April 12, 2010

Farewell, Ms. Sugarbaker

The first time I saw Dixie Carter, was when she joined the cast of a daytime soap, The Edge of Night, playing the role of Brandy Henderson. Even at 15, I could see that she stood out from the rest of the pack. The next time I saw her was on Filthy Rich, which had a very short run in 1982. There was another standout in that cast, Delta Burke.

The two joined forces again when Designing Women began in 1986. They were hysterical together. Dixie played the older and wiser Julia Sugarbaker, while Delta Burke played the role of younger sister and a former Miss Georgia. Julia was full of depth and selective compassion, while Suzanne was, well, let's just say that Suzanne was fully in touch with her shallow side. (Since I have a friend who, like Suzanne Sugarbaker, is a former Miss Something, let me hasten to point out that Suzanne's shallow side wasn't related to her pageant past ...at least not necessarily.)

Designing Women had other great cast members - Annie Potts, Jean Smart, Meschach Taylor, and Alice Ghostley - but it was the Sugarbaker sisters who stole the show. The progressive Julia would often go off on a rant about some perceived injustice in the world - and occasionally an injustice aimed at her younger sister -  while the less politically correct Suzanne would go off on rants about things like men and guns. (She was fully in favor of both.)

One of the best examples of a Julia Sugarbaker rant was when she defended her sister, Suzanne to another beauty queen:

Nobody else could carry off a tirade as well as Dixie Carter.

Delta was let go after 5 years in a bitter contract dispute that reportedly also damaged her relationship with Dixie. It was a shame because they really were great together. While Dixie was always the stronger actress of the two, she was at her best when Delta was around.

Aside from throwing out the baby with the bathwater when Delta was let go, I had one beef with Designing Women. It always something that always baffled me about Julia Sugarbaker. To tell you the truth, it grated on my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I never understood why Julia used the title Mrs. before her maiden name. True, she had been married and was widowed, but she was never married to Mr. Sugarbaker. Suzanne had been married multiple times, but Suzanne always went by Miss Sugarbaker.

I can see why the progressive Julia would have rejected Miss, but I never could figure out why she would not have used the honorific Ms.

Mrs. is generally not considered the correct honorific before a woman's first name, or before her maiden name, regardless of whether she is (or has been) married.

No matter how many times Scarlett O'Hara was married, she was never called Mrs. Scarlett. Alright, Scarlett wasn't a real person, and Miss before a first name is a pretty quaint custom. 

Here's an instance where it still comes up. Teachers who work with young kids often go by an honorific before their first name, such as Miss Mary or Ms. Debbie. It doesn't matter if they're married because the honorific is going before their given name - Mrs. is never correct in that instance. (Back to the example of Scarlett, Mrs. Rhett could be -I'm not saying it is - technically acceptable, but Miss Scarlett sounds ever so much more approachable.)

As for maiden names, no matter how many times Elizabeth Taylor has been married, she has never been called Mrs. Taylor. Sure, she has been called Mrs. Wilding, Mrs. Burton, Mrs. Warner, and so forth (and so forth), but never Mrs. Taylor. Even if she actually marries husband #9, she'll still be Miss Taylor.

Our old friend Julia Sugarbaker, who either kept her maiden name after her marriage, or took it back after her husband's death, should have been addressed as either Miss or Ms. Sugarbaker.

It strikes me as the kind of thing that would have sent Julia into a tirade.

Oh, well. Farewell, Mrs. Ms. Sugarbaker. No one could have played the role nearly as well as Dixie did.


  1. I was very sad to hear the news of Dixie Carter. PS I enjoyed your clip.

    I ran into Delta Burke in person about 10 years ago. I was surprised to see she was even prettier in person.

    Found you on Lady Bloggers Society.

  2. I bet Delta is very striking in person. She has such wonderful coloring.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. i loved both the sugarbakers, too! so sorry to hear
    about dixie. read a lovely tribute to her once, written
    by her husband, also a great actor. hal . . . can't
    remember last name.

    thank you for another fun and informative piece.

    -miss lea

  4. Miss Lea -

    It's Hal Holbrook. I always loved it when he made guest appearances on DW. They must have had a wonderful relationship.

    It's great to see you back in Blogworld!

    Miss Margaret

  5. When I saw that Dixie Carter has passed away, I did feel sad. She was great in "Designing Women." I used to watch that show all the time. I hadn't thought about it in years though.

  6. I am glad you wrote a post about Dixie/Julie. I was contemplating one this week, but other events crowded it out. She had some remarkable quotes, both in real life and as the famed Julia Sugarbaker.