The Show “Designing Women”, Cast, Pictures, and Trivia!
This series is about four unique Southern women and one loyal, hilarious and dedicated man, running an interior design firm named, “Sugarbakers” in Atlanta, Georgia
Julia (Dixie Carter) and Suzanne (Delta Burke) Sugarbaker are sisters and the co-owners of the firm, while Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) and Charlene Frazier, (Jean Smart) who work there as the designer and office manager, also have an investment in the business. Lastly is Anthony Bouvier, (Meshach Taylor) a former prison inmate who was falsely convicted of robbery and whose main job is as the delivery man but who also does many other things as well. Not the typical group of people you would expect to find running a business but definitely the most interesting.
Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter)-Julia is the older of the Sugarbaker sisters, with one child, a grown son named, Payne McElroy (George Newbern). She is liberal, outspoken, self-confident, independent, bold and incredibly passionate about her beliefs. She is a strong, beautiful woman who until recently was married to Hayden McElroy, the father of her son and the one love of her life. After having several heart attacks, however, he passed away leaving Julia uncertain about her future. Soon after, she and Suzanne decided to open an interior design business right in her home and brought Mary Jo and Charlene on board to invest in and run it with them. She is now involved with a sexy, older lawyer by the name of Reese Watson, (Hal Holbrook) who is also widowed and is the one person in the world who can put her in her place when the need arises!
Suzanne Sugarbaker (Delta Burke)-Suzanne is Julia’s younger sister and the complete opposite of her in nearly every way. A former beauty queen, Suzanne is self-centered, hates to work and goes through husbands very quickly. Her most important pageant title is as Miss Georgia World 1975, which then led her to the Miss America pageant where she competed but did not win. Of her three husbands, the real love of her life was her first husband, writer Dash Goff, (Gerald McRaney) who despite the divorce, remains not only her true love, but also shows up to spend time with her every now and then. She employs a maid named Consuela, who is never seen but whose many and varied antics are constantly being related to the other women by Suzanne. She is Hispanic and a little bit crazy, with bouts of violent outbursts and voodoo curses. Suzanne’s best friend, however unlikely, is Anthony, who she at first pretends to ignore, but later, gets quite close to. Her other eccentricities involve her fascination with guns and her pet pig, Noelle.
Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts)-Mary Jo is the recently divorced mother of two children, Claudia (Priscilla Weems) and Quinton (Brian Lando) whom she shares custody of with her ex-husband, Ted, (Scott Bakula) who is a gynecologist. Pretty and petite with red hair and a sarcastic sense of humor, she is at first, shy and easily intimidated, however, after spending a little time around Julia and the others, she becomes much more bold and independent. Mary Jo is involved in a relationship with a talent scout for the Atlanta Braves named, J.D. Shackelford (Richard Gilliland). After her divorce, Mary Jo could not bring herself to date for a long time, so Suzanne set her up on a blind date which turned out to be J.D. Although he at first seemed callous and rude, she later learns that he was just using that type of attitude because he too was nervous. He is recently divorced and has children as well. Mary Jo is known for poking fun at the life stories of Suzanne and later her cousin, Allison, as well as having a fascination for large breasts, as she herself is quite small-chested.
Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart)-Charlene is the office manager and is originally from a place called, Poplar Bluff, Missouri. A small town where she was raised by her Baptist parents, Bud and Dot Frazier and where she grew up as one of thirteen children. Naive and incredibly sweet, everyone agrees that Charlene has the biggest heart of anyone they’ve ever known. And although she doesn’t have a good track record with men, as her trusting nature often makes her the target of con-men, she never gives up trying to find the love of her life and insists that everyone has some good in them. She is also a devout fan of Elvis Presley, Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis and has very strong feelings about World War II and wishing that she could have met every soldier at port.
Anthony Bouvier (Meshach Taylor)-Anthony is the delivery man for Sugarbaker’s. He is sweet, loyal, kind and has had a rather difficult life. He was raised by his grandmother after his mother had abandoned him because of her drug addiction. Later, he was involved in a robbery at a convenience store without his knowledge and ended up being wrongfully convicted for it. After his release from prison, he then starts working for Sugarbaker’s and finds to his surprise that he truly enjoys working there and having the women as his close and very supportive friends. And as time passes, he makes many improvements to his life, not the least of which are that he is attending law school and that he becomes a partner in the Sugarbaker firm.
