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If you were around during the 1980s, and you were a fan of 80s TV sitcoms, there's absolutely now way you missed Designing Women. After the Mary Tyler Moore Show and at the beginning of The Golden Girls, the Designing Women cast was giving the world prime examples of smart, strong, independent women who were making it on their own.
The series focused on the lives of four self-reliant women who worked together as co-owners of an interior design firm. The fifth member of the group was a self assured hired hand who had sense enough to give the women the lead in their firm, and still smart enough to provide aid and sometimes take control whenever it was necessary.
Julia and Suzanne Sugarbaker, Mary Jo Shively, Charlene Frazier and Anthony Bouvier were portrayed by Dixie Carter and Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Jean Smart and Meschach Taylor respectively. In this article we'll catch up with the Designing Women cast to see what they're up to today.
Dixie Carter (Julia Sugarbaker)
If there is one woman who made this show the icon it was, for me personally, it was Dixie Carter and the way she played her character, Julia Sugarbaker. Julia was a smart, sharp and fierce woman who loved her family, her friends and her Southern Roots.
Julia Sugarbaker was an astute business woman, devoted partner and mother and a passionate liberal feminist. Surprisingly enough, Dixie Carter was also all of these things, but with one exception...she was a conservative, proper lady who used to joke that she might have been "the only Republican in Hollywood."
Before the show, Dixie Carter was known to most audiences as the wife of Phillip Drummond from Diff'rent Strokes, and significantly before that, she starred in a short-lived TV Sitcom Filthy Rich, alongside Delta Burke. After Designing Women ended its run in 1993, Dixe Carter went on to several guest appearances in classic 90s TV shows like Diagnosis Murder opposite Dick Van Dyke, Christy, alongside Kellie Martin and she took on meatier roles in 2000s TV shows, Family Law and Desperate Housewives.
Dixie Carter began her Hollywood career in the mid 1970s on the soap opera, The Edge of Night and she married actor Hal Holbrook in 1984, and you'll remember that Holbrook played the part of Julia Sugarbaker's fiancee, attorney Reese Watson. Holbrook was her third husband, and the couple had two children.
In 2009, Dixie Carter and her husband Hal Holbrook starred in a film called That Evening Sun. The premise of the film was that of an aging man (Holbrook) who was haunted by flashbacks and dreams of his beloved, deceased wife (Carter). Sadly, this was Carter's last role. Dixie Carter died of endometrial cancer on April 10, 2010 in Houston, Texas, she was 70 years old. The Dixie Carter Performing Arts and Academic Enrichment Center ("The Dixie") in Huntingdon, Tennessee is named in honor of Carter.
Delta Burke (Suzanne Sugarbaker)
Actress Delta Burke's Suzanne Sugarbaker is perhaps the most popular character on the series. Loud, brash, spoiled and incredibly beautiful, Suzanne Sugarbaker was an ex beauty pageant queen who was often "too much" to deal with for the show's other characters. While Julia could be counted on for the show's wit, Suzanne supplied the slapstick comedy.
Before Designing Women, Delta Burke had juicy roles in The Chisholms, Filthy Rich, and notably, 1st & Ten: The Championship. Due to rumored constant squabbles between the Designing Women co-stars, mainly Dixie Carter, and its executives, Delta Burke was not asked back to the show after its fifth season in 1991.
Shortly after she was dismissed from the show, Burke donned a blonde wig to star in her self-titled TV sitcom, Delta. The show lasted only one season, but her feud with Dixie Carter lasted for more than a decade. Burke and Carter reconciled and the two made an appearance together in Carter's Family Law series.
Afterwards, Burke went on to hefty roles in Popular, Touched by an Angel, Dag and Boston Legal. She even did another stint as Suzanne Sugarbaker in the series Women of the House. This time around, Sugarbaker has left Atlanta for DC, to take over her recently-deceased husband's seat in Congress.
Burke married actor Gerald McRaney in 1989, and the two are still together today. McRaney had a recurring role on Designing Women as Dash Goff, the writer and on again, off again boy fried of Suzanne Sugarbaker. Delta Burke was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and in light of the diagnoses, the actress loss weight. Burke and McRaney are the owners of a clothing line and antique store.
The actress has revealed her struggles with panic attacks and lifelong bouts of depression and she recently shared that she is a victim of compulsive hoarding syndrome. Delta Burke is open to talking about her issues, and she credits her husband McRaney as holding her together all these years.
Annie Potts (Mary Jo Shively)
Annie Potts played the former demure housewife turned firecracker business woman, Mary Jo Shively. The character had been married to a man she put through medical school, but once he had become the prominent physician, he cheated on her every chance he got. Shively divorced her husband, grew a backbone as tough as nails and went to work as a partner/designer at Sugarbakers.
As for Annie Potts, the world had already come to know the actress through her roles in the 1980s TV series' Goodtime Girls and Romance Theatre and the blockbuster hit film, Ghostbusters (1984).
After the end of Designing Women, Annie Potts has been on fire and all over the screen. She starred in four TV series, Dangerous Minds, Over the Top and notably Love and War and Any Day Now, for which she won an Emmy and SAG Award respectively.
She voiced the character of Bo Peep in Disney's Toy Story and Toy Story 2, and she's been unstoppable since then with roles on shows ranging from Joan of Arcadia, Law & Order: SVU, Chicago Med, The Fosters and Young Sheldon. Currently, Annie Potts is working on Toy Story 4.
The actress has been married four times, her last marriage was to TV producer, director and cinematographer, James Hayman. The couple have been together since 1984 and they have two children.
Jean Smart (Charlene Frazier-Stillfield)
Jean Smart breathed life into Designing Women's bold, brassy, wide eyed, romantic dreamer, Charlene Frazier. Often referred to as a "Hillbilly" by Suzanne Sugarbaker and her cousin Allison Sugarbaker, who would come along much later in the series, Charlene indeed hailed from the back hills of Missouri.
Frazier was the business manager of Sugarbakers and she eventually met and married an U.S. Air Force Officer, the two welcomed a daughter and they presumably lived happily ever after.
Before Designing Women, Smart appeared in TV series Teachers Only and Reggie and she had a few small roles in icon 80s TV shows like The Facts of Life, Alice, and Remington Steele.
Since the end of Designing Women Smart's career has been just as lit as Annie Potts'. She had prominent roles in TV series like High Society, Style & Substance and Frazier for which she won two Emmys, and she lent her voice to animated projects like The Ooblongs and Static Shock. She went on to even more successful series' like 24 and Harry's Law, and she had a notable run on the acclaimed TV drama, Fargo. Currently she's in post production on four projects, and she shows no sign of slowing down.
Jean Smart has been married to actor Richard Gilliland since 1987. You might remember Gilliland as J.D. Shackleford, the boyfriend of Mary Jo Shively. Smart and Gilliland met on the set of Designing Women, they have two children and they're still together today.
Meshach Taylor (Anthony Bouvier)
Rounding out the Designing Women cast is the man of the house, Meshach Taylor. This section will be short, because there is a full article coming out dedicated entirely to Taylor, but I had to include him here in this look back of the iconic 80s TV show.
The actor portrayed ex convict, Anthony Bouvier. It is important to note that Bouvier was wrongly convicted, and he proved the content of his character time and time again. Oddly enough, Anthony and Suzanne grew close and the wacky pair became best friends - this trend crossed over into real life as Meschach Taylor and Delta Burke were close friends. Quiet honestly, Bouvier often played the Ethel Mertz to Sugarbaker's Lucy Ricardo, but he was always there for her in the end.
Taylor busted onto the scene the scene in the sequel to the 1970s mega hit film, The Omen, in Damien: Omen II. In Damien, Taylor had a tiny role as a doctor who's fate is sealed in the memorable elevator scene. Afterwards, he went on to bit parts on typical late 70s TV shows, and the 1981 film, The Howling. By far, his most notable film role was as a flamboyant window dresser in the film, Mannequin in 1987.
After he departed Designing Women at the end of its run in 1993, Taylor went on to a bevy of guest starring roles in shows from Burke's Law and Caroline in the City to to Dave's World and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide.
Taylor's last television appearance was in Criminal Minds in 2014. He married Bianca Ferguson in 1983, and the couple had four children together. Sadly, Meschach Taylor passed away on June 28, 2014, after suffering with colorectal cancer.
Designing Women was an iconic 80s TV show with an amazing cast. Eventually, the show would go through many cast changes, but the original five set the tone for the rest of the show.
As the saying goes, "they don't make them like this anymore," and in the case of Designing Women, nothing could be truer.
Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on May 02, 2020:
Indeed! I still watch it today, even though I've seen every episode 100 times already...
Kirk on May 01, 2020:
GREAT GREAT GREAT SHOW!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on January 20, 2020:
Yes Ebony! Please pass this show on to your daughter, it is such a great show, especially for women! Thanks for the comment!
Ebony on January 19, 2020:
I absolutely loved this show. I'm only 36, but it's amazing how times have changed. I'm so thankful to have been exposed to the goodness of the 80s and the 90s, even the early 2000s. As I sit and enjoy the back to back reruns of Designing Women playing tonight on Antenna TV I'm remembering great times and passing this on to my teenage daughter.
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on December 21, 2019:
Same to you, Rachelle. I will look out for that bio on Jean Smart. Didn't catch her in Fargo.
Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on December 21, 2019:
Janis, do you know that I loved this show, but I never really thought of Jean Smart as being the most talented, but indeed as it it turns out...she absolutely IS! I first started noticing how good she was in the TV version of Fargo, did you catch her in that? She really is a talented actress, I think I'll produce a bio hub about her...thank you for that. And yes, she was brilliant in Frasier, but I missed Watchmen, I'll be sure to put that on my watch list now. Happy Holidays to you Janis!
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on December 20, 2019:
I absolutely loved Designing Women. It was one of my favorite comedies. I would say Jean Smart is the most talented and really honed her craft over the years. She was brilliant on Frasier. Now she is formidable playing an FBI agent on HBO's Watchmen. Look out for her next Emmy. Great summary, Rachelle.
Rachelle Williams (author) from Tempe, AZ on December 08, 2019:
Denyce Shields on December 06, 2019:
firstname.lastname@example.org I really would love to see reruns! The always made me laugh!!!