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Dixie Virginia Carter (May 25, 1939 – April 10, 2010) was an American film, television and stage actress. She starred as Julia Sugarbaker on the sitcom Designing Women (1986–93), and as Randi King on the drama series Family Law (1999–2002). In 2007, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her role as Gloria Hodge on the series Desperate Housewives (2006–07).

Dixie Carter
Dixie Carter 1977.JPG
Carter in 1977
Born Dixie Virginia Carter
(1939-05-25)May 25, 1939
McLemoresville, Tennessee, U.S.
Died April 10, 2010(2010-04-10) (aged 70)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death Endometrial cancer
Resting place McLemoresville Cemetery, McLemoresville, Tennessee
Residence Beverly Hills, California
McLemoresville, Tennessee
Nationality American
Education Rhodes College
Alma mater University of Tennessee at Knoxville,
University of Memphis
Occupation Actress
Years active 1960–2010
Known for Julia Sugarbaker,
Randi King,
Gloria Hodge
Home town McLemoresville, Tennessee
Television Diff'rent Strokes
Designing Women
Family Law
Desperate Housewives
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Arthur L. Carter
(m. 1967; div. 1977)

George Hearn
(m. 1977; div. 1979)

Hal Holbrook
(m. 1984)
Children 2
Awards See awards and nominations

Carter made her professional stage debut in a Memphis production of the musical Carousel in 1960, co-starring George Hearn who became an award-winning Broadway star, as well as her 2nd husband 17 years later. Dixie 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 (1974–76), she returned to Broadway in the 1976 musical Pal Joey. Her other television roles included the sitcoms On Our Own (1977–78), Filthy Rich (1982–83) and Diff'rent Strokes (1984–85). In 1997, she starred as Maria Callas in the Broadway play Master Class, and in 2004, she played Mrs. Meers in the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.


Early lifeEdit

Dixie Virginia Carter was born May 25, 1939 to Esther Virginia (née Hillsman; December 15, 1909 – May 1, 1988) and Halbert Leroy Carter (December 3, 1910 – February 25, 2007) in McLemoresville, Tennessee. Carter spent many of her early years in Memphis. She attended the University of Memphis and Rhodes College.

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 in the same year.


In 1960, Carter made her professional stage debut in a Memphis production of Carousel. She moved to New York City in 1963 and got a part in a production of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale.

In 1967, she began an eight-year hiatus from acting, to focus on raising her two daughters; she returned to the craft 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 1976, 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 1986–93 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 cast mates 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.

Carter starred in several Broadway musicals and plays. She appeared on- and off-Broadway as well, playing the role of Melba Snyder in the 1976 revival of Pal Joey and Maria Callas in Master Class.

In 2006–07, 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 lifeEdit

Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter at the 41st Emmy Awards, 1990

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.

She divorced Arthur Carter in 1977, and married theatre and TV actor George Hearn the same year. Two years later, she divorced Hearn. She was married for the third time on May 27, 1984 to fellow actor Hal Holbrook (14 years her senior). She and Holbrook divided their time between their homes in Beverly Hills, California, and McLemoresville, Tennessee.

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 viewsEdit

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. Although her Designing Women character Julia Sugarbaker was known for her liberal political views and subsequent monologues, Carter disagreed with many of her character's left-of-center commentaries and made a deal with the producers that for every speech she had to make with which she disagreed, Julia would get to sing a song in a future episode.[5] Carter once jokingly described herself as "the only Republican in show business".[6] In her lifetime, Carter was also a strong supporter of the gay community.[7][8]

Death and legacyEdit

Carter died on April 10, 2010 in Houston, Texas.[9] Her death was announced by her husband, who stated the cause as complications from endometrial cancer which was diagnosed earlier in 2010. Dixie Carter was interred in McLemoresville, Tennessee.

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

A public service announcement made by Carter in 2003 describing and offering outreach to sufferers of spasmodic torticollis/cervical dystonia began appearing in New York and New Jersey, and then across the United States in 2010.[10]



Year Title Role Notes
1983 Going Berserk Angela
1999 Big Day, TheThe Big Day Carol
2000 Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, TheThe Life and Adventures of Santa Claus Necile (voice) Video
2009 That Evening Sun Ellen Meecham


Year Title Role Notes
1974–76 Edge of Night, TheThe Edge of Night D.A. Olivia Brandeis Henderson TV series
1977 Andros Targets, TheThe Andros Targets Rita "The Killing of a Porno Queen"
1977 Doctors, TheThe Doctors Dr. Linda Elliott Regular role
1977–78 On Our Own April Baxter Main role
1979 Out of the Blue Marion Richards Main role
1980 OHMS Nora Wing TV film
1981 Killing of Randy Webster, TheThe Killing of Randy Webster Billie Webster TV film
1982 Cassie & Co. Evelyn Weller "The Golden Silence"
1982 Bret Maverick Hallie McCulloch "Hallie"
1982 Best of the West Mae Markham "The Pretty Prisoner"
1982 Quincy, M.E. Dr. Alicia Ranier "The Face of Fear"
1982 Greatest American Hero, TheThe Greatest American Hero Samantha O'Neill "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell"
1982 Lou Grant Jessica Lindner "Suspect"
1982–83 Filthy Rich Carlotta Beck Main role
1984–85 Diff'rent Strokes Maggie McKinney Regular role
1986–93 Designing Women Julia Sugarbaker Main role
1994 Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle, AA Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle Louise Archer TV film
1994 Gambler V: Playing for Keeps Lillie Langtry TV film
1994 Christy Julia Huddleston "The Sweetest Gift"
1995 Dazzle Lydie Kilkullen TV film
1995 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"
1999–2000 Ladies Man Peaches Recurring role
1999–2002 Family Law Randi King Main role
2003 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"
2006–07 Desperate Housewives Gloria Hodge Recurring role
2008 Our First Christmas Evie Baer TV film

Awards and nominationsEdit

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. ^ ""Designing Women" star Dixie Carter dies at 70[dead link]"., April 10, 2010
  2. ^ SXSW unveils lineup
  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. ^ "'Designing Women' actress Dixie Carter dies at 70; had roots in West Tennessee". The Commercial Appeal.Com. April 11, 2010. Retrieved 11 April 2010. 
  6. ^ "The View". Official Website. January 31, 2001. 
  7. ^ Metroweekly website/Carter obituary Archived June 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Video on YouTube
  9. ^ Notice of Dixie Carter's death
  10. ^ "Spasmodic Torticollis / Cervical Dystonia Public Service Announcement featuring Dixie Carter". Archived from the original on 2011-07-11. 

External linksEdit