Dixie Carter, 70

Star of TV's 'Designing Women'

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 12, 2010

Dixie Carter, 70, a stage and television actress who helped expand the possibilities of American and Southern femininity as a star of the long-running TV sitcom "Designing Women," died April 10.

Miss Carter died at a hospital in Houston. She had cancer.

Plans had been made for Miss Carter to appear in Washington starting in June in a revival of George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession." However, it was reported last week that she was recovering from surgery and would not be available in May for rehearsals.

Her most famous role was as wisecracking Southerner Julia Sugarbaker in "Designing Women," a CBS sitcom that chronicled the work and personal lives of four women in an Atlanta interior design firm.

As the show's 163 half-hour episodes unfolded from 1986 to 1993, none of the women was more prominent than Miss Carter, with her blend of strength and elegance, soft-spoken and charming, but also quite sure of herself.

It was perhaps a tribute to her acting abilities that during the course of the show's run, she seemed so clearly at home expressing the pointedly liberal views espoused by her character. In fact, at the time, her own politics and philosophy were said to be considerably to the right of those of her character.

With a suggestion of the coping abilities associated with the woman she played, Miss Carter said that she had worked out a proper recompense for voicing opinions so distant from her own.

Each time she took a stand antithetical to her true position, she said, she was permitted to sing on the air. Singing was an activity that had been dear to her from childhood. Although her passion for song endured, Carter's political orientation apparently shifted with time. Her friend Linda Bloodworth-Thomson, a creator of her show, was close to Bill Clinton, and Miss Carter became a Clinton supporter.

"When you meet someone in person," she said, "it makes a difference."

Her husband, actor Hal Holbrook, whom she had married two years before she took the role, appeared on the show regularly in the late 1980s as her boyfriend, Reese Watson.

Dixie Virginia Carter was born May 25, 1939, in McLemoresville, Tenn., and it was not long thereafter that she began to dream of an operatic career.

"From the age of 4," she once said, "I would hear those incredible voices . . . coming out of the radio every Saturday" from the Metropolitan Opera.

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