Monday, April 12, 2010

Julia Sugarbaker

In the spring of 1987 the TV show ‘Designing Women’ was in its second season and my two brothers and my sister were at my house to celebrate my son’s birthday.

They were all gathered in the dining room. I was busy cooking in the kitchen.

As usual my brothers were teasing my sister. My sister wasn’t easy to get along with. She had “airs about her” my brother M would say. My sister was talking about an episode of ‘Designing Women’ where the beauty queen sister gets herself into trouble with some rich guy at the country club.

”Dianne loves that show” my brother J said. “I think Suzanne (beauty queen sister) is her favorite.” My sister said she assumed the “bitchy opinionated” older sister would be my favorite. I remember feeling my blood pressure rise and my hands clench into fists but I continued to cook.

M laughed and muttered something about my sister knowing way too much about “bitchy”. J, the youngest of us all – I’m the oldest – said his wife loved the beauty queen sister too.

”Dianne is Julia” M said. “They call her The Terminator on the show, come on, think about it, who does a rant better than Dianne? Who always tells people that they’re acting like dicks? Who always steps up?”

M – all the while laughing uncontrollably – told the story of the time I came to school and put his teacher firmly in her place after she wrongly accused him of stealing. “She told Mrs. K to get better glasses, stop picking on the boys and while she was at it, eat a mint. Her breath was as sour as her attitude.”

This reminded J of the night he got into trouble with the local tough guys. “She showed up carrying Jeffrey and looking like a wild woman. She threw names around like she was connected to the Gambino family and told them they were all assholes who beat up on little kids because they had tiny penises.” J was also laughing uncontrollably – “it killed me that she said penises instead of dicks, isn’t it amazing that that’s what sticks in my head even now.”

The laughter died down. My fists were unclenched; the baked ziti would be fine.

”You know she’s the only parent we’ve ever had” J said quietly. M agreed. It hurt me that my sister said nothing. That day is the last time I clearly remember us all together. My sister died in the fall of 1987.

Years later while looking at photos of that birthday I told my son what I had overheard and how his aunt had remained silent. He reminded me of an evening I had forgotten.

A few weeks after that gathering my sister and I were together watching ‘Designing Women’. The episode revolved around a series of classic Julia Sugarbaker rants against sexism.

”Don’t you remember when Aunt P said you were Julia and she was Suzanne?” my son asked. I didn’t. “You assumed it was because Suzanne was the beauty and Julia was the bitch” my son continued. “P said no, it was because Julia was the brave one. And she hugged you Ma. It got weird after that and I left.”

It could be seen as selfish to honor the passing of Dixie Carter with stories all about me.

The thing is, only a truly strong and gifted actor can create a character that lasts in our memories long after the stage goes dark. A character that illustrates a certain type of person. A character that allows people to share their humanity through her.

Julia Sugarbaker is that kind of character. Dixie Carter brought Julia to life.




Peaceful Journey Dixie

you can see two classic Julia scenes HERE and HERE

40 comments:

Jay said...

Julia Sugarbaker is giving St. Peter a piece of her mind before she enters the gates, I'm sure. ;-)

Mrs. D said...

That is a sweet but sad story. I'm so glad your son recalled that moment for you. I loved that show. Suzanne was my favorite, but I loved Julia almost as much. Julia did have a set of ladyballs and knew how to use them and I admire that about her character.

And isn't Dixie a cool name?

Linda Reeder said...

Oh, I loved Julia Sugarbaker, and when I saw a rant building, I was glued to the TV set to catch every word.
And Oh, I loved your post, recalling the show, the character, the actress, and your family interaction. You are an amazing story teller. You are an amazing ranter. You are a person of great strength. You are Julia!

Kay Dennison said...

I like that show. I thought each of the ensemble special in her own way!

Linda said...

Honestly, I would have pegged you as Julia rather than Suzanne myself because you've got spunk just like she did. She never minced her words - you never mince yours. She stood up for what she believed in - you're standing, too. She knew what was right and what was wrong and who deserved to be hugged and who deserved to be smacked and you do, too. And honestly? She was a beauty, too - both inside and out just like you are.

There's nothing wrong with being like Julia Sugarbaker and there was no actress who could have played her better. Rest in peace, Dixie, and keep her alive for us, Dianne!

Daryl said...

May she rest in peace.

You just made me cry. Love you. xo

Mountain Photog said...

That was a wonderful post, Dianne! I loved your family story. I never watched "Designing Women" so I can't comment on that character or the actress who portrayed her but your sister was right, you, are the strong one and you illustrate that over and over again through your pluck and determination and courage to stand up for what you believe in.

Jay Simser said...

Isn't it amazing how TV and movies and theater mirror our lives. I think you can be proud that folks compare you to Julia for you know we loved her.

I am with Daryl. You made me cry also. Bless you for your writing and bless the internets for making us friends.

Ron said...

OMG, Dianne...what a FAAABULOUS tribute!

Both funny and so touching.

And have a told you lately what a wonderful writer you are? Because you are!

Designing Women is one of those shows that will live on and on in our hearts because is was one of a kind...BRILLIANT!

