Dixie Carter

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Dixie Carter
A black-and-white photo of a 38-year-old woman with curly dark hair looking into the camera
Carter in 1977
Dixie Virginia Carter

(1939-05-25)May 25, 1939
DiedApril 10, 2010(2010-04-10) (aged 70)
Resting placeMcLemoresville Cemetery
Alma materUniversity of Tennessee at Knoxville,
University of Memphis
Years active1960–2010
(m. 1967; div. 1977)
(m. 1977; div. 1979)
(m. 1984)
AwardsFull list

Dixie Virginia Carter (May 25, 1939 – April 10, 2010) was an American actress. She starred as Julia Sugarbaker on the sitcom Designing Women (1986–1993) and as Randi King on the drama series Family Law (1999–2002). She was nominated for the 2007 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Gloria Hodge on Desperate Housewives (2006–2007).

Carter made her professional stage debut in a Memphis production of the musical Carousel in 1960 and made her Broadway debut in the 1974 musical Sextet. After appearing for two years as District Attorney Brandy Henderson on the CBS soap The Edge of Night (1974–1976), she starred in the 1976 Broadway revival of the musical Pal Joey. Her other television roles included the sitcoms On Our Own (1977–1978), Filthy Rich (1982–1983) and Diff'rent Strokes (1984–1985). She returned to Broadway to play Maria Callas in the play Master Class in 1997 and to play Mrs. Meers in the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2004.

Early life[edit]

Dixie Virginia Carter was born May 25, 1939, to Esther Virginia (née Hillsman) and Halbert Leroy Carter in McLemoresville, Tennessee. Carter spent many of her early years in Memphis. She attended the University of Memphis and Southwestern at Memphis.[citation needed]

In college, she was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. In 1959, Carter competed in the Miss Tennessee pageant, where she placed first runner-up to Mickie Weyland. Carter won the Miss Volunteer beauty pageant at the University of Tennessee the same year.[citation needed]


In 1960, Carter made her professional stage debut in a Memphis production of Carousel, co-starring George Hearn, whom she would go on to marry 17 years later. She moved to New York City in 1963 and got a part in a production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.[citation needed]

In 1967, she began an eight-year hiatus from acting, to focus on raising her two daughters;[citation needed] she returned to acting in 1974, when she filled in for actress Nancy Pinkerton as Dorian Cramer on One Life to Live while Pinkerton was on maternity leave. She subsequently was cast in the role of Assistant D.A. Olivia Brandeis "Brandy" Henderson on the soap opera The Edge of Night from 1974 to 1976. Carter took the role though some advised her that doing a daytime soap might negatively affect her career. However, she was first noticed in this role, and after leaving Edge of Night in 1977, she appeared in several episodes of another soap opera, The Doctors as socialite Linda Elliott. She relocated from New York to Los Angeles and pursued prime-time television roles. In 1976, she won the Theater World Award for Jesse and the Bandit Queen.

She appeared in series such as Out of the Blue (as Aunt Marion), On Our Own (as April Baxter), Diff'rent Strokes (as the first Maggie McKinney Drummond, Phillip Drummond's second wife), The Greatest American Hero (playing a KGB spy) and as the stuck up and conniving Carlotta Beck on Filthy Rich (1982).

Carter's appearance in Filthy Rich paved the way for her most notable role, that of sharp tongued liberal interior decorator Julia Sugarbaker in the 1986–1993 television program Designing Women, set in Atlanta. Filthy Rich was created by Linda Bloodworth Thomason, who also created Designing Women. (In the beginning, without knowing the content of the show, Bloodworth-Thomason's only idea was to create a show starring Carter and fellow castmates Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart. Filthy Rich also featured fellow Designing Women cast member Delta Burke in its cast.) After much persuasion from creators Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband Harry Thomason, Hal Holbrook, Carter's real-life husband, had a recurring role as attorney Reese Watson. Carter's daughters Ginna and Mary Dixie Carter also had guest star roles as Julia Sugarbaker's nieces Jennifer and Camilla in the episode "The Naked Truth" in 1989.

