Dixie Carter and Me

In the 1980s we lived in Little Rock, Ark., and I worked as writer and broadcast producer at one of the state’s largest advertising agencies. Despite the city’s relatively small size, we had a lot of talent and some good clients. There was some really good advertising coming out of Little Rock at that time.

One of our largest accounts was ArkLa Gas (Arkansas/Louisiana). They had hefty budgets and really didn’t stint on their tv commercials. After all, they all went to the same country club as the guys from the electric company and wanted their commercials to stack up.

My boss, mentor and creative director, Bob Ginnaven, grew up in Memphis and went to Memphis State. He acted in every play he could get into, and struck up a friendship with a young actress from West Tennessee–Dixie Carter.

Fast forward a few decades. Bob is a partner in a Little Rock ad agency and Dixie is starring as Julia Sugarbaker on Designing Women. What most of you probably don’t realize is that the creators of that show has strong ties to Little Rock. All of the homes in the opening sequence were in Little Rock (including the stately mansion where that Bill and Hillary Clinton called home at the time). Often characters in the show would share a name with a well-known Arkansan and the four leading women even came to Little Rock to a benefit.

That’s when Bob and Dixie reacquainted themseleves. A few months later, Dixie agreed to come back to Little Rock to star in 4 tv commercials for ArkLa. These were really good spots and I wish I had a copy to show you. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

We pulled out all the stops…limos and hotel suites and catering and the biggest budget I ever had.

I met Dixie at her hotel the night before our shoot began. I nervously knocked on her door and she answered right away.

She was tiny. Sort of a bamboo pole with hair. You’ve never seen so much hair.

Anyhow, the next day after all the setting up and making up and nearly throwing  up (just nerves on my part), it was time for Dixie to do her thing. And when she opened her mouth and started talking, we all went slack-jawed in amazement. We had all worked with some pretty good talent before–people who earned a living talking on camera–but this was different. This was all vintage champagne and home-grown tomatoes instead of Korbel and a hard, red, wintry piece of crap. Belgian chocolate instead of Herseys. First class instead of….well, you get the picture.

She ate constantly, drank like a fish and charmed us all completely.

We adored her and I know that no city is sadder about her recent death than Little Rock.

Here’s a little vintage Dixie to remind you of her fabulosity.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Dixie Carter and Me

  1. What an awesome experience and wonderful memory for you! I loved Designing Women and Carter in particular. I was very sad to hear of her passing.

  2. Indeed, R.I.P. You didn’t mention in your post that she passed away. I wonder if everyone is aware?

  3. I’ve never even seen an episode of that show. Please don’t hate.

  4. Sarah–She really was a lot of fun.
    UB–Thanks…I corrected my omission.
    Rass–That’s ok, I’ve never seen Die Hard.

  5. Jeff

    I remember that ArkLa campaign! She was so classy. Great DW clip!

  6. I’ve seen the show but never ‘watched’ it. It seemed, the ladies seemed, to have moxie. I didn’t know that Dixie Carter had passed away. I don’t know if I would have been able to imagine her face if you hadn’t put the video in, but I certainly would have recognised her name and would have probably placed her in the right genre of actresses. All this to say, I don’t have any strong personal ties to the topic of your post today, but you kept me interested the whole way and made me remember a woman who seems worth remembering.

  7. Well, Cindy, I see by this stellar tribute to a great Southern lady that you haven’t lost your writing flair. (The proofreader in me, however, must take off 1 point for the typo in the 5th paragraph: themseleves. So, I’ll happily give you a 99%; that’s still an “A”.)

  8. Jeff–It was one of the most fun shoots ever.
    Ellie–That’s a great compliment. Thank you very much.
    Dick–OK, maybe I can’t type, but at least I can say “orchestra!” 🙂

  9. jdhays

    I first heard the news here, and sad news it is. Designing Women was one of those “grow-on-you” shows–for me, anyway. But once I caught on, I was hooked, especially by Miss Dixie’s Julia Sugarbaker.

    That’s a good story you’ve shared. I’ve been amazed myself at how small our TV and film stars are in real life. Dixie was always large on-camera however. She will be missed.

  10. The news of her death made me so sad. I spent the rest of the day sending youtube clips of Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker back and forth with my friends. As many have said in blogs, interviews, etc., she was vital in our formation as feminists.

  11. My mom was bedridden and unable to move for 13 years before she died. I was her caretaker for nine of those years. It was hard work–taxing physically and emotionally–as difficult for her as it was for me. I don’t have many good memories of that time.

    She loved Designing Women. One of the bright spots of our day (and one of my precious memories) was watching that and Golden Girls together. I’d bring her a cup of tea, pull up a chair next to her bed, and help her drink while we watched. We’d seen every episode at least five times before, but it really didn’t matter.

    I enjoyed DW exponentially more than GG. For loads of reasons, but primarily because I loved how fashionable Dixie’s Julia was. She was SO classically chic. I loved that the eldest of the show’s characters was also the most put together.

    Dixie Carter/Julia Sugarbaker carried DW, of course. I can’t imagine it would have been very interesting at all, much less successful, without Julia or Dixie.

    I’m surprised to hear she was tiny! She had such a massive presence.

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