Monday, April 12, 2010

Heart of Dixie

Celebrity deaths are strange things. They are at once very intimate, yet really terribly removed. We know the person because of what we see on screen, read on paper, hear in the news. But that’s not really knowing a person, is it? Still that doesn’t stop the odd ache that happens when someone passes who we watched with fondness. And that’s the ache I feel at Dixie Carter’s death.

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.

18 comments:

Claire said...

Rarely do I care about celebrities but....My heart is sad. Dixie Carter was a true southern belle and a sophisticated woman who always had class. She will be sorely missed.

Hannah said...

I haven't felt this sad about a celebrity death since Mr. Roger's passed away. Thanks for this tribute to her.

Her tirade from "Reservations for Eight" is my favorite, as well. I was reciting it to some friends the night before she died.

I know so much of her rants were more Linda Bloodworth-Thomas and not Dixie. One of my favorites is the rant about manners existing to make people feel comfortable, not to lord your money over people (she says this when Charlene is nervous about meeting Bill's old money relatives). The other is the "what we eat in the south" rant she leaves with the NY Times' columnist's secretary. ("I assume you take shorthand?...Good, we take it down here in the South, too.")
And those two rants, I believe, are all Dixie.

Norma Desmond said...

I, for once, don't have much to say. Mostly because news of Dixie's death was just... so sad. The Terminator remains one of my all-time favorite TV characters.

Anonymous said...

So SAD. She had a long and full life and certainly made mine better just for being here. RIP Dixie..

Lisa said...

Does anyone remember the episode of Designing Women that aired at the time of the Clarence Thomas hearings? I can only remember vague details, but I do remember that it knocked me out at the time.

lexica510 said...

That quote from the calendar episode: I have SO. MUCH. LOVE. for the sentiments expressed there!

CaitieCat said...

Goddess, that first rant is one that's stuck in my own mind for many years, but I'd long since lost track of where I'd heard it.

Requiescat in pacem, Ms. Carter, and thank you.

Goober Peas said...

What a lovely tribute! I met Ms. Carter once at a book signing in NYC at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center. She was kind, gracious, and very classy.

We shared stories about our families and she wrote a lovely inscription for my grandmother, who had recently been felled by a stroke.

She was a genuinely beautiful woman, inside and out. May she rest in peace.

Hannah said...

@Lisa
It was called "The Strange Case of Clarence and Anita" and aired in the 6th season. Julia and Mary Jo were dressed up in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" costumes, and Mary Jo delivered a speech on the local news ("I don't care if you call me a feminist or a fruitcake!"). At the end, Mary Jo and Julia slow dance together in their crazy costumes and footage from the hearings is replayed. I was AMAZING.

Anonymous said...

ds...
she has all i like,
julia / my one of favor names
sugar / of course i like,
bakery? / um...sweet potato cake is the best.

thank you for today's post!
have a nice evening! :)

mel-843 said...

Dixie Carter and her portrayal of Julia Sugarbaker always made me proud to be from the South.

Jewlie said...

Thank you so much for the heartfelt tribute to one of beloved favorite characters and the firecracker that portrayed her. RIP Dixie.

Carol said...

70 is too damn young. Terrible loss for her family and friends. And her TV watching "friends" will surely miss her. At least Julia will be on film for posterity. (Is Designing Women out on DVD? I might rent n' binge)

Class act and first class talent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. "Designing Women" was always one of my favorite shows. I agree with Dixie in the interview you linked to in your post - southerners tend to be portrayed as dumb rednecks more often than not in TV and movies. The ladies (and Anthony) of Sugarbaker Designs were the exception. I always felt like they were some of the fine southern folks that I know.

I was shocked and saddened to hear of Dixie's death. The lights may not be out here in Georgia, but they are a little dimmer now...

CyberWoolf said...

When I think of the characters that influenced me growing up, I would have to say Julia Sugarbaker was close to the top. Her rants and conviction really did SAY something to an impressionable young kid like myself. I don't think I had ever seen such a strong female presence on TV before that.

It was Julia Sugarbaker and Murphy Brown with all the right answers ;-)

betseyb said...

I think Designing Women was the first TV show that my Mom and I liked and watched together. My Mom loved Bernice because she was so kooky and I loved Julia because she was so classy yet as tough as nails. Not to say that I had never seen a strong woman before, but while we can have hot tempers, my family doesn't exactly make a lot of sense sometimes when we argue:) Anyway, I will always remember Dixie Carter/Julia Sugarbaker/Designing Women as the show that finally gave my Mom and I something to talk about:) Sad day. Great post, Ms Snarker.

Making Space said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wV86kehwkc0

The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia - my personal favorite Julia Sugerbaker speech.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the speech about men not leaving women alone , I Have always remembered that one
- awesome