In 1997, Carter starred as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's play Master Class. She played the role from January to June. The role previously had been played by Zoe Caldwell and Patti LuPone.

Noted for portraying strong-minded Southern women, Carter provided the voice of Necile in Mike Young Productions' cartoon feature The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. She was also in the voice cast of My Neighbors the Yamadas, the English language dub of Studio Ghibli's 1999 anime movie of the same.[1]

From 1999 to 2002, she portrayed Randi King on the legal drama Family Law. From 1999 to 2000, she was a cast member on the short-lived sitcom Ladies Man, appearing as a regular on both Ladies Man and Family Law. In 2004, she made a guest appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, playing a defense attorney named Denise Brockmorton in the episode called "Home", in which she defended the paranoid mother of two children (Diane Venora) who had manipulated her older son to kill the younger son after breaking her home rules.

In 2006–2007, Carter found a resurgence of fame with a new generation of fans portraying Gloria Hodge, Bree Van de Kamp's disturbed (and scheming) mother-in-law on Desperate Housewives. Creator Marc Cherry started in Hollywood as Carter's assistant on the set of Designing Women. Her first and only Emmy Awards nomination was for the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards under the category of Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Gloria Hodge.

Carter gave an interview in 2006 for the feature-length documentary That Guy: The Legacy of Dub Taylor, which received support from Taylor's family and many of Dub's previous coworkers, including Bill Cosby, Peter Fonda, Don Collier, Cheryl Rogers-Barnett and many others. The project was scheduled to have its world premiere at Taylor's childhood hometown of Augusta, Georgia on April 14, 2007.

Her final film was That Evening Sun, which she filmed with her husband Hal Holbrook in East Tennessee in summer 2008. The film, produced by Dogwood Entertainment (a subsidiary of DoubleJay Creative), is based on a short story by William Gay. That Evening Sun premiered at South By Southwest, where it competed for the narrative feature grand jury prize.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter at the 41st Emmy Awards, Sunday September 17, 1989

In 1967, Carter married businessman Arthur Carter (no relation). Following the birth of her daughters, Carter left acting for eight years to raise her children with Arthur's three children, Jon, Whendy and Ellen Carter.[citation needed]

She divorced Arthur Carter in 1977 and married theater and TV actor George Hearn the same year. Two years later, she and Hearn divorced.[citation needed]

In 1996, Carter published a memoir titled Trying to Get to Heaven, in which she talked frankly about her life with Hal Holbrook, Designing Women and her plastic surgery during the show's run. She acknowledged, along with other celebrities, having used human growth hormone for its antiaging properties.[3]

Political views[edit]

Carter in 2000

Carter was a registered Republican who described her political views as libertarian.[4] She was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly along with Pat Boone at the 2000 Republican National Convention, and once jokingly described herself as "the only Republican in show business".[5] However, Carter's Designing Women character, Julia Sugarbaker, was known for her liberal political views and related speeches, for which she was nicknamed "The Terminator." Carter disagreed with some of her character's beliefs, and made a deal with the show's producers that if Julia delivered a "Terminator" monologue, she would get to sing a song in a future episode. But she was also a liberal Republican who supported civil rights and same-sex marriage.[6]

Death and legacy[edit]

Carter died on April 10, 2010, in Houston, Texas.[7] Holbrook said her death was caused by complications from endometrial cancer.[8] Dixie Carter was interred in McLemoresville, Tennessee.[9]

The Dixie Carter Performing Arts and Academic Enrichment Center (informally called "The Dixie") in Huntingdon, Tennessee, is named in honor of Carter.[10]

A public service announcement made by Carter in 2003 describing and offering outreach to people with spasmodic torticollis/cervical dystonia began appearing in New York and New Jersey and then across the United States in 2010.[11]


