There are some characters who just grab you when you're a kid. Fictional girls and women who inspire you to be more courageous, outspoken, stylish, smarter, or make you think, "Oh, wow, that would be cool to do when I grow up." When we encounter them at just the right moment, these writer-invented role models have the power to influence the decisions we'll make and, even, to some small extent, the women we'll become.
For me, one of those characters was Julia Sugarbaker from the '80s sitcom "Designing Women." Played with deep and abiding femininity and inner force by actress Dixie Carter, Julia was a creative, intellectual, highly moral, and intensely savvy working woman who ran an interior decorating business, wrangled and nurtured her shallow beauty queen sister, and was never afraid to express her indignation and/or speak her mind. She was also a thoughtful mother, a supportive girlfriend (Hal Holbrook, Carter's real-life husband, played her attorney-boyfriend for the show's first five seasons), and-though this was not her main selling point-beautiful and elegantly sexy in her own right. For a 13-year-old blue collar Italian girl from Philly, Julia Sugarbaker was exotic, thrilling, enchanting, and the kind of lady I knew I wanted to be.
Carter died on Saturday at age 70 from complications of endometrial cancer. She leaves behind a husband (Holbrook), two daughters, and a career in entertainment that spanned five decades. Though she acted in a string of sitcoms, including "Designing Women," which ended its run in 1993, Carter's true passion was singing-some of her most notable professional accomplishments included stints on Broadway and major performances in the world of cabaret. "To me, there's no feeling as gorgeous as the feeling of singing," she told The New York Times in 1984. "It's like flying."
However, to many of us, her greatest legacy will always be the classy-fearless, modern-day Southern belle Julia Sugarbaker. Check out one of our favorite JS clips above. (It's apparently also a fan favorite, Carter once told an interviewer that the speech was often recited word for word in gay clubs and bars.)
Dixie Carter, TV Actress, Dies at 70
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