And I gotta tell ya, Julia was my absolute favorite. Strong, yet soft, outspoken, yet fair, and REAL.

Just like you.

Peaceful journey, Dixie.

X ya!

Dianne said...

jay - that is a wonderful image!! I can see it and it makes me smile

mrs d - thanks :)
I think each of the characters was my favorite at a different time
I really adored the crazy woman Bernice!!
and yes, Dixie is a fabulous name

linda r - thank you, you're really kind to me
I would be enthralled by Julia's rants, how she built up steam and spoke so crisply and never took a breath

kay - you're right, they were all so good together

linda - I love ya lady, thanks :)
the word 'spunk' made me laugh, all I could think of was 'I hate spunk'

daryl - Oy! you can count on me for that ;)

lisa - thanks!! check out some scenes on Youtube, they were incredible actresses - all of them

jay s - it is what is so wonderful about art - the connection to real life.
thank you for your kind words jay, here and on the photo blog
they mean a lot to me

ron - thank you so much Uncle Ronnie, Hope sends giant hugs
she is learning to blow kisses too :)

Hilary said...

You tear-jerker, you. You have a very sweet son. His brave Mom raised him right. :)

ellen abbott said...

Never was a fan of the show but I sure enjoyed your reminiscences.

ds said...

What a wonderful tribute--to Julia Sugarbaker, and to you (did you really say that stuff to your brother's teacher??). Such a poignant memory from your son. I think Dixie Carter would approve!

Cherie said...

Being compared with Julia is a compliment on any level. I resent any description of her that uses the word "bitchy." She had class. (Could be that I could be feeling a bit "bitchy" myself today. But I never thought that a woman needed an excuse to speak "distinctly.") :) A wonderful tribute. Mwah!

Scott Oglesby said...

I'm sorry to say that I never did catch that show but that was a touching tribute/story to hear. I love that you are always cooking. Baked ziti too, I’ll throw around some Gambino names for a spot at your table!

Unseen Rajasthan said...

This is so fantastic !! I Would love to see this someday !

Frank Baron said...

Bravo, Dianne! What a masterful blend of tribute and memoir! I love the way you work the alphabet, girl. ;)

Julia was my favourite Sugarbaker too. (But truth be told, I thought they were all pretty hot.)

Travis said...

I appreciate this tribute so much. It lauds the talent of an actor who was able to create a truly human and memorable character. It also, if I may be so bold, gives you something of a cathartic exercise in memory of your relationship with your sister.

I enjoyed reading this.

Noe Noe Girl...A Queen of all Trades. said...

Great tribute. This was sweet and a sad loss for us all. What a wonderful lady.
<><

Robin said...

You told the teacher to eat a breath mint? I think I love you even more today.

Seriously though Dianne, these are beautiful, poignant memories beautifully retold. I'm glad that your son was able to help you remember another piece of the picture.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

She certainly was a wonderful actress and was perfectly cast in that part. In fact, they all were perfectly cast.
I love this post Dianne and think it is a Great Great Tribute to Dixie Carter.
I didn't know her, but I know, besides being very talented, she had to be a very interesting woman....Her second and third Husbands are both terrifically talented men, and very smart men, too....!

Matt-Man said...

I so dug Dixie Carter. Here's to her. Cheers Di!!

Bob-kat said...

I am not at all familiar with this show and cannot see the clips while at work so I will have to look later. However, this character seems like a helluva gal!

Having said that though, this was a very touching post. Isn't it amazing how characters in shows can speak to us all in different ways and highlight how we can perceive things differently? I also loved the stories from your brothers. Now, that I would have liked to have witnessed! :)

Dianne said...

hilary - some tears are good tears and I'm famous for those :)

ellen - thanks :)

ds - I really did say that. she was a terrible teacher and treated the boys unfairly

cherie - speak "distinctly" !! I remember that line :)

scott - it's a Brooklyn thing, when in doubt just feed everyone :)
I would cook for you any time

unseen - thanks, I hope you get a moment to check out Youtube, the clips are wonderful

frank - coming from someone who writes as beautifully as you do that is high praise
thank you :)

travis - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this, thanks

noe noe - sweet and sad it is, thanks

robin - love you too, I can see you handling a bad teacher the same way. this woman terrorized my brother and the other boys and treated them like criminals. false accusations was the last straw for me.

old old lady of the hills - I'm so pleased that you feel Dixie would approve, thanks

matt-man - smart and sexy she was, just like you :)

bob-kat - we were a wild tribe and I soon became their rescue team :)

Kitty said...

No! I didn't know she died. I am so out of the loop. A few years ago, I interviewed by phone and then subsequently met her husband, Hal Holbrook, and he was one of the sweetest, most interesting men I've ever talked to. Our "15 minute" conversation went on for over an hour.

Good thing your son was there for that scene. So interesting what our memories screen out.

ox, K

Ivanhoe said...

Very well done, Di! I watched just a few re-runs here and there so I'm not so sure about all the characters. I was more into Golden Girls that ran right after DW.
Rest in peace, Dixie!

Bond said...

She was a classic indeed

Mare said...

Designing Women was a classic! I loved it!

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