Carlene Dobber (Jan Hooks)-Carlene is Charlene’s younger sister and is also recently divorced. She is very similar to her sister in that she is naive and trusting, but she is much more of a country girl than Charlene is and in large part, stays that way. She has a desire to become a singer but most of her songs are definitely not career worthy. She and Mary Jo become close friends after she takes over Charlene’s job but she never becomes close to Julia and Suzanne’s cousin, Allison, who buys Suzanne’s shares in the firm.
Allison Sugarbaker (Julia Duffy)-Allison is the cousin of Julia and Suzanne, the daughter of their Uncle Frank, she comes to Atlanta to take over Suzanne’s part of the business after buying her shares in the company. Everyone is somewhat surprised when she shows up gbbbb as they thought that she was going to be a silent partner, while she claims that she actually has the controlling interest. She begins making up new policies for them all to follow and tries to take over, creating tension and dislike from the beginning. Though the others soon make their positions clear and things return to a somewhat normal state, she is never really accepted as one of them. Growing up, Allison’s parents were distant and treated her coldly, partially explaining her own rather cold behavior, as well as her unlucky love life.
B.J. Poteet (Judith Ivey)-B.J. (whose real name is Bonnie Jean) is originally from Texas, where she used to be a court reporter in Houston. Now a wealthy widow living in Atlanta, she has invested all of her money into Sugarbaker’s, following the death of her husband, James Poteet of Poteet Industries. A recovering alcoholic she is similar to Julia, as she likes to give her opinion on any topic and has a very strong personality. Although she is somewhat different in nature than the others, she is also kind, funny and has a down-to-earth quality, which makes her fit into the rest of the group perfectly.
This show was funny, sweet and entertaining. It had the ability to switch from comedy to important issues at the drop of a hat. The best parts were where Dixie Carter (Julia) would go off on her tirades and the interaction between Meshach Taylor (Anthony) and the rest of the women. I give this series a 7 out of 10.
Julia Sugarbaker-Dixie Carter
Suzanne Sugarbaker-Delta Burke
Mary Jo Shively-Annie Potts
Charlene Frazier-Jean Smart
Anthony Bouvier-Meshach Taylor
Carlene Dobber-Jan Hooks
Allison Sugarbaker-Julia Duffy
B.J. Poteet-Judith Ivey
Bernice Clifton-Alice Ghostley
Reese Watson-Hal Holbrook
J.D. Shackelford-Richard Gilliland
Colonel Bill Stillfield-Douglas Barr
Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier-Sheryl Lee Ralph
Claudia Shively-Priscilla Weems
Quinton Shively-Brian Lando
Ted Shively-Scott Bakula
Payne McElroy-George Newbern
Vanessa Hargraves-Olivia Brown
Randa Oliver-Lexi Randall
Anne Page-Daryle Ann Lindley
Debbie Hammonds-Virginia Bingham
Delivery Man-Jon Huffman
Ray Don Simpson-Arlen Dean Snyder
T. Tommy Reed-M.C. Gainey
Kyle Wellborn-Terry Burns
Bitty Stonecipher-Gracie Harrison
DeWitt Chiles-Ian Patrick Williams
Monette Marlin-Bobbie Ferguson
Dolly Parton (Guardian Movie Star)-Dolly Parton
Dash Goff-Gerald McRaney
As a child, Dixie Carter (Julia Sugarbaker) had dreams of becoming an opera singer but a botched tonsillectomy at the age of seven ruined any chances of that forever. She did, however, have a beautiful singing voice and studied classical music. She was able to play the trumpet, piano and the harmonica.
Annie Potts (Mary Jo Shively) has been married four times and has three children, all sons. Shortly after her first marriage to her college sweetheart, Steven Hartley, they were in a serious car accident. Their Volkswagen bus was completely demolished by two drivers who were drag racing. Her husband lost a leg in the accident and she had multiple fractures from which she ended up with traumatic arthritis that she still suffers from to this day. Nearly every bone in her body below the waist was broken.
Delta Burke (Suzanne Sugarbaker) starred in not only Designing Women but also the series’ “Women of the House”, “Filthy Rich”, “Delta” and “DAG”. She also did guest spots on several shows as well as a brief recurring guest spot on “Boston Legal”.
Jean Smart (Charlene Frazier) was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 13 and has played an active part in awareness over the years.
Meshach Taylor (Anthony Bouvier) has been on various television shows and in an assortment of films, but his best known roles are as Anthony Bouvier on Designing Women and as Hollywood Montrose in the box office hit, “Mannequin”.
When Designing Women first debuted, it got respectable ratings, however, due to several changes with the time slots, it got so bad that CBS was considering cancelling the show. Due to a viewer campaign, it was returned to the air on it’s original Monday night slot and slowly returned to solid ratings. After that, it spent the next three years in the top 20 rankings, also helped along by the fact that it went back-to-back with the incredibly popular Candice Bergen series, “Murphy Brown“.
Julia Duffy (Allison Sugarbaker) played the spoiled, inn maid Stephanie Vanderkellen, on the series “Newhart” for seven seasons. She was also nominated for an Emmy Award seven times but never won.
Sadly, Meshach Taylor died on June 28, 2014 at the age of 67, from what is at this time, an undisclosed illness. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by family and loved ones.
Jan Hooks’ (Carlene Dobber) best known work is as a repertory player on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Annie Potts was the original choice for the psychotic character, Alex Forrest in the movie, “Fatal Attraction”. She dropped out of the role to star in Designing Women. Later, the role was played by actress Glenn Close.
Judith Ivey’s (B.J. Poteet) first movie appearance was in Steve Martin’s, “The Lonely Guy”.
Much like her Designing Women character, Suzanne Sugarbaker, Delta Burke was also in many pageants when she was younger. She won the title of Miss Florida in 1974 and was paired with Miss Georgia, Gail Nelson, in the 1975 Miss America pageant. Though she did not win Miss America, she did win a talent scholarship from the Miss America Organization, allowing her to study for two years at the distinguished, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
Dixie Carter left the stage for eight years after marrying her first husband, Arthur Carter (Carter was her maiden name as well and her husband was no relation). She did this in order to concentrate on raising their two daughters, Ginna and Mary Dixie. At age 35, she returned to acting but found no agent wanted to give her a chance.
Meshach Taylor has been married two times and has four children.
Jean Smart gave birth to her first child in 1989, at the age of 38. A son named Connor Gilliland. She and her husband adopted a second child in May 2009, a little girl named Bonnie.
Annie Potts was the voice of Little Bo Peep in the first two “Toy Story” movies.
Julia Duffy married her husband Jerry Lacy, in 1984, and they have two children together.
Delta Burke has struggled with her weight and eating disorders since the days when she was in pageants. She has also had difficulties with her type-2 diabetes as well.
The problems with actress Delta Burke, started during the show’s fourth season when she was interviewed by reporter Barbara Walters. She told Walters that filming on the set was both unstructured and tiring and that they were spending 15 to 16 hours a day filming a 25-minute episode. This angered executives at CBS and then led to problems with the creators and producers of the show, Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. After several months of these issues dragging on, tensions on the set became hostile and even more hectic than before. While all this was going on, actesses Annie Potts and Jean Smart reportedly remained neutral, Dixie Carter however, had supposedly sided with the producers and cut off all almost all contact with Burke. Eventually it got to the point that Burke refused to work and they wrote her out of several episodes. In addition, the press and the producers started commenting about Burke’s weight gain, which only made an already difficult situation worse. CBS tried negotiating with Burke’s agent but neither side could ever come to an agreement. Finally, Burke was fired from the series. (Surprisingly, Burke did work with the Thomasons again just a few years later on the series, “Women of the House”, which had Burke reprising her Suzanne Sugarbaker role. The show was cancelled after only one season.)
Judith Ivey has been in various television commercials for products such as Gerber baby food, Red Lobster and StaPuf fabric softener.
Annie Potts starred as Elizabeth “Gigi” Stopper in the series “GCB”. She said that she based her portrayal of the character on former co-star, Dixie Carter. She added, “Were she still alive, the role would have been hers and should have been.”
Jean Smart had a recurring role on the popular series, “Frasier”, for which she won two Emmy Awards.
Dixie Carter was married three times and had two daughters, Mary Dixie and Ginna Carter. Her third husband, actor Hal Holbrook, was her happiest and longest marriage at nearly thirty years, ending only because of her unfortunate and sad death at the age of 70 years old from complications of endometrial cancer.
After Delta Burke was fired, Jean Smart also turned in her resignation, saying that she was simply tired of the show. Because of this, two replacements, Julia Duffy and Jan Hooks were found. The audience did not seem fond of Julia Duffy’s character, so Duffy was released from her contract after only one season and replaced by Judith Ivey as B.J. Poteet. Despite the audience being much more accepting of the B.J. character, the show was soon cancelled after the ratings fell drastically when CBS changed their time slot.
Julia Duffy was seriously considered for the role of Diane Chambers on the hit show, “Cheers“, but lost out to actress Shelly Long. She later guest-starred on the show as a friend of the Diane Chambers’ character.
Judith Ivey has won two Tony Awards as Best Actress in two different Broadway productions.
Despite her character’s liberal opinions, Dixie Carter was actually a Republican who disagreed with Julia Sugarbaker’s many speeches. She reached an agreement with the producers that allowed her to be able to sing a song for every liberal “speech” that her character made.
Annie Potts went to Stephens College in Missouri. Famed actress, Joan Crawford, also attended this college in the 1920’s, before starting her acting career.
Delta Burke is a firm supporter of gay rights. Her sister, Jennifer, is a lesbian.
Dixie Carter was the valedictorian of her high school class.
As of 2012, Meshach Taylor is semi-retired.
Probably the biggest guest star on the show was country singer and actress, Dolly Parton. It was actually Parton herself who requested the opportunity to guest star in the one-hour episode as the “Guardian Movie Star”, as she was a long-time fan of the series.
In addition to her eating disorders, diabetes and depression, Delta Burke also has what is called, compulsive hoarding syndrome. She has since had therapy for it.
Annie Potts, in addition to television work, has been in many popular movies, such as “Ghostbuster and Ghostbusters II”, “Pretty in Pink”, “Who’s Harry Crumb?” and others.
When Jean Smart married her husband, Richard Gilliland, it was in former co-star, Dixie Carter’s rose garden.
The exterior shots of Sugarbaker’s (or Julia’s house) is actually a Victorian mansion called the Villa Marre in the Quapaw Quarter district in Little Rock, Arkansas. The exterior shots of Suzanne’s mansion is also in the Quapaw Quarter but is actually the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Both of the homes used are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Despite her many performances in theater, films and on Broadway, Judith Ivey is often remembered for her one season on Designing Women as B.J. Poteet.
Jan Hooks has been in several films, some of which include, “Wildcats”, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, “Simon Birch” and “Batman Returns”.
In 2003, while Delta Burke was on the set of a new series (which did not get picked up) called “Sweet Potato Queens”, some of her jewelry was stolen. Unfortunately, among the items stolen were her engagment ring and wedding band. They were never recovered.
Dixie Carter guest-starred on several television series, “Filthy Rich”, “Law and Order: SVU” and “Desperate Housewives“. Marc Cherry, the creator of Desperate Housewives, actually started out in Hollywood as Carter’s assistant on the Designing Women set.
Years ago on the popular television series, “Dallas”, Delta Burke won the part of Katherine Wentworth but had to turn it down due to a holding option on her contract for the series, Filthy Rich. The part ended up going to Morgan Brittany.
The series was aired on the Lifetime network for more than a decade but left in 2006, in spite of it’s popularity. In 2003, “The Designing Women Reunion” aired on Lifetime, which re-united the five original cast members who shared memories from their time on the show and featured interviews with The Thomasons, several writers and a few of the special recurring cast members.
Meshach Taylor was in the made-for-TV movie, “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” which starred the Olsen twins of “Full House” fame.
After Dixie Carter married Hal Holbrook, he renovated her family home in McLemoresville, Tennessee, where they spent part of their time when not in Beverly Hills. It is also where Carter’s father, Halbert, lived until he died at the age of 96, in 2007.
Two of the main cast members met their husbands while on Designing Women. Delta Burke married Gerald McRaney who played Dash Goff (her ex-husband) and Jean Smart married Richard Gilliland who played Mary Jo’s boyfriend, J.D. Shackelford. Both couples are sill together.
Judith Ivey has been married twice and has two children.
In 1996, Dixie Carter published her memoir entitled, “Trying to Get to Heaven”. In it, she talked about many things, including using human growth hormone for its antiaging properties.
Jan Hooks was born in Decatur, Georgia.
Of the original cast members, only Jean Smart was not born in the south or southeastern part of the United States. She was born in Seattle, Washington.