulting.”
I watched countless hours of “Designing Women” in college thanks to the wonder of syndication and Lifetime: Television for Women. I can recite some scenes verbatim. Most of them are Dixie’s. I went on a YouTube frenzy looking for the best Julia Sugarbaker moments when I heard of her death on Saturday.
While several of her greatest hits were there, two of my favorites weren’t. One was the Ray Don episode where Julia shuts down the guy at the bar who is always trying to horn in on a table of women.
“There’s no need for introductions, Ray Don, we know who you are. Of course. You’re the guy who is always wherever women gather or try to be alone. You want to eat with us when we’re dining in hotels. You want to know if the book we’re reading is any good or if you can keep us company on the plane. And I want to thank you, Ray Don, on behalf of all the women in the world, for your unfailing attention and concern. But read my lips and remember, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes we like talking just to each other, and sometimes we like just being alone.”
Seriously, they should print that out on business cards and hand it out in bars. And then, of course, the episode where the ladies were invited to model in the Women of Atlanta calendar, which doesn’t turn out as they’d hoped.
“I'm saying I want you and your equipment out of here now. If you are looking for somebody to suck pearls, then I suggest you try finding yourself an oyster. Because I am not a woman who does that, as a matter of fact, I don't know any woman who does that, because it's stupid. And it doesn't have any more to do with decorating than having cleavage and looking sexy has to do with working in a bank. These are not pictures about the women of Atlanta. These are about just the same thing they're always about. And it doesn't matter whether the clothes are on or off... it's just the same ol' message. And I don't care how many pictures you've taken of movie stars - when you start snapping photos of serious, successful businessmen like Donald Trump and Lee Iacocca in unzipped jumpsuits with wet lips, straddling chairs, then we'll talk.”
Though my favorite Terminator tirade, the one I actually wrote out and posted on my dorm wall for a bit, was posted.
History has shown Julia Sugarbaker to be one of TV’s greatest heroines. And for that, and much more, thank you, Dixie.