Year Title Role Notes
1974 One Life to Live Dorian Lord Temporary recast
1974–1976 The Edge of Night D.A. Olivia Brandeis Henderson Regular role
1977 The Andros Targets Rita "The Killing of a Porno Queen"
The Doctors Dr. Linda Elliott Regular role
1977–1978 On Our Own April Baxter Main role (21 episodes)
1979 Out of the Blue Marion Richards Main role (12 episodes)
1980 OHMS Nora Wing TV film
1981 The Killing of Randy Webster Billie Webster
1982 Cassie & Co. Evelyn Weller "The Golden Silence"
Bret Maverick Hallie McCulloch "Hallie"
Best of the West Mae Markham "The Pretty Prisoner"
Quincy, M.E. Dr. Alicia Ranier "The Face of Fear"
The Greatest American Hero Samantha O'Neill "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell"
Lou Grant Jessica Lindner "Suspect"
1982–1983 Filthy Rich Carlotta Beck Main role (15 episodes)
1983 Going Berserk Angela Feature film
1984–1985 Diff'rent Strokes Maggie McKinney Drummond Regular role (27 episodes)
1986–1993 Designing Women Julia Sugarbaker Main role (163 episodes)
1987 Rosie Nancy Barker Episode: "Valentine of Life"
1994 A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle Louise Archer TV film
Gambler V: Playing for Keeps Lillie Langtry
Christy Julia Huddleston "The Sweetest Gift"
1995 Dazzle Lydie Kilkullen TV film
Diagnosis: Murder D.A. Patricia Purcell "Murder in the Courthouse"
1996 Gone in the Night Ann Dowaliby TV film
1997 Fired Up Rita "Honey, I Shrunk the Turkey", "The Mother of All Gwens"
1999 My Neighbors the Yamadas Lady #1 (voice) Animated feature film
The Big Day Carol Feature film
1999–2000 Ladies Man Peaches Recurring role (9 episodes)
1999–2002 Family Law Randi King Main role (68 episodes)
2000 The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus Necile (voice) Direct-to-video
2003 The Designing Women Reunion Herself TV special
Comfort and Joy Frederica TV film
2004 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Denise Brockmorton "Home"
2005 Hope & Faith Joyce Shanowski "A Room of One's Own"
2006–2007 Desperate Housewives Gloria Hodge Recurring role (7 episodes)
2008 Our First Christmas Evie Baer TV film
2009 That Evening Sun Ellen Meecham Feature film (final role)

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Series or Play Result
1976 Theatre World Award Outstanding Actress Jesse and the Bandit Queen Won
1979 Drama Desk Award Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play Fathers and Sons Nominated
1989 Los Angeles Women in Film Festival Excellence in TV Episodic Comedy Designing Women Won
2007 Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Desperate Housewives Nominated
2009 SXSW Film Festival Best Ensemble Cast That Evening Sun Won


  1. ^ Dore, Shalini (April 11, 2010). "Dixie Carter dies at 70". Variety. Archived from the original on August 2, 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  2. ^ SXSW unveils lineup, Variety
  3. ^ USA Today Archived November 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine November 15, 2000
  4. ^ Winter, Bill. "Dixie Carter – Libertarian". Advocates for Self-Government. Archived from the original on December 30, 2006.
  5. ^ "The View". Official Website. January 31, 2001.
  6. ^ "'Designing Women' actress Dixie Carter dies at 70; had roots in West Tennessee". The Commercial Appeal. April 11, 2010. Retrieved April 11, 2010.
  7. ^ Young, John (April 10, 2010). "'Designing Women' star Dixie Carter dies at age 70". EW.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2021.
  8. ^ "Designing Women' star Dixie Carter dies from cancer complications". CNN. April 11, 2010. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  9. ^ Hanson, Justin (April 15, 2010). "Family, friends say goodbye to Dixie Carter". WMC-TV. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  10. ^ "HISTORY & MISSION". The Dixie. Retrieved June 4, 2022.
  11. ^ "Spasmodic Torticollis / Cervical Dystonia Public Service Announcement featuring Dixie Carter". Healthznews.com. Archived from the original on July 11, 2